There are many misconceptions surrounding the Red River, a trademark of the Fargo-Moorhead area. River Keepers, an FM-based nonprofit organization, is working to combat those falsehoods by coordinating projects, educating the community and organizing various events intended to renew public perception and actively engage people with the river.
In earlier chapters of Fargo-Moorhead’s history, people admired and utilized the Red River to its fullest capacity. However, as time went on, public opinion regarding the Red River changed. Citizens of Fargo-Moorhead began to perceive the river as a liability due to its appearingly unsanitary condition and the safety issues that it posed. As a result, people stopped using, appreciating and properly treating this prominent natural feature. After a group of architects, known as the Red River Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, published a community-wide assessment of the river that came to these conclusions, they decided to propose the formation of the River Keepers. River Keepers was officially established in 1990.
Since its founding, River Keepers has been striving to achieve their mission statement: “To advocate sustainable use of the Red River of the North, primarily within the Fargo-Moorhead area.” Much of this is accomplished through the numerous projects and events organized by River Keepers each year. Kimberly Morris, who has been the project coordinator at River Keepers for two years, is responsible for implementing such activities in the community. Projects relating to environmental sustainability include water quality monitoring, the T-Shirt to Tote Project, trail clean-ups and Reforest the Red. Learning opportunities include educational workshops, such as the Red River Water Festival, which is a five-day long event where over 2,000 fourth-graders engage in hands-on activities that teach them about water and the Red River Watershed.
Along with projects and educational activities, River Keepers also organizes many recreational opportunities, such as their River Paddling Excursions or annual Race the Red canoe and kayak races.
“We work to engage all people in the many aspects of the Red River so that they can learn about the Red, take care of the Red, our main drinking water source, and safely appreciate and enjoy the Red,” Christine Holland, the executive director of River Keepers, said.
Holland has been working with River Keepers for over 25 years. She started out as an intern in May of 1993, then served as administrative assistant and project coordinator before becoming the executive director.
With the broad scope of work that River Keepers does within the community, it may come as a surprise that Holland and Morris are the only full-time staff members. They do, however, work with schools, businesses, other nonprofits, local, state and federal government agencies, as well as over 1,700 volunteers annually.
“They help to promote a renewed vision for the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead,” Holland said.
The hard work of River Keepers and all of its partners have culminated in national and international distinctions. The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded River Keepers with two Friends of the EPA awards, which are grants that allowed the River Keepers to disseminate information regarding the health of the Red River to the public. The International Red River Basin Commission has also awarded River Keepers with two awards that recognized their process in developing programs that partner with multiple organizations.
If someone wants to get involved with River Keepers, there are several different ways to do so, including participating in an event or class, volunteering or becoming a member of the organization. Internships are also available for various fields of study.
“We try to match people’s interests and skills with our needs and can be flexible on time,” Morris said.
More information about events, classes, volunteer opportunities, internships and other general information can be found on the River Keepers’ website, Facebook page or Instagram.