Diving into Diversity in the Rancocas Creek Watershed
By Brian Parker, Community Outreach, Rancocas Pathways
Rancocas Pathways is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that manages the Rancocas Creek National Water Trail Initiative and organizes community events like Adopt-a-Creek clean-ups and the “Education is Fun, Naturally” program in the Rancocas Creek watershed. Rancocas Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River in southwestern New Jersey that totals 360-square miles and begins in the Pinelands town of Browns Mills. Rancocas Creek’s main stem is 8.3 miles long, with a North Branch of 28.3 miles beginning in Mill Dam Park, and a South Branch flowing 21.7 miles beginning in Vincentown, before combining at the Bluewater Trail in Rancocas State Park. The Rancocas Creek Watershed drains a rural agricultural and forested area on the western edge of the Pinelands north of Camden. Past Mill Creek, around Delanco and Riverside, Rancocas Creek is a must for birders and wildlife watchers. Whether on foot or in a kayak, this area is an adventure where beavers, deer, eagles, hawks, and many other fish and wildlife can be enjoyed.
As a member of the Community Outreach staff at Rancocas Pathways, it’s my goal to protect and preserve Rancocas Creek, and ensure that the public and members of the community are taking advantage of the beauty and recreation that the Creek has to offer. That’s why when I was approached to attend the Taking Nature Black Conference in Washington D.C., I jumped at the chance to build skills that I could take back to my watershed. The Taking Nature Black Conference was held on February 28th and participants included African American environmental affairs professionals, activists, business owners, representatives of regional environmental groups, and governmental bodies. Both presenters and attendees participated in a free exchange of ideas and encouragement, coupled with the stories of success for nature that couldn’t help but leave everyone feeling inspired.
All of the panels and presentations at the Taking Nature Black Conference were excellent, but there were two that especially interested me because I knew they could benefit Rancocas Creek. The first was the “Nature in Your Neighborhood” panel which will inform my work to engage as many of youth as possible, and to foment ownership and understanding of the local treasure that is Rancocas Creek. The second panel was titled “Engaging Elected Officials,” which demonstrated the importance of reaching out to legislators to advocate for issues that matter to the future of Rancocas Creek.
But what was the biggest lesson learned at the Taking Nature Black Conference? That organizations working for the betterment of nature must be representative of all races and all ages. Hearing about and seeing people of different backgrounds working together and offering their unique perspectives was invaluable at the conference, and this same framework needs to be applied to the larger movement to conserve and restore nature. My questions to anyone reading this are: Are you doing all you can to reach every segment of your community? Are you prioritizing diversity at your organization and within your work?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to ensure underrepresented, under-served, and overburdened communities have a voice in their watersheds and share equitably in the benefits of clean water. Those living in the Rancocas Creek watershed are very diverse, and so should be those who recreate in the watershed and become invested in the Creek’s future. Like Rancocas Pathways, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed have taken on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a priority, and I would encourage all organizations to strive to advance new partnerships and create opportunities for engagement.