Willamette River Initiative

Willamette River Initiative

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Looking back on Within Our Reach (and sharing conference materials so you can, too)

Kelly House's picture
By Kelly House - March 12, 2017

One way to gauge commitment to a community-driven restoration initiative: Host a conference in the middle of a snow and ice storm, and see how many people show up.

Despite Mother Nature’s curveball, the Willamette River Initiative’s 4th biennial Within Our Reach conference Dec. 8 and 9 drew a sold-out crowd of nearly 220 people to Oregon State University. Together, the members of Team Willamette assessed the progress made nearly eight years into Meyer’s 10-year commitment to fund efforts to improve the health of the Willamette River, and then began planning future achievements. Many thanks to all who planned and participated in making the conference such a great combination of science, culture, policy, social change and inspiration.

This community’s successes are many. More than four thousand streamside acres restored. Miles of floodplain reconnected to the river. New science to increase our collective understanding of river health and restoration opportunities. New partnerships to find solutions to regional and basin-wide concerns.

But a key question remains: How to continue and build on the momentum created after Meyer’s current 10-year funding commitment ends?

Planning for the Future

Although Team Willamette has made significant progress toward a healthier Willamette River watershed, there is much left to do. Ten years in the life of a river — especially one as large and complex as the Willamette — is not enough time to address the scale of change needed.

In a speech during the conference’s second morning, WRI’s Director Allison Hensey shared Meyer’s commitment to supporting a strong transition beyond this 10-year initiative to enable the community to continue and increase alignment and impact. One possible approach is co-creation of a basin-wide organization to support:

  • Development of a shared vision and goals

  • Fundraising

  • Storytelling and communications

  • Shared services and learning

  • Coordination, collaboration and expanding Team Willamette

  • Improved policy and program implementation

  • Advancing equity, diversity and inclusion, and

  • Supporting science, data collection and monitoring

At the conference, attendees discussed Willamette River challenges most in need of a collective approach and the kind of support needed to successfully address those challenges. They also began exploring the concept of a Willamette River network to live well beyond the sunset of Meyer's decade-long initiative, and how such a network could add value to their work.

Tackling the challenges of the future will take a sustained commitment to an effort even bigger, more connected and more ambitious than the Willamette River Initiative. A strong, well-organized network could provide the support system for such an effort.

Meyer will convene an inclusive planning process this spring to build on the many conversations, planning discussions and feedback we’ve received so far from the Willamette community about this concept. Our goal is to co-create a blueprint for a basin-wide organization to support the Willamette River community by the end of this year with an Advisory Group drawn from Team Willamette, and begin to build an organization from this blueprint in 2018. We’ll share more as plans continue to unfold, and be sure to talk with you often about the developing concept. Meanwhile, we want to thank the incredible community of Willamette River advocates for their inspiring commitment and contributions to restoring and protecting the watershed we call home.

Within Our Reach materials available

If the snow kept you from Within Our Reach, or the robust schedule left you choosing between sessions that peaked your interest, or you’re dying to revisit a chart, handout or speech from a session you attended, now is your chance!

Videos of all of the plenary sessions and many engaging, informative and inspiring breakout discussions from Within Our Reach are available on the Tools & Resources page of our website, along with supplementary materials, photos, and a high-definition version of Tim Corey’s graphic recording of the event. Browse the repository and share within your communities.

Did we miss something? Email us. We'll track down the materials you seek.