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Career Story: River Keeper

River Keeper

Job Title: River Keeper

Type of Company: The Blackwater-Nottoway Riverkeeper Program (BNRP) is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting the two rivers.

Education: High School

Previous Experience: I have lived and played on rivers all my life and I decided I would give something back by helping to protect them.

Job Tasks: My key responsibilities as river keeper are to act as a spokesperson or advocate for the rivers. Since a river can't tell people when it is sick it is my job to know when that is. So I patrol the rivers looking for pollution problems or other sources of harm. If I find something wrong I try to correct the problem by getting the business (or person) who's the source of the problem to fix it. If that doesn't work I contact state or federal agencies which can force the offender to do the right thing. If that does not work then legal action can be taken.

Another big part of my job is educating the public about how fragile rivers are and why it is important to keep them healthy. I do this by going to schools and other organizations and telling them what they can do to help. I show them what a great resource the rivers are and explain to them that the rivers are theirs and everybody's to enjoy, not to destroy. I also take groups out on tours of the river on a pontoon boat which is kind of like a floating classroom. This gives people a first hand look at what I'm talking about. Over the years I have also made several short movies about the rivers that show the wildlife on them. This gives people a chance to see critters and other things on the river that are rare or are hard to see on a daily basis out there.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: One of the best parts of my job is when I take children (especially) out on the river and we see something really cool like a bald eagle and I get to see them really light up and get excited. Of course the same is also true with adults, especially senior citizens. I also like it when I get a source of pollution stopped. It is certainly a great feeling to know that you have worked to make a difference.

The worst part of my job is having to deal with people who are just plain idiots about taking care of our world. The litterbugs and people that toss trash, oil etc. into our storm drains knowing that stuff will get into the river one day. I hate people or companies that I catch doing something wrong, who then lie and tell me they did not know they were doing wrong instead of just saying hey, you know what, you are right, we were doing wrong. Thank you for telling us and we will fix our problem. You almost never encounter that kind of honesty; most pass the buck. I also hate the politics of the job. You cannot get away from it. It is like a game of spies or underworld Mafia deals. It is a corrupt system of favors, promises and back stabbing that has made our society as foul as it is.

Job Tips: My advice to anyone wanting to be a river keeper is to make sure you have the resolve to stick with what you believe in. Always be truthful and never skew test results or exaggerate reports. If you do, eventually people will just think you are another crazy environmentalist. Your credibility in this type of job means everything. Don't try to be an expert on something you are not. If you don't know the answer, be sure you admit it, but make it clear too that you will try to get an answer. And be persistent. Polluters count on your going away if they can throw enough hurdles in your way. Do not let them win that battle. Stay on top of your battles and never ease up.

Additional Thoughts: Being a river keeper in my case has been very rewarding for me. However it is not a job that will likely make you wealthy. I did the job as river keeper AND ran the BNRP as Executive Administrator for 7 years without ever getting a dime as salary. So be sure your heart is really in saving your river or stream.

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