From her perspective, Katie Racette has a dream job. It’s not for everyone, though, since her work involves roping up to rappel down rocky hillsides, or strapping on snowshoes to trek up wintery slopes. As the Clark Fork Coalition’s Volunteer Coordinator, Katie goes to great lengths to protect and restore the watershed she calls home—and to encourage others to do the same.
How did you get involved in conservation work?
I grew up in the Adirondacks of northern New York. Since I always loved being outside, I majored in Environmental Studies and Biology at the State University of New York.
What brought you out west?
After college, I moved to Vail, Colorado to work at an outdoor science center. While I was there, I applied for an AmeriCorps position with the Big Sky Watershed Corps in Montana. I feel really lucky they placed me with the Clark Fork Coalition!
What’s your role with the Coalition?
I manage our Volunteer River Corps, which connects people to rivers and streams near their home. I organize about two events per month. My goal is to keep bringing on new volunteers, and to make sure that the VRC really responds to the needs of the watershed.
Why do you love your job?
The people, hands down. I also like that it brings me to places in the watershed I wouldn’t normally go. And it seems like every VRC event involves a little adventure, which is fun.
Like what kind of adventure?
I had to rope up to collect trash during the Technical Cleanup behind Taco John’s last month. And during our snowpack monitoring, I never know if it’ll be a two or twelve-mile hike to the sampling site. My job has taught me to be prepared for anything!
Can you describe a typical river volunteer?
There’s no such thing! Our volunteers range from preschoolers to retirees. Some people only volunteer once a year, while others come to as many events as possible. The only common denominators are that everyone is great and we all care about the river.
What’s the most popular event?
Our cleanups are definitely the most popular. Picking up trash is super rewarding, since it’s something tangible where people can immediately see how they made a difference.
This year, in addition to the main Clark Fork Cleanup in April, we hosted a cleanup at Buckhouse Bridge to address homeless camps, one at Bearmouth to get rid of a riverside dumping ground, a Technical Trash Cleanup on a steep bank downtown, and a post-summer trash cleanup.
Are there opportunities for people to volunteer regularly on the same project?
For sure. I organize monthly snowpack monitoring at an NRCS snow course site in the Sapphire Mountains, and usually it’s the same group of volunteers who attend. We send the data to the NRCS to help them predict streamflows and water supply.
This year, we also started an Adopt-A-Stream program, where children from the Boy Scouts, the Clark Fork School, and the Talbot Boys and Girls Youth Homes planted trees in an area that had been neglected. The kids went back weekly this summer to weed, water, and clean up trash.
Another opportunity for repeat volunteers this summer was the Urban River Restoration and Access Plan project. About 15 volunteers counted the number of floaters downtown, and asked people how they use the river downtown.
What’s in store for the volunteer program in 2016?
Why do you think people should volunteer?
Because you’ll get free beer, for one! Volunteer Missoula just chose the Coalition for its “Pints for Partnerships,” which means Draughtworks donates free beer vouchers for our volunteers. Plus, it’s a good way to give back to the river that gives so much to all of us. And we have a lot of fun out there, too!
Check out our events calendar or sign up for E-News to see volunteer opportunities.
Join our Volunteer River Corps here.
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