Mark Angelo never imagined that by rounding up some paddler friends and rafting British Columbia’s Thompson River on a September afternoon in 1980 he’d start a global environmental movement. “We cleaned up garbage and debris from the river and hired a tug to pull some old car wrecks off the river banks,” says Angelo, the chair of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Rivers Institute. “Afterwards we promoted the idea as becoming an annual event across the province, and it’s grown from there.”
In 2005, Angelo’s BC Rivers Day morphed into the United Nations-backed World Rivers Day, which falls annually on the last Sunday in September. More than just a shoreline clean up, Angelo says Rivers Day is all about celebrating waterways for their cultural, recreational and environmental values. In British Columbia alone, more than 75,000 people will be involved this year in over 100 events ranging from habitat restoration projects, group paddling outings, and community education workshops. Worldwide, Angelo estimates that millions of people will also be participating. Angelo’s ultimate goal is to foster a sense of “river advocacy” year-round.
“Our rivers face an array of threats—pollution, urbanization, loss of riverside habitat, dams, diversions, and the extraction of water,” says Angelo, who has paddled hundreds of waterways around the world and was one of the last people to paddle the wild canyons of Chile’s Bio-Bio River before it was dammed in 1996. This summer in Angelo’s home province of British Columbia, for instance, an extended drought and archaic water withdrawal policies have caused many rivers to nearly run dry. Meanwhile, changes to Canadian waterpower development legislation could effectively silence the concerns of environmentalists, making it easier for developers to build paddlesports-killing hydroelectric facilities on wild rivers.
“Rivers are truly the arteries of the planet,” says Angelo. “And for those of us who live here in Canada, we have even more to celebrate. We are a nation of rivers, and that’s made us who we are as Canadians.” – Conor Mihell
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