From the cockpit: Easy ways to be a top-notch river steward

January 07, 2022

Easy ways to set a good example for your paddling community.

From the cockpit: Easy ways to be a top-notch river steward

By: K.M. Collins

I learned how to be a river steward from Bobbo Marsh - a great kayaker and an even better person. Paddle instructor, coach and athletic director were his second careers after retiring as a U.S. Forest Service wildland fire manager. Every paddle season, in the early morning hours he canvasses the Deschutes River for discarded single-use plastics, stray flip flops, lost tennis balls and chew toys and any other stray bits that don’t belong in the cherished waters of our river. He is a real inspiration to be with on the water. In the spirit of Bobbo Marsh, here are some lessons on being a good river steward...


Every kayak trip can be a river cleanup

Bring a rubbish bag on all your paddle outings to collect litter that may float past and trash lodged in shoreline obstacles like boulders and reeds. Make it an every outing practice. You could keep a tally of what you find and on what waterway and report the data to a local nonprofit that may host annual river clean-ups.


Secure all your belongings

Don’t inadvertently add to the river rubbish problem by having an unexpected capsize, yard sailing your gear everywhere. After all, how do you think the stray sunglasses, single flip flops and empties end up in the river in the first place? Flotsam and jetsam are a hazard in and of themselves so tie it down or leave it on shore or in the car.


Set a good safety example

Proper training, check. Life jacket, check. Whistle, check. Skin and sun protection, check. Eye protection, check. Properly fitting spray skirt, check. Be sure to bring and wear all the safety equipment every time. And be sure to have the training and knowledge appropriate for operating a kayak. This is for your own protection and to model the appropriate behavior to others. Don’t be that guy,the one that’s too cool or in too big a hurry to be safe.


Follow the rules

Each waterway will potentially have unique rules like requirements for permitting or universal federal rules or state rules like having an invasive species permit. These rules might feel annoying on occasion but they are for the protection and careful management of the waterways we love and the delicate flora and fauna these riparian zones house.


Be friendly to other kayakers

Smile and make a new friend! Maybe you are a long-time local and you feel tourists are overtaking your favorite waterway. It’s best to smile and be friendly. That way if you see them not wearing life jackets or accidentally leaving behind items that don’t belong in the river, your friendly safety and stewardship reminders will go over more smoothly.


Don’t feed the wildlife

Being near wildlife creatures can be intriguing and exciting. But feeding them disrupts the ecosystem and the delicate balance they have going in nature on their own. You aren’t Hansel and Gretel, no bread crumbs.


Practice Leave No Trace Principles

If you haven’t heard of Leave No Trace Principles, they are worth reading up on. The idea is that so many folks are now taking part in the outdoors, even remote destinations, and it’s up to each of us to keep these spaces unadulterated so whoever (or whatever) enjoys them after us has as good of an experience as we did.

Be a good river steward - if not for yourself or the river - do it for Bobbo and do it for your community!