In 1990 a small group of Mad River Valley residents got together to ask questions about how development in The Valley would impact the natural environment, especially the Mad River. Out of those initial discussions Friends of the Mad River (FMR) was formed and continues to this day, bringing people together to steward the Mad River Valley’s healthy land, clean water and community. “We have learned that it takes care and concern by every community member, everywhere they are in the watershed,” said Kinny Perot, board president. “Healthy land, clean water and a vibrant community are intertwined.”
Friends of the Mad River is well known for its Mad River Watch program that engages volunteers in monitoring bacteria levels at swimming holes. FMR has become a go-to environmental organization in The Valley operating many programs that help community members learn about the health of the land and water and conserve natural resources. Through the years, FMR has conducted community-based watershed planning and many scientific studies of the river and tributary corridors, secured public access and recreational opportunities at swim holes like Warren Falls and Lareau Swim Hole, worked with towns to upgrade their infrastructure to be more climate resilient, and hosted countless community conversations.
In 2015, growing concerns around flood vulnerabilities as well as worsening water pollution spurred the formation of Ridge to River. Led by FMR, Ridge to River is a group of community members and municipal representatives who have joined forces to make The Valley safer and more resilient. They have planned and directed ongoing work like the Storm Smart program, stormwater master planning and road roundtables. Ridge to River has brought over $750,000 in grant funding to The Valley for resilience projects.
“Mounting global climate data as well as increasingly frequent local experiences with damaging storm events indicate that the next few decades will be a great challenge in coping with increased storm intensity, more runoff, worsened flooding and periods of drought, not to mention the widespread impacts on agriculture, recreation, forests, wildlife, the economy and the community wellbeing,” said FMR executive director Corrie Miller.
“Since I’ve personally recorded and experienced some of the short, intense rainstorms in the last few years, and how they have challenged my repeated attempts at managing runoff and erosion on our property,” said Richard Czaplinski, board member, “there is no question in my mind that we have some serious work to do across the watershed. Friends of the Mad River believes there is a greater need than ever to look ahead and prepare for what is to come even though we can’t be certain of the timing, variety or extent of the challenges we face.”
Beginning this winter, Friends of the Mad River will kick off a yearlong celebration – one part introspection, one part exploration, one part conversation – to prepare for its next 30 years of work. This may include book readings and discussions, newspaper articles, community fun and family events, and speakers.
“With this 30th-year celebration,” Perot said, “Friends of the Mad River hopes to highlight the problems and concerns our community faces in the coming decades, to listen to everyone’s creative ideas and priorities, and do our best to align people and resources that strengthen our Valley’s ability to transform. And, we hope to learn a lot and have fun in the process.”
“We’re honored to have the support of Lawson’s Finest Liquids in this yearlong endeavor,” said Miller. Since Lawson’s Finest opened its Waitsfield brewery, taproom and retail store in October 2018, they have supported many local charitable endeavors through their Social Impact Program. Lawson’s Finest pays their staff living wages and full benefits, and there is no tip obligation when guests come to the taproom. However, if guests choose to leave a donation, it goes to local charitable groups.
“We’re excited to say that if you visit Lawson’s Finest Taproom between September 15 and 30 and choose to leave a donation, it will support our efforts to celebrate our watershed community and make it stronger in the future,” said Miller.
“Lawson’s Finest is proud to support Friends of the Mad River and what they do to care for the land and water that are so special to our community,” said Karen Lawson. “Our Social Impact Program allows us to assist organizations whose values align with our own and ensures the continued viability and enjoyment of The Valley's natural environment.”
“I’m looking forward to engaging a diversity of community members in this yearlong conversation,” said Miller. “Diverse ideas will help us learn from the past, look inward, celebrate our community and rise to meet its future challenges.” FMR is now recruiting new board members who want to think globally and act locally and are willing to work to help guide the organization and its work into a new era.