By: Melissa Martinez
Whacking away mosquitos in Long Creek, South Carolina surrounded by seasoned river advocates and paddlers, I put down my beer and had one of those moments where I happily wondered how I had even gotten there.
Sitting there, clothes still damp from the river and humidity, I listened in on the conversations that had sprouted about on the screened back porch. Jokes and stories of feats on the Chattooga river trip that we had just been on as well as reminisced memories of previous wild and scenic river trips, steadily kept a happy hum in the circle. These river enthusiasts had all come together in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the act that put in place the river system that I have the opportunity to help celebrate this year through my position with the Forest Service and Hispanic Access Foundation.
This interagency year-long celebration was put together to highlight, draw and reconnect communities of all backgrounds to their waterways. Diverse stories, art, presentations, films, conversations and action all being brought together by people’s love for their rivers. On this trip, I learned about the designation of the Chattooga from those that fought to keep it protected, what it takes to manage the river from a river ranger that cares for it and met people and families that love the Chattooga from having grown up alongside this river that runs between the Chattahoochee and Sumter National Forests.
I had been invited by a friend in the River Management Society to road trip down with her to experience the beautiful wild and scenic Chattooga river, a badass WoC in the whitewater hall of fame.I had met this friend on the Hill in DC while attending an event put together to celebrate wild and scenic rivers, an event that I had a chance to attend through this fellowship, a fellowship which I had applied for at the persistence of awesome friends while backpacking in Central America post-college graduation.
So this is how I, a Los Angeles native/Arizona local, Latinx advocate/nature enthusiast, ended up on this back porch in South Carolina, planning round two on the Chattooga for the next day.
Being from Los Angeles, I had thought rivers weren’t a big part of my life. But without the waterways of northern California (many of those designated wild and scenic) and the Colorado river, my Los Angeles would never have existed. One in every ten people get their water from a wild & scenic river, and we all get our water from some river source, it’s just a matter of tracing your personal connection.
P.S. Also, hey check out this article my friend Jack put together about our trip: https://www.americanrivers.org/2018/06/a-wild-scenic-adventure-on-the-ch...