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NOTE: the following was compiled in 2012 and does not reflect updates since that time. 

Friends first organizational meeting was arranged by co-founders Robert Kranich and Garland Hudgins in 1988 and supported by a number of volunteers who studiously searched Shenandoah County tax maps in order to compile a list of riparian (riverside) landowners. Membership building focused on riparian landowners in Shenandoah County as more than seventy miles of the North Fork flow through this jurisdiction. Additionally, founding members resided within the boundaries of Shenandoah County. Moreover, it was felt that individuals owning land along the North Fork would be the people most interested in improving the state of the river.

Approximately 300 riparian landowners were located and mailed invitations to an informational meeting. Representatives from the County government, the Virginia State Water Control Board and the Audubon Society spoke at the formational meeting of the organization, numerous people joined the organization, and Friends’ first President was elected. With a mission of “protecting and enhancing the purity, beauty and natural flow of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, its tributaries and its watershed,” Friends’ 1988 objectives included (unpublished FNFSR document: Objectives):

  • Establishment of a citizens-led surface water monitoring program within the North Fork watershed;
  • Education and awareness-raising of citizens regarding water quality and quantity issues in the watershed;
  • Promotion of citizen understanding of and involvement in water management decisions;
  • Elevation of water quality and quantity issues and natural resource conservation to priority considerations in local government decisions related to development within the watershed;
  • Support and encouragement of local ordinances and long range watershed-wide planning that protects water quality and flow within the North Fork and its tributaries;
  • Support of county and state efforts to require mandatory reporting of all withdrawals and discharges into the river beyond an exempted reasonable minimum;
  • Opposition to interbasin water transfers that would be detrimental to the environmental integrity of the North Fork; and
  • Joining coalition efforts with other organizations concerned with protecting Virginia’s rivers and estuaries.

Friends acquired approval of their Articles of Incorporation in the spring of 1988 and received confirmation of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in December of 1988. The formal structure of the organization includes a Board of Directors with up to 21 positions including a chairman, president, three vice-presidents, recording and corresponding secretaries, and a treasurer. Historically, however, the organization has functioned with slightly more than half of these positions filled. Committees, chaired by board members, formed the core of activity of the early Friends organization. These committees focused on education, advocacy, monitoring, cleanups, and investigation of citizen pollution reports. Friend’s presence as a “Voice for the River” was soon apparent at the local and state government levels, and while some tactics were less well received than others, Friends became a significant participant in water related governmental affairs, as well as a force for change. Moreover, membership in the organization grew to more than 500 strong during the middle 1990s. Currently, Friends membership hovers around 450 individuals and families, approximately one quarter of whom are residents of the metropolitan area and own second homes or vacation cabins along the North Fork.

Membership dues, an annual Fall fundraiser and holiday fund drive make up the majority of Friends’ annual organizational budget of approximately $40-50,000. Grants from local, state, and federal agencies and private foundations contribute to the balance of Friends’ yearly budget.

Early Accomplishments and Collaborative Efforts:
The First 10 Years

Essential to the success and viability of the organization throughout the early and middle 1990s was the creation of a paid executive secretary position. This position was staffed by Pat Maier, a dedicated, loyal, and industrious member of the Friends’ organization. Maier’s administrative support allowed active officers and board members to develop and implement numerous projects and pursue advocacy issues at the local, state, and federal levels. Friends relied heavily on volunteers with teaching backgrounds, as well as contracting an environmental educator. These individuals served critical roles in emphasizing the importance of water related learning in local public schools, as well as creating additional partnerships between Friends of the North Fork and county school systems. Friends’ level of activity, visibility, and effectiveness during its start up period is demonstrated by the Virginia Governor’s designation of the group as Virginia Conservation Organization of the Year in 1989. Initial accomplishments included (unpublished FNFSR document: Accomplishments):

  • Initiating of and participating in surface water sampling of the North Fork Shenandoah River in 1989;
  • Conducting water monitoring and protection classes for local summer youth camps, 4-H Clubs, Future Farmers of America, and Elderhostel programs;
    Assisting in drafting of a poultry litter management ordinance for Shenandoah County;
  • Participating with the VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in an assessment of rare and endangered mussel population in the North Fork;
  • Designing and implementating of the River Rangers and Ranger Running educational program for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Shenandoah County public schools;
  • Establishing and implementing a Citizens Groundwater Monitoring Program (CGMP) for the North Fork Watershed;
  • Organizing twice yearly river cleanups and assisting in preparation of an Adopt-a-Bridge manual and adoption of the program by the Commonwealth of Virginia;
  • Sponsoring several Service Training for Environmental Progress (STEP) interns from VA Tech;
  • Lobbying successfully to Shenandoah County officials to impose a moratorium on individual waste treatment plants due to inadequate function and maintenance;
    Partnering with the Farm Bureau to initiate a solid waste recycling program in Shenandoah County; and
  • Participating in Shenandoah County’s Citizens Review Committee of the County’s 2010 Comprehensive and successfully advocating for improved stewardship of the North Fork through establishment of a Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC).

The invitation and presence of county and state government representatives and conservation oriented speakers at the original organizational meeting of Friends showed an early awareness of the need for cross boundary communication, cooperation, and collaboration in efforts to improve and protect the state of water quality and quantity in the North Fork Watershed. Moreover, collaboration was mandated as a priority within the written objectives of the Friends’ organization. Initial achievements in the apparent improvement of water quality and increased awareness of quality and quantity issues among citizens and local government officials were a direct result of establishing relationships and opening lines of communication with local and state government entities, riparian landowners, farmers, civic groups, educators, and local colleges and universities associated with the North Fork Watershed.

Collaborative efforts focused on a number of different organizations where Friends could be of assistance, needed some help, or could serve as an advocate for the North Fork.

This information was compiled by Leslie Mitchell -Watson
Copyright by Leslie D. Mitchell-Watson – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Leslie retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the capstone paper. She also retains the right to use in future works (such as articles or books) all or part of this capstone paper.