The Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) celebrated its 20-year anniversary last Saturday with a ceremony held at Eden City Hall in North Carolina, the same place the nonprofit held its first organizational meeting two decades ago.
In addition to looking back at the work DRBA has completed over the years and discussing future goals, the organization also presented its annual volunteer awards, recognizing individuals and organizations that have helped DRBA in its mission of protecting and promoting the 3,300-square mile Dan River Basin region through recreation, education, and stewardship.
Fairy Stone State Park Manager Adam Layman received the Service to DRBA Award which, DRBA Board President Mark Estes said was given to individuals who stand out as a volunteer during the year both in terms of time and effort. “DRBA thrives on partnerships as a means of leveraging resources to enhance projects beyond the capabilities of the individual organization,” he said.
Estes acknowledged Layman’s tireless efforts in the work needed to propel the future Virginia Mayo River State Park project forward. A ribbon cutting for the parking lot and multi-use trail system at the site of the future park, located in Spencer, VA, was held on Earth Day this year.
Bringing that park into existence, Estes said, comes with many challenges, and Layman played an “integral part” as a liaison between the state, DRBA, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Eco Ambassador Council and other organizations to “lead this monumental task to a successful outcome. Adam has been a steadfast component of the communications end in the coordination.”
As previously reported, Fairy Stone staff also assisted with the construction of the parking lot and trail system at the park.
Shawn Gorman, treasurer of the DRBA board, received the Service to DRBA Award. “His work has impacted DRBA on multiple levels,” Estes said, including serving on multiple board committees and as an officer of the board.
“He has been instrumental in maintaining and guiding our organization into a solid and sound financial position through policy development, fiduciary, and corporate proceedings,” said Estes.
Rebecca Adcock, executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of
Commerce, received the DRBA Volunteer of the Year Award, which Estes said was presented to an individual who goes above and beyond to serve, promote, educate, and actively participate to strengthen the organization.
Estes credited Adcock, who he said was a long-time member and donor, with growing an annual fundraiser into a consistent source of funds for trail development and enhancements. Additionally, “though professional work as a chamber director, she has constantly promoted DRBA events and activities regionally,” he said.
Eden Mayor Neville Hall accepted the DRBA Partnership Award on behalf of the City of Eden. Estes said this award traditionally goes to a municipality or state organization that has shown support and dedication to DRBA’s mission through collaboration, participation, and collective actions.
“Eden City Hall is where DRBA began,” Estes said. “Two decades later, we are meeting in the same building to celebrate two decades of partnership and mutual success … DRBA’s partnership with the City of Eden has spanned the life of DRBA and continues forward as strong as ever.”
Estes presented two Corporate Awards during the ceremony. The awards, he explained, are given to business or civic organizations that have helped DRBA achieve a project or provide a service that would not have been likely to have happened without the resource leveraging of that partnership.
The first recipient was Nestle Purina, a company which, “even before they opened their doors (at their Eden location), they were seeking partnerships with organizations in the region to established corporate goodwill in their new location.”
In 2021, the Purina Trust Foundation granted DRBA $21,500 to help establish a park in Rockingham County and even sent a crew of volunteers to help build a trail at the park, he said.
The second Corporate Award went collectively to the three Rotary clubs of Martinsville and Henry County which, Estes said, “joined together to make a huge impact in 2021” through several projects.
The first was the Inspire Clean Water Project, which focused on bringing awareness to storm drains and how litter and pollution end up in the Smith River because there are no filters between the drains and the waterways.
The clubs joined with teens from the local Boys & Girls club to mark 12 drains with the inscription, “no dumping, drains to the river” to inspire people to understand how storm drains work and discourage littering within the city, he said.
“The marked storm drains are designed to increase public awareness of storm drain use, how storm drains empty water directly to the river without treatment, and how storm drains affect the health and ecosystem of the Smith River and local streams and waterways,” he said.
Next, an art contest was held which included all K-12 students in Martinsville and Henry who created artwork around the central theme, “what a healthy river looks like.” Winners are currently in the process of painting their creations on actual storm drains in Uptown Martinsville.
Later, permanent medallions will be installed to remind people that storm drains enter into the river.
The Rotarians also participated in the creation of a nature detour trail at Jack Dalton Park, Estes said. The clubs funded and provided volunteers to build a natural surface trail that leads through the woods with educational signage which “allows people to learn something new about the value of native planting.”
DRBA board member Paul Johnson received the Spirit of the Dan River Basin Award, the organization’s highest honor which, Estes explained, was bestowed on individuals “who exhibit extraordinary service to DRBA and our communities within the Dan River Basin. This award recognizes a level of dedication and service that reflects and embodies the mission of the Dan River Basin Association to promote and preserve the natural resources of the Dan River Basin through education, stewardship, and recreation.”
Estes acknowledged Johnson’s support and service to DRBA has spanned the lifetime of the organization, including serving on the board for 12 years.
“I feel like I’m looking at a room full of people who did big, great things for DRBA and all I’ve ever done is 100 little things, but 100 little things eventually add up to something,” Johnson said. “I do not see spirits or try to talk to spirits, but if I could, I would try to ring up Forrest Altman on the astral plain and thank him for infecting me with the spirit of the Dan.”
Johnson recalled working as the librarian at the South Boston Public Library when he met Altman, who said he was working on a book about the Dan River.
“He left us with a sense of regional identity,” Johnson said. “At the beginning, he had that spirit and I caught it and here we are. Thank you for this award. I humbly accept it.”
DRBA in 2021
Estes said that DRBA has around 100 projects going on at any one time. “It’s incredible how much is going on at the Dan River Basin Association,” he remarked. “We’re unique … we’re good stewards of what’s here in our great river basin, and we make sure everybody knows what a value this is. We also want you to get out and enjoy it.”
As busy as the organization is, and with as much as it has accomplished over the last two decades, Estes said the goalposts continue to keep moving. “Every year we do more and more.”
Over the last 20 years, DRBA has indeed accomplished a great deal.
Executive Director Tiffany Haworth recounted a number of accomplishments just within in the past year.
Some of those highlights included facilitating 13 Trout in the Classroom programs and the planting of 100 trees with the growing Trees in the Classroom.
Haworth said that 2021 also saw the launch of the Eco Learning Portal, an online resource for teachers which allows them to download full programs without DRBA staff having to visit the school, thus allowing more instructors to access DRBA’s educational programs.
All told, “over 6,000 youth were inspired by our environmental education programs” in 2021, Haworth said, crediting Education Outreach Manager Krista Hodges for leading the youth education effort.
Additional accomplishments included training 50 new volunteers to be water quality monitors, advancing the organization’s goal “to have every stream and waterway monitored throughout the basin,” Haworth said.
The group also hosted its first basin-wide safety forum focusing on improving safety in outdoor recreation for river and trail users. The forum was attended by more than 80 people, according to Haworth.
The completion of the Paw Park at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton was also among DRBA’s accomplishments for the year. Haworth shared that her staff believe the 2.5-acre park “is the only wild and free dog park in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia,” allowing dogs to explore off-leash while their owners walk the trail.
A trail also was opened in Spencer in 2021, this one with several stations including a meditation garden, butterfly boardwalk, education station, and a family picnic area all over the course of a half mile.
The 2021 accomplishment that elicited the loudest and most excited response from the crowd was the upholding of the ban on uranium mining in Virginia. Haworth said that, when the case was brought before the state supreme court, her organization worked closely with lawyers and the commonwealth’s attorney to successfully have the ban upheld by the court. Applause filled the room after Haworth’s pronouncement.
“This is just a handful of what we did in 2021,” Haworth said, and thanked those in the room for their support. “We couldn’t do it without everyone in this room and thousands of others who aren’t here today,” she said.
“The report that you just heard doesn’t scratch the surface of what we do,” said Estes, who added that being the president of DRBA is one of the greatest honors of his life.
“The diversity along this basin, the history of this basin, it’s just incredibly rich and we’re part of the process of preserving it for the next generation, and education is part of that,” he said.
He urged those gathered in the room that morning to help forward DRBA’s mission through leading by example. “For some people, the best lesson they’ll have is watching you. Not something on paper, not what you say, but what your actions are.”
In keeping with one arm of DRBA’s mission, recreation, those who stayed after the morning’s ceremony were able to choose between an afternoon hike on the Smith River Greenway or a relaxing float on the river.