By Lisa Charron, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

At the Natural Resources Foundation, we are amazed by all of the “River Angels” who have stepped up to help Ruth out. They’ve opened their homes and their kitchens, shared their river stories and their conservation efforts, guided her through tough waters, helped her lug many pounds of gear and gave her a lift when the river got too choppy. We’re shining a spotlight on a few of those River Angels, but want to thank them all for their support.

River Angel Spotlight: Bryan Pierce

Not only does Bryan Pierce appreciate the river for its recreational qualities—he really enjoyed paddling with Ruth on her first day on the river, and even “surfed” down the face of one of the beaver dams in his kayak—but he has also worked hard to preserve the river and the surrounding natural areas.

Bryan paddles with Ruth on the first day of the I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip.

Bryan has been the Executive Director of the Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) for eleven years, and helped to found the organization. NWLT works to protect land with conservation easement donations and conservation land donations in Vilas, Oneida, Forest, Florence, Iron, Price and Langlade counties. Ruth blogged about NWLT on her third day, stressing that land easements and donations are an important way for individuals to express the value they place on the land and its natural resources. For more information about how the NWLT operates, in Ruth’s own words, see her post, Day III: Winding Waters and the Power of Land Trusts.

Bryan shows Ruth the areas that NWLT has protected.

Bryan made very clear the sheer power that this kind of work has on preserving wild lands. The NWLT now protects over 10,000 acres of land and 50 miles of natural shorelines along rivers and lakes. Over 300 of those acres are along the Upper Wisconsin River, protecting the view and the habitat along the river for generations to come.

When we asked him about his favorite places along the river, Bryan cited the NWLT-owned Holmboe Conifer Forest State Natural Area, a few hundred yards up the Pelican River from where it converges with the Wisconsin. He said that the early old-growth hemlock and pine make for great hiking. He also likes the stretch of the Wisconsin River around Hat Rapids Dam. He related a story of a public canoe/kayak trip there one summer:  “It is highly scenic and very fun to paddle, with a few rapids. One of our prospective conservation easement donors came with me in my canoe down that stretch, and we managed to hang up on a rock and get soaked! She still completed the easement donation though.” Bryan seems to have a knack for connecting people to the river, whether it’s through conservation, adventure or both!

Photo credit: Bryan Pierce.

It’s clear that Bryan shares Ruth’s and the Natural Resources Foundation’s dedication to protecting and sharing with others Wisconsin’s amazing land, water and wildlife. In response to finding out about the I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip, he said, “Ruth’s trip is a great opportunity to highlight not just an incredible Wisconsin resource, but also all of the outstanding efforts so many people have put into preserving and protecting the Wisconsin River.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

River Angel Spotlight: Scott and Susan Watson

Scott and Susan Watson have lived in the Northwoods for about 25 years. They are both retired Department of Natural Resources employees. Scott worked in water resources and Susan worked in waste water. Knowing that, you might get an idea where their love of the Wisconsin River comes from. Upon hearing about the I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip, they were grateful. Scott pointed out that “her [Ruth’s] adventure would bring attention to the wonderful public resources in Wisconsin and the need to protect them for the public interest.”

Scott and Susan Watson, along friend Neal, guide Ruth through their favorite part of the river.

The Watsons’ preferred way to enjoy the Wisconsin River is in a canoe. Like Bryan Pierce, they love to paddle down the stretch of river just below Hat Rapids. Luckily, they got to share that stretch of the river with Ruth on Day VI of her journey. See her blog post, Day VI: Escaping Time, and Celebrating DNR Employees, to learn about how the Watsons helped her navigate a part of the river that she was a little nervous about. Scott says that he feels connected to the history of the river in the Hat Rapids section: “It always reminds me of what the voyagers must have experienced traveling down those waters.” You can read more about the history of the Wisconsin River, and how connecting to nature can connect us to bygone eras, in my post, Paddling Through History.

River Angel Spotlight: Tom Jerow

Tom Jerow has lived on the banks of the Wisconsin River for almost 20 years, first in Wisconsin Rapids and then in Rhinelander. He likes to joke that when he moved in 2004, he could have done so in a Voyager Canoe! What’s life like living in a beautiful home right on the river, you might ask? In Tom’s own words: “We are fortunate to wake up every morning and look out our breakfast window on the Wisconsin River.”

Tom and Steve feel lucky to have the Wisconsin River in their backyard.

Besides the amazing views, Tom loves to garden beside the river. In order to reduce his ecological footprint, he has installed rain gardens and a pervious driveway and uses mostly native species in his gardens. Tom’s work to preserve the Wisconsin River does not start or end with landscaping, though. He worked on Wisconsin River issues for the Department of Natural Resources for 33 years. To hear more about his work, and about Ruth’s stay at his beautiful home, see her blog post, Day VI: Escaping Time, and Celebrating DNR Employees.

Tom’s beautiful garden along the Wisconsin River. Photo credit Tom Jerow.

Tom’s second favorite place along the Wisconsin River (his first is his own backyard!) is the Holmboe Conifer Forest just a few blocks away. We already heard from Bryan Pierce about the great hiking and the conservation efforts on that piece of land, but Tom adds that it was also the site of a historical trading post.

Tom says that he admires Ruth’s “tenacity to take something negative (funding issues) and turn it into something positive.” Back at the Natural Resources Foundation office, we couldn’t agree more. We are heartened to see so many people supporting Ruth’s journey and being inspired by it.

Tom paddles with Ruth on Day VI of her voyage.

Thank you again to all of Ruth’s River Angels! We appreciate all of the support you have given Ruth throughout the trip, and your amazing efforts to conserve Wisconsin’s lands, waters and wildlife.