This past weekend, I journeyed to Durham, NC to help celebrate the 20th year of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, a nonprofit I founded while living there from 1995 to 2003. I served first as president, then as executive director, continuing long-distance through 2005, and am proud to say that the organization has flourished in the years since then, growing to a staff of six, with hundreds of people attending this year's annual meeting in downtown Durham.
For the occasion, my friend and fellow plant-keeper Cynthie Kulstad (left) created a botanical portrait of the watershed--a glorious bouquet of native plants collected from different preserves that ECWA now owns and manages.
I seldom find myself posing for photos, but wanted to have a photo with Ellen Reckhow, a longtime Durham County commissioner who helped our fledgling organization get a county matching grant to purchase our first six acres next to the creek, twenty years ago.
One of the special places along the creek that I happened upon in ECWA's early days was a beaver marsh, improbably located right behind a big shopping center. It was a classic juxtaposition of nature and urban development. Beavers maintain the water level, and have a big lodge in the middle of the marsh. ECWA went on to acquire the marsh and build trails through it. A Beaver Queen Pageant evolved in a nearby neighborhood park, becoming the nonprofit's biggest annual fundraiser, as aspiring beaver queen contestants perform flamboyant skits, encouraging their friends to bribe the judges. The pageant's irreverence is a good balance for ardent environmentalism.
Staff member Rachel Cohn did most of the organizing for the celebration, including help pass out pieces of birthday cake.
I was one of the speakers at the event. The new executive director, Rickie White, introduced me as a stay-at-home dad, which prompted me to lead a cheer for stay-at-home dads before launching into my speech. In the speech, I told what I consider to be an immigrant's story, of moving to a new city, happening upon a neglected creek that flows through town, seeing value and possibility where many had only seen a ditch.
What a great feeling to witness all the growth, and be a part of the celebration.