Watershed Kids

"To see something that I love be appreciated by others was something that really meant a lot to me."

- Skye Ellison

Background Information

Skye Ellison currently lives in Healdsburg, California near the meandering, calm Russian River.  This river is very much a part of Healdsburg, but many people don’t know the true value of the river.  Skye was 10 months old when she went on her first river trip. Her father thought it would be a wonderful idea to take his young daughter and wife on the San Juan River in the cold month of May with three other families. From that point on Skye was dragged on many other wild river adventures around the world. The rivers wove themselves into her childhood and on into her teenage years. She still looks forward to every summer when her father plans another crazy river trip.  These river trips were what steered her in the direction of her CLP–Skye wanted to share her love of rivers with other youth. The problem in her community is that not enough of the youth of Healdsburg utilize the river or care about it. She wants to change that. She started to think of ways she could engage the youth to get them out on the river. She decided that she would host a one day event where the kids of Healdsburg work together to restore the river as well as kayak down it. She hopes by providing this day she can instill in some of the kids her love of the river and why it should be important to every one of them. If this day is a success, Skye will continue to provide river days like the first in future years. The mission of Watershed Kids is to provide a space for youth to utilize the local Russian River and in return take part in its protection.

“Rivers have always been a big part of my life but through my CLP I have gained a new respect for the importance of rivers. Now, not only do I want to enjoy them for the rest of my life, I want to protect them as well.”
– Skye

Implementation of Project

Skye, along with her action team, got to work planning the action day that would take place at the end of July 2015. By the time July rolled around, Skye and her action team were ready.  The first half of the day took place at a park that lay along the bank of the Russian River. While here, the participants of Watershed Kids worked at taking down a non-native invasive English Ivy plant species that grow up the native trees along the river. This Ivy raps itself tightly around the trees until they die. The trees are very important to the river’s ecosystem in that they host tons of other living species and that they prevent erosion along the river banks. Skye watched as the participants sawed and hacked joyfully at the thick Ivy. In the couple of hours that they worked they got through more than dozen trees, successfully freeing them of their killers. With the job well done the team retired their tools and went to eat lunch in the shade of one of the freed trees. After they had finished lunch they all loaded into the bus and headed upstream to start the second half of the program. The rest of the day was dedicated to enjoying what the river had to offer. Every participant got their own boat and paddle and the group set off in a long snaking procession down The Russian River. Along the way the group took breaks to learn about the local flora and fauna and to jump in the river for a swim. A couple of the participants had never kayaked before and it seemed to be a rewarding experience for them as well as the action team. The day ended with Popsicles and swimming.

“Although I enjoyed all aspects of the day the most rewarding part of the day was getting to see the participant’s enjoying themselves on the river. To see something that I love be appreciated by others was something that really meant alot to me.”
– Skye

Results of Project

Skye found Watershed Kids to be a success! Not only did Skye consider it a success, so did The Russian RiverKeepers, a non-profit organization that helps to promote and protect the river.  After seeing the fun that the kids had on the river and the learning that took place, The RiverKeepers decided that they wanted to make Watershed Kids a year-round program run by their organization. Skye had never intended her program to live on after her action day, seeing as she would be leaving for college the next year, but she was overjoyed to have started a program that was meaningful enough that someone would take it on and continue. Now the Russian RiverKeeper’s have raised $20,000+ for Watershed Kids and they are starting to implement the program as part of the curriculum for elementary schools around Sonoma County.

“It felt unbelievable to have completed the Watershed Kids’ action day successfully. It felt even better when The Russian RiverKeepers felt it was successful enough to become a permanent program to be implemented in school systems around the County.”
– Skye

What’s Next

Skye will graduate from her senior class of Sonoma Academy this spring and will start her college career at Colorado College in the following spring of 2017. Skye knows that whatever she chooses to study she will continue to hold a special place for rivers and their protection. Skye hopes that she will be able to attend and help out with many more Watershed Kids’ action days with many more groups of young adults to come.

“Although I will be leaving for college soon, I intend to stay apart of the Watershed Kids program and participate in as many more action days as I can.”
– Skye