The coronavirus pandemic has made everything more challenging during the past year, including running a nonprofit organization. But with the help of volunteers, watershed watchdog Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA) has been able to keep its science, education, outreach and land stewardship programs going strong.
On Feb. 25, Raritan Headwaters honored five outstanding volunteers at its annual Member Meeting – held remotely on Zoom rather than in person.
“We cannot get our work done without the help of dedicated volunteers,” said RHA Executive Director Cindy Ehrenclou. “We’re so proud of our volunteers and grateful for the extraordinary efforts they made to keep our essential services and programs successful over a tough year.”
Bob Morris of Peapack, an RHA trustee since 2014, received the Suki Dewey Volunteer of the Year award for his outstanding efforts to raise public awareness of Raritan Headwaters and its mission.
Ehrenclou noted that many local residents have attended RHA’s annual Lantern Walks and experienced the magic of parading through the meadows of Fairview Farm at sundown, carrying beautiful illuminated paper lanterns. Others have visited the Bernardsville Farmers Market during the summer and noticed RHA’s table, usually manned by Bob.
“We have Bob Morris to thank for both of these successful outreach efforts. He is a wonderful ambassador,” said Ehrenclou. “It was his idea to bring the European lantern tradition to Fairview Farm several years ago, and he generously donated lanterns to get us started. The Lantern Walk has since become one of our most anticipated fall events and a fantastic fundraiser to boot!”
Kathy Koch of Lebanon Township was honored for working to protect the quality of groundwater in the upper Raritan River watershed. Koch is an outdoor lover and an active volunteer in RHA’s annual stream cleanup and stream monitoring programs. She and her husband regularly walk their dog along the South Branch of the Raritan River, which motivates them to keep the river clean, pick up litter and observe any changes that would affect water quality.
As a representative of the Lebanon Township Environmental Committee, Koch helps organize and run RHA’s Well Test Community Day for the town. “She always goes the extra mile, talking with residents about the importance of testing their water regularly, posting fliers around town, and organizing and the event day with our well test manager Mara Tippett,” said Ehrenclou.
Mike Ricketts of Clinton was honored for his contributions to protecting water quality in local rivers and streams. Ricketts, who has experience as both a PhD researcher and a chemistry teacher, has volunteered as a stream monitor for almost 12 years.
“He is an excellent addition to our science team,” said Ehrenclou. “Mike goes above and beyond and monitors stream sites on his own time when he notices a potential water quality issue. He also helps us out by monitoring the chemistry of several sites on a bi-weekly basis throughout the year, even during the winter months! Mike is a critical thinker and often brings water quality issues to our attention, which helps to advance our science program and our clean water mission.”
Nancy Yard, a former resident of Flemington who now lives in Utah, is the volunteer award recipient in the category of education. During the early days of the Covid pandemic, the staff of Raritan Headwaters realized they would have to quickly transition education programs to remote learning to help families stuck at home during lockdown. Although Yard had recently moved to Utah after a 25-year career in education, she offered to volunteer from her new home 2,000 miles away.
“Nancy spent an enormous amount of time and effort contributing lessons, activities and craft tutorials to enhance our new Learning Resource Hub,” said Ehrenclou. “Her creativity, enthusiasm for environmental education and dedication to Raritan Headwaters was incredibly valuable and appreciated, especially during such a challenging time.”
Rudy Kircher of Hillsborough was honored in the category of land stewardship. Rudy was among the many New Jerseyans who lost their jobs last year due to Covid. Wanting to do something to make a positive impact on the environment, he searched for in-person volunteer opportunities and found Raritan Headwaters. Since joining the land stewardship team last August, he attended almost every stewardship volunteer day RHA has hosted.
“He is eager to work and quick to learn the many invasive plants that threaten native species at Fairview Farm and our other preserves,” noted Ehrenclou. “Rudy worked the hardest, stayed the longest and was helpful in showing newer volunteers the ropes. He even assisted our Raritan Valley Community College service-learning student in writing an application for a grant to help manage the impact of white tail deer and invasive plants at Fairview Farm and other preserves. Rudy is an incredible asset to Raritan Headwaters and a great champion for land stewardship.”
About Raritan Headwaters
Raritan Headwaters has been working since 1959 to protect, preserve and improve water quality and other natural resources of the Raritan River headwaters region through efforts in science, education, advocacy, land preservation and stewardship. RHA’s 470-square-mile region provides clean drinking water to 300,000 residents of 38 municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon and Morris counties and beyond to some 1.5 million homes and businesses in New Jersey’s densely populated urban areas. To learn more about Raritan Headwaters and its programs, please visit www.raritanheadwaters.org or call 908-234-1852.