Mad River Watch volunteers at Riverside Park. Photo: Ira Shadis.

Friends of the Mad River is now recruiting volunteers for this summer’s Mad River Watch program. Mad River Watch volunteers spread out across the watershed through the summer and make careful observations about the health of the river, streams, and natural communities of the Mad River Valley.


The Mad River Watch program has been running in one form or another for more than 30 years. “The program is in its second year of a rebuild to adapt to changing needs,” said Friends of the Mad River (FMR) executive director Corrie Miller.

“We shifted our focus from the chemistry of water quality to collect broader kinds of data, to provide a long-term picture of the overall health of the watershed. We are still deeply connected to the program’s roots. Some of the data volunteers collect, like water temperature and pH, are part of a data set that stretches back decades. We are also looking ahead to changes we expect to see as a result of climate and landscape change. As one example, last year we added conductivity measurements to give us insight into the areas where road salt may be making its way into the water. As freeze and thaw cycles increase during the winter, so does road salt usage. And, unfortunately elevated sodium chloride can harm freshwater ecosystems,” Miller explained.”

The first phase of Mad River Watch 2.0 began in May 2021, as FMR trained volunteers in the new approach to fieldwork. “Throughout the summer, volunteers used a mobile app to record data, used in-the-field techniques for measuring water quality, took hundreds of photos to track change over time, observed the presence of wildlife, invasive species and human impact, and took action to steward their field sites,” said FMR stewardship manager Ira Shadis. “Many of our volunteers also connected with their artistic side, drawing pictures, recording videos, capturing audio recordings of bird songs, writing poems, and reflecting on the connections they felt with their river site. In 2021, 19 teams of volunteers – ages 2 to 82 – recorded data and observed nature at 21 river and stream sites throughout the summer.”



Many of the volunteers plan to return this summer and continue visiting the same field site as last year. FMR staff pointed to the fact that volunteers visiting the same field site week after week, and year after year, help build the personal connection that leads to deeper and higher quality observations.

“At first my daughter and I were not thrilled with our assigned Ward Swimming site -- it was too publicly used. But we began to care about it, notice the changes to the beach after rains and keep an eye on it on days we weren't monitoring,” said Mad River Watch volunteer Mary O'Leary. Even with many returning volunteers, FMR staff note that there are “plenty of sites” for new volunteers to join in.

The 2022 Mad River Watch field season will have a few small changes but will look very similar to last year’s field season. “Rebuilding this program is really a team effort,” said Shadis. “We worked with a water quality scientist and board members, several of whom are also scientists, to review the data and feedback from volunteers. The hard work of our volunteers allows us to field-test different methods to find the right ones for this program and this community. We also appreciate support from Lawson’s Finest Liquids and we are grateful for their commitment to clean water and a healthy Mad River watershed.” 

Prospective volunteers are invited to learn more about the ins and outs of Mad River Watch at an online Zoom informational session on May 18. The field season will kick off in earnest as volunteers visit their field sites for the first time on June 12 and 13. Find more information and sign up for the info session at