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Stronger Together: A Look Back at 2020

Putting Our Best Foot Forward: First Day Hike at Seven Bends State Park

A First Day Hike at Seven Bends State Park started 2020 strong with over 100 hikers gathering to ring in the new year. By March, we shifted to virtual meetings and a stronger online outreach push. It’s been a year of ups-and-downs and of just paddling through.

Watch the below video of our favorite images from the year and read below about some of the year’s highlights. We’ve never felt more grateful for this river community or for the great outdoors. 

New Staff and a Valiant Volunteer Effort

Despite the challenges of the year, with the support of our members, corporate sponsors, and Cares Act funding, we brought on two new staff members during the pandemic, Program Coordinator Mariama Dryak and Volunteer Coordinator Julia Sargent. We added another staff member shortly before the onset of the pandemic, Education Support Specialist Daisy Blakely, marking a transition from Friends’ intern to staff member. Our volunteers stepped up this year as well, despite our being very limited in our ability to gather in person, contributing over 1,500 hours of volunteer time. Many thanks to both our seasoned and our new volunteers. Enjoy the below recap of what we accomplished together. Let’s carry this can-do collaborative energy into 2021. 

Interested in helping out in 2021? Fill out our volunteer interest form here.

Scenic River Designation

This year, after many hours of discussion, feedback, and support from Seven Bends State Park, the Shenandoah Riverkeepers and other partners, we received a formal recommendation from the Department of Conservation and Recreation for an 8.8 mile stretch of the North Fork to be officially designated a Virginia Scenic River.  Scenic River status would boost our ability to protect this stretch–from Chapman’s Landing to the north end of Seven Bends State Park, just downstream from Lupton Road–when neighboring landowners desire protections such as conservation easements.  And it is crucial to help our community know that this program specifically stops short of enacting or even promoting any landowner restrictions or infringements.  The one exception is that anyone submitting an application to build a new dam in the designated section of the river must get approval from the VA General Assembly to do so. This is a win-win for the community, the river, and all the life it supports.

Seasonal Photo Contest

We launched our first seasonal photo contest this year, with many talented local photographers sharing their unique perspectives on our beautiful watershed. 

The Launch of Friends of Seven Bends State Park

Our work as the community-support organization for Seven Bends State Park pivoted this year to the formal launch of Friends of Seven Bends State Park, a branch of Friends of the North Fork. Debra Cooper won the contest to design the logo for FSBSP, creating a unique and tailored design. Despite being delayed, we moved forward on the River’s Way Natural Playground and Outdoor Classroom project at the park. The initial $12,000 grant from the Garden Club of Virginia was bolstered by a $6,000 donation from the Woodstock Lions Club, which includes a match from the Lions Foundation of Virginia. Valley Engineering is a key project partner by donating design services. In October and December we gathered, with masks and distancing, for autumn olive clearing at the park. Friends of the North Fork’s North Fork Conservation Corps also sprung from our relationship with the park, with a pilot enrolling teens in a local-mentor-led program mixing service projects with outdoor education and recreation. We look forward to enrolling a new NFCC crew in the spring.

Donate here.

Give the Gift of a Healthy River here.

Save Happy Creek

In late October, clear-cutting began along 1300-feet of the banks of Happy Creek in Front Royal, the first tributary stream to the main stem of the Shenandoah as it flows past Riverton, VA.  This caught the immediate attention of several Valley-based conservation organizations and a broad group of concerned citizens.  From this attention the Save Happy Creek coalition was formed.

The group alerted Warren County who then issued a Stop Order of the project.  The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) then walked the site for a full project review, and cited 30 infractions and violations.  The coalition followed with more than a half dozen presentations to a highly receptive Front Royal Town Council, who then proposed an overall project review before any additional substantive work would continue.

Summer Stream Adventures with Friends Hybrid Summer Camp

Like many this year, Friends was not able to hold our beloved summer camps in person. So we got creative with staff, contract Program Coordinator Stefany Feldbusch, local agency partners, board members and, volunteering professional teachers in coming together to develop Summer Stream Adventures with Friends–a hybrid camp program focused on nature, mixing live video calls with guardian-supervised outdoor learning and service projects.  This five-week program of environmental-educator guided at-home and self-led outdoor environmental experiences for young adventurers, ages 4-9 and 10-17, emphasized fun and engagement, with many of the activities providing rich STREAM subject encounters (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art & Mathematics). 

Here’s to the challenging, but growth-inducing year that defined 2020, and a cheers to wishing 2021 to be an extension of that growth, investment in our community, and advocacy for our river.

In Service of the River,

Help make 2021 an even better year in service of the river. Make an end-of-year contribution, give the gift of a healthy river to a loved one, make a special gift, renew your membership, or become a new member.