“If kayakers can’t save rivers, who can?” asks Dan Yates from Save Our Rivers, an organization fighting to protect rivers in the United Kingdom and Europe.
We couldn’t agree with Dan more, and if 2021 proved anything—kayakers, rafters, canoeists, stand-up paddlers, swimmers, anglers and more are saving our backyard waters with a passion like never before and breaking down barriers to the outdoors along the way.
When we eddied out in 2020, we couldn’t imagine that another year of unprecedented challenges waited for us downstream. But here we are, the end of 2021, and as the threats seem to multiply before our eyes, we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of a community that has not only met the moment, but doubled down in our efforts to protect, restore, and take care of the wild rivers, lakes, coastlines and landscapes that have defined our community from the beginning. And every step of the way, we see our partners reaching out to new friends and allies. Together, we are building a more welcoming, equitable and accessible community for all of us.
Together, with our partners, we welcomed more than 70,000 new people — youth, adults and families — to the outdoors, engaged more than 11,000 people in gatherings, protests and celebrations, recruited more than 32,600 volunteers, sent more than 147,000 letters, messages and comments to lawmakers, protected and restored more than 1,300 river miles, picked up and packed out more than 18.5 tons of trash, secured more than $2 billion to take care of our common lands and waters, and so much more.
In addition, NRS launched the LEAD Ambassador program, redirecting a portion of our resources to support the work of community builders and activists in outdoor participation and conservation. Our aim? Help our ambassadors make the world a better place, and for them to help make NRS a better company.
We continued our mission to break down barriers to the outdoors with our Just Add Water Project, putting values into action by supporting activists and organizations in building an inclusive paddlesports community of the future, creating new advocates for conservation, and protecting the health of, and access to, our shared lands and waters. What started as a conversation has grown into a long-term, sustained effort aimed at building strong, durable relationships with those out there doing the hard work to make lasting change.
As we round the corner on another year and gear up for our 50th year in business, we can’t help but look back at how far we’ve all come, especially in the last two years that have challenged us in ways we could have never expected. But it’s not the challenges that burn brightest, it’s the conversations with our friends, colleagues and partners that ignite that unmistakable and unstoppable spark of hope, of connection and as always, a healthy dose of adventure. It’s that secret sauce that infuses the spirit of NRS, the spirit of this community, the spirit of you and me. And that, that is something to celebrate.
So, join us in celebrating the incredible wins of the past year—large and small. Toast Andrea Knepper and her team at Chicago Adventure Therapy for giving more than 700 youth access, skills and knowledge to enjoy the outdoors, more than doubling their impact in 2021. High five Jessica and Sammy Matsaw of River Newe for another successful season, connecting more than 20 Shoshone-Bannock tribal youth with traditional knowledge and ancestral lands on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. And throw your hands up for our friends at Outdoor Afro, who welcomed more than 60,000 people to the outdoors through their programs and events this year, driving their one continued mission: celebrate and inspire Black leadership in nature.
As we wind down 2021, we invite you to scroll through our rundown of each organizations’ impacts. We guarantee this list will inspire you and give you hope for a brighter future in the outdoors. It’s a build-your-own-education kind of list. We encourage you to click over to a website, or two—or twenty—and learn more about each of these organizations. And maybe, as you crunch the numbers of your annual budget, generosity will get the best of you and, like us, you’ll choose to give back to these amazing people and organizations who are out there changing the world.
Into 2022 we go. All forward, friends!
2021 NRS Partner + Community Impact — By the Numbers
- Freed 325 river miles through dam removal—the approximate distance from Syracuse, New York to Cleveland, Ohio.
- Protected 280 river miles from new dams, mining and development.
- Protected, restored and improved water resources through national policy work and 325 on-the-ground projects in all 50 states.
- Helped craft legislation that, if passed, will permanently protect 6,700 river miles from new dams and development in Montana, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico.
- Defeated four harmful policies, diversions and hydropower proposals.
- Mobilized more than 32,000 volunteers.
- Cleaned up more than 2,900 miles of rivers.
- Removed more than 1.1 million pounds of trash from waterways.
- Supported introduction or passage of 11 pieces of priority legislation.
- Captured the attention of more than 566 million people in the American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers Report.
- Introduced legislation to protect 782 miles on 21 rivers as Wild & Scenic.
- Administratively protected 614 miles on 75 rivers as Wild & Scenic.
- Worked to identify Wild & Scenic eligible segments of rivers in 16 national forests, Bureau of Land Management field offices, forestry, fire, state and national monument lands.
- Sent 5,577 messages to lawmakers, 7,035 comments to land management agencies and organized 100+ meetings with policy makers.
- Restored 14 miles on the Sultan River and secured agreements to restore 11.4 miles on 2 rivers.
- Collaboratively managed 624 miles on 32 rivers.
- Protected 50 miles on the South Fork of the American River.
- Defeated a dam on the San Joaquin River Gorge.
- Launched 6 campaigns against new dams.
- Defeated mines along the Arkansas River.
- Completed flow studies on 2 rivers.
- Create new access areas on 2 rivers.
- Collaboratively managed access on 8 rivers.
- Reversed closures on 10 rivers.
- Secured $1.9 billion per year for restoration and maintenance of public lands and rivers and $900 million every year for the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
- Sent 146,906 letters to decision-makers on a range of policy issues.
- Packed out 4,338 bags of trash during Public Lands Month (September) alone.
- Held 487 events across North America.
- Welcomed 515,625 to the BHA community.
- Organized 10,000+ people at protests in the capital city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
- Organized 2 actions on 2 rivers, the Sava and the Soca, including one of the biggest actions of its kind in the history of Slovenia.
- Welcomed 700 attendees for kayaking, biking, hiking, flying and swimming in, or next to, 258 kilometers of Slovenia’s longest river in one day.
- Became the first kayak group to participate in Plastic Free Salish Sea’s Great Islands Clean Up.
- Brought 20 volunteers (with the help of 2 other kayak outfitters).
- Picked up 500 pounds of trash off a small section of Henry Island and 1 mile of shoreline.
- Took 140+ people out on the water for safety and skills training courses.
- Trained 8 youth to be river guides this year who will become future ice climbing and river guides for the Brooklyn to Alaska program.
- Worked with 700+ youth in the summer of 2021 (more than double pre-pandemic numbers).
- Provided free adventures for families across Chicago.
- Offered at least twice monthly get-togethers (beyond programming) throughout the year to continue to provide youth access to the outdoors.
Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club
- Got 50+ kids in kayaks this summer.
- Welcomed an average of 20 kids to pool sessions each week, with 32 kids at the largest session.
- Welcomed an average of 15 kids per week to weekly paddles.
- Launched the Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club race and fundraiser—sponsors donated 38 items for a silent auction and raffle that raised $8,000.
- Awarded $2,208,000 to 56 organizations.
- Helped 13 projects cross the finish line: permanently protecting 291,300 acres, 4 river miles, and one climbing area, removed one dam, and created the first State Park in Baja, Mexico.
- Celebrated restored protections of Bears Ears and Bristol Bay.
- Restarted the process to permanently protect the Boundary Waters, Chaco Canyon, and the Tongass National Forest.
- Taught 20 local Idaho students how to paddle as a healthy alternative to drug and alcohol abuse.
- Introduced 250+ new BIPOC + Allies to paddling over the past year.
- Delivered 9 completely free events across the country.
- Welcomed over 360 new paddlers and 160 volunteers.
- Completed 10 short films.
- Built more than 40 workshops for underserved youth.
- Presented at the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators Annual Conference in March 2021.
- Funded “Sharawatch”, an organization fighting against mini-hydropower plants on the rivers Lepenac, Durlov and Kaludjerka in Kosovo as well as campaigning against any constructions in the Shara National Park.
- Funded “Wolne Rzeki” from Poland, working to protect a number of pristine rivers, establishing a nature reserve, mapping and measuring artificial barriers, and working on weir removal.
- Funded Mateusz Mazur, a grassroots activist working alongside the WWF Polska River Keepers, fighting for the Łomnica River, which is only 20 km long but has 165 barriers.
- Funded TOKA in Albania who have been and are still fighting the 14 proposed dams in the beautiful Valbona valley since 2016.
- Funded Save the Heart of Kendal, a group of activists fighting against the construction of a large dam as part of a proposed Flood Risk Management Scheme and campaigning for a Natural Flood Management Scheme in the river Kent catchment.
- Funded “God Save Rzav” from Serbia, an organization that stopped the issuing of permits for the construction of 18 small hydroelectric power plants in the Municipality of Arilje in Serbia; initiated the decision against issuing permits for small hydropower project in Uzice and Pozega; is working with four neighboring municipalities to influence them to ban the issuance of permits for small hydropower projects and protect the rivers in all of Western Serbia; and aim to bring together rafting clubs and activists from across the region to protest against the 2,700 planned small hydropower plants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia and Albania.
Fundación Futaleufú Riverkeeper – Chicas al Agua
- Welcomed 10 girls (between the ages of 12 and 18) to participate in Chicas al Agua for 12 days on the water.
- Created a weekly, free kayaking event with the goals of camaraderie and community building.
- Organized annual riverside clean-ups, downriver flat-water floats, SUP sessions, and teaching at free clinics locally and in other parts of the US.
- Collected 20 large bags of trash on the Chattahoochee River.
- Taught a two-day free instructional class for Team River Runner in Perry, Georgia.
- Defended 940 river miles for Wild & Scenic values.
- Reduced 88 percent of a mining project footprint in the Jarbidge River headwaters.
- Welcomed 181 participants in a new online Guide Education program focused on Wild and Scenic Rivers and Salmon Conservation.
- Engaged 200+ volunteers in on-the-ground river restoration work through a new program in partnership with the USFS to help protect salmon in the Sawtooth Recreation Area and river clean-ups.
- Organized 3,488 to participate in River Advocacy Training.
- Sent 1,194 letters to federal delegation, 1,788 letters to state legislators, 1,557 letters to Idaho’s governor, and 1,359 letters to the USFS on proposed projects and rivers conservation issues.
- Ran 10 Kayak Kaki sessions (of 10 to 20 people), connecting with local communities, especially in rural areas of Malaysia.
Maine Island Trail Association
- Provided access and stewardship to 246 wild Maine islands along the entire coast of Maine, creating an inspiring recreational water trail that is cared for by the people who use it.
- Made 1,600+ island visits, removed 12.6 tons of debris, and contributed 6,700+ hours to the Trail.
- Welcomed 2,260 new members.
- Hosted 110 women at Women’s Paddlefest.
- Raised funds for the Shannon Christy Memorial Fund, disbursing $2,500 to Diversify Whitewater and another $2,500 to the Paddlesports Action Committee.
Northern Forest Canoe Trail (Paddling Film Festival)
- Increased membership by more than 160 percent, donations by more than 150 percent, and map and guidebook sales by 205 percent.
- Established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at the board level.
- Purchased 4 new events in the Adirondacks, tripling the number of events hosted each year.
- Co-sponsored two events with the Abenaki Nation on the Missisquoi River in Vermont.
- Developed a web page that overlays the NFCT on a map of historic Indigenous lands so paddlers can see whose lands they travel through.
- Paddled with 16 leaders more than 100 miles on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
- Fostered networks in 56 cities.
- Recruited 103 volunteer leaders.
- Created 1,000 outdoor events.
- Welcomed 60,000+ people outside with Outdoor Afro.
- Grew network to 150,000 followers on social media.
- Continued their mission to celebrate and inspire Black leadership in nature.
- Organized LGBTQ Outdoor summit with 175 Queer adults on the Potomac River in Washington, DC.
- Worked 9 weeks out in the field with more than two dozen queer teens and their crew leaders building trail and maintaining our public lands in Washington and Oregon.
- Supported Northwest Youth Corps to launch their first ever LGBTQ+ Young Adult crew who spent the fall supporting conservation efforts at Mt Rainier National Park.
- Subsidized 151 one-day trips for under-resourced youth on the American River.
- Awarded 4 fully sponsored, need-based guide school scholarships.
- Created two virtual leadership programs.
- Served 178 youth through 13 canoe trips and 8 urban paddling days.
- Initiated a year-round program for Black and Indigenous youth focused on nature connection and exploration.
- Ran three PTSD veteran outdoor programs, including mountain biking, climbing and kayaking.
- Outfitted 7 new veterans in top-of-the-line kayaking gear and took them through a two-week whitewater kayaking class.
- Hosted 20 veterans from past classes that joined us for the kayaking class.
- Got a total of 27 veterans on the water this year.
- Spent three weeks taking youth from the Chiloquin Paddle Club and Pacific Northwest Indigenous youth to White Salmon, Snake, Main Salmon and Selway rivers.
- Changed the name of Chiloquin Paddle Club to Maklaqs Paddle Club to be more inclusive of tribal members (Makqlaqs means “The People”).
- Organized 500+ people during the first edition of the Home River Bioblitz to explore the biodiversity around their home rivers in 46 locations, on 5 continents.
- Supported 30 students in developing their own interdisciplinary river conservation projects combining science and art, resulting in an illustrative book, a citizen science project, an educational river program and an ecopolitical map.
- Built a coalition that includes more than 400 businesses, conservation groups, tribes, hunting and fishing groups, youth groups and others.
- Joined 300 organizations from 69 countries in signing a Rivers for Climate Global Declaration, calling on governments and leaders attending COP26 to protect river ecosystems and stop using climate funds to finance false climate solutions like hydropower.
- Worked with Free Rivers Fund to fund the travel expenses of a youth representative of the Metis Nation, an Indigenous Western Canadian people impacted and displaced by dam construction, and a NAMRA (North American Megadam Resistance Alliance) representative to attend COP26 in person.
- Worked with local campaigners to block a polluting development in a UK national park.
- Worked with Riverwatch on the campaign to protect the Vjosa river in Albania
- Worked with Free Rivers Fund in Italy and Austria, WET Tirol and WWF on the Oetz River.
- Added 100+ citizen scientists since April 2020.
- Collected 2,600+ samples in 300 locations across 39 states and 6 countries.
- Worked with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Wildlife Federation and Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association to gather 867 individuals and secure support from 225 local and national businesses supporting the campaign to restore a free-flowing Lower Snake River.