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  • Writer's pictureSteve Hamm

River Teachers Initiatives

The Wild Mile (USA)

In Chicago, a non-profit group, Urban Rivers, has joined with city government, community groups, corporations, and local businesses to plan and build the Wild Mile, a mile-long section of the Chicago river. They’re restoring the natural environment, creating walking trails and recreation, fostering art, and using the site to teach young people about nature.


While we’re in Chicago…

The Calumet Films Project

The Calumet Region on Chicago’s greater southeastern border has a history as both a home of massive industry and diverse natural environments. It is still considered one of the most diverse areas in the country boasting prairies, marshes, hardwood forests, savannas, dunes, rivers and other wetlands, not to mention the entire southern coast of Lake Michigan. Calumet Films is a web series that highlights the diverse ecological and cultural environments of the area as well as the continued hard work of concerned people to ensure the future preservation of these last green spaces.

Introductory video about the series

All of the videos


Drinkable Rivers (Netherlands)

Not so long ago, most of our rivers were drinkable. Now, almost none. Can we have drinkable rivers again? If our rivers are drinkable it means the watershed and all natural life in it is healthy and in balance and all actions contribute to its health. We believe that drinkable rivers could be used as a guiding compass for societies, replacing our current focus on economic growth. To achieve this, Drinkable Rivers mobilizes people in watersheds to care for their rivers. We engage with government officials, educate children and undertake research with citizens.

The organization organizes river walks, engages neighbors in citizen science for testing water quality, and activates networks of people and organizations in watersheds to foster restoration projects.

Download the Drinkable Rivers Policy Plan:


Yellow River Restoration (China)

The Chinese central government, local governments, universities, and environmental NGOs have joined forces to help restore the Yellow River which is the sixth-longest river in the world. One element of the initiative is restoring and renewing the rich cultural heritage of the river and its cities and towns.


Bringing Kali Bein Back to Life (India)

Kali Bein is a river in Punjab, India, that flows into the confluence of the rivers Beas and Satluj at Harike.It is believed that Guru Nanak attained enlightenment after taking a bath in the Kali Bein. In the wake of the Green Revolution, the Kali Bein became progressively polluted until it was cleaned and rejuvenated in a mass action led by Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal in the 2000s.

Article in Times of India about the restoration of the Kali Bein River


The Billion Oyster Project (USA)

Billion Oyster Project is restoring oyster reefs to New York Harbor in collaboration with New York City communities. Oyster reefs provide habitat for hundreds of species, and can protect our city from storm damage — softening the blow of large waves, reducing flooding, and preventing erosion along the shorelines. We also run four oyster nurseries where we grow oysters for future reef installations and conduct scientific experiments. The group, which operates at the Harbor School on Governor’s Island, envisions a future in which New York Harbor is the center of a rich, diverse, and abundant estuary. The communities that surround this complex ecosystem will help construct it and in return benefit from it with opportunities for work, education, and recreation.

As of early 2021, the project had engaged 8,000 New York City students, restored 47 million live oysters, and collected 1.6 million pounds of shells.

Billion Oyster Project 2020 annual report


The FLOW project in Exeter, UK

You are invited to be part of a project to care for a new fruit & foraging route for insects, animals & humans along the River Exe which runs through the city of Exeter. To find out how The FLOW Project got going visit archive posts like ‘background to FLOW‘, ‘Sketching out the route’ & ‘orchard lab‘.


The Sound School (USA)

Students pose with school founder George Foote.

Located on the harbor in New Haven, CT, the Sound School prepared high school students from throughout the region for college and for careers in the maritime environment. In addition, it teaches aquaculture classes to New Haven residents.


Saving the Mill River (USA)

The 17-mile Mill River is one of three rivers that flow into New Haven, Connecticut’s, harbor and then into the Long Island Sound. Even though the Mill is so short, it tells the whole story of humanity’s relationship with rivers. The river starts as a trickle in the suburbs north of the city, grows into a roaring brook in a state park, is dammed to create a reservoir, then flows through a beautiful urban park before snaking through an industrial zone and then reaching the harbor. Along the way, a number of groups have put a lot of effort and creativity into saving or restoring the river. They include Save the Sound, which completed a detailed study of the watershed; academics who are monitoring road salt and industrial chemicals and metals; a bird club, a group that’s building trails alongside it in the city, and a woman who uses art to teach kids about safeguarding our rivers.

Here are some links:

Save the Sound ( Save the Sound leads environmental action in your region. We fight climate change, save endangered lands, protect the Sound and its rivers, and work with nature to restore ecosystems.

The Mill River Watershed Association MRWA is a community-based membership organization focused on promoting effective stewardship of the Watershed through conservation and restoration.

The Mill River Trail New Haven is a water bound city with a population that is disconnected from the water. The Mill river has a central location in the city. It creates a corridor for people between communities that have been sliced into pieces by highways and train tracks. Creating a trail reclaims and celebrates the lower Mill River as a recreational and wildlife habitat asset.

Lots of Fish is an Art & Environmental Education project. We host school-year and summer youth employment programs that engage participants and community members in creating art that helps to reduce pollution in our local waterways. Initiated in 2018, we've been engaging and exposing city youth and community members to a series of art and impact projects through a variety of environmental art and education projects, events, presentations, and public awareness campaigns.

Rough draft of a short documentary I’m making about the Mill River. Please send feedback on how to improve it to


The World's First Live Investigative Documentary? (UK)

George Monbiot & Franny Armstrong are developing what they believe will be the world’s first live investigative documentary.

Their statement:

We're attempting to do something which, as far as we know, has never been done before: a live investigative documentary. Streamed online as it happens, George will present RIVERCIDE live from a polluted river, speaking to experts and campaigners live from other polluted rivers, trying to find out why Britain’s rivers are in the state they’re in and what can be done to improve them. He’ll also be calling politicians and knocking on the polluters’ doors, demanding answers.

The one-hour programme will also reveal the results from our team of citizen scientists who'll be going out testing the water quality of their local rivers. We'll also be inviting viewers to share their footage of pollution incidents they’ve witnessed.

RIVERCIDE Kickstarter campaign


Learning at the River’s Edge (USA)

Formed by a garden club decades ago, The Riveredge sanctuary, near the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin, has grown up to be a 379-acre learning laboratory that helps children and adults understand connectedness and develop sustainable systems for energy, shelter, food, waste, water, and land management. The organization launched its Healthy Rivers Community initiative in 2017 and is now helping communities all along the Milwaukee River watershed conserve, restore, and educate about rivers. (There are hundreds of similar local conservation/education organizations around the United States.)


The Newtown Odyssey (USA)

The Newtown Creek is one of the most polluted industrial sites in the US, but traveling there by boat, gliding through reflections of New York City, can be a beautiful experience. Set upon the creek, Newtown Odyssey presents a non-traditional opera heard amid sounds of the surrounding traffic and industry. Written more like a travel diary, the score of the opera can be experienced in phases, reshuffling the narrative, giving each audience an entirely different experience of the work. Performers sing aboard moveable and floating stages, and the audience pass by in boats, connecting them physically to the opera’s themes of climate change, environmental justice, and civic responsibility.

Creative Capital was formed in 1999 as a way to reinvent cultural philanthropy in an effort to support innovative artists, and it picked up some tenets of venture capital in doing so – specifically the ideas of providing infusions of funding at key moments in an artist’s project, surrounding the artist with mentors and access to a network of cultural experts, and hosting retreats for artists to pitch their projects and express what they need to a large audience of cultural producers and stakeholders.


Urban Waters Learning Network (USA)

The Urban Waters Learning Network is a peer-to-peer network of people and organizations that share practical on-the-ground experiences in order to improve urban waterways and revitalize the neighborhoods around them. Explore the searchable map below to learn more about the organizations and entities that make up the Urban Waters Learning Network members. With support from the U.S. EPA Office of Water, Groundwork USA and River Network are partners in coordinating the Learning Network, providing support and opportunities for members to share successes, challenges, and technical resources. Urban Waters funding from the EPA is helping with cleanup along the Mill River in New Haven.


Riverkeeper (USA)

In 1966, the Hudson River was dying from pollution and neglect. Run-down factories choked it with hazardous waste, poisoning fish, threatening drinking water supplies, and ruining world-class havens for boating and swimming. At that time, the Hudson River fishermen decided they had enough. They banded together to use a decades-old federal law to turn the tide from ruin to recovery. This was the founding of the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association – now Riverkeeper. Today, Riverkeeper continues its fight, seeking out polluters and teaming with citizen scientists and activists to reclaim the Hudson River. And, we also work to ensure that over nine million New Yorkers have clean, safe drinking water. Today, pollution levels are down, and swimming and boating are back.


Sloop Clearwater (USA)

The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. is a non-profit organization based in Beacon, New York that seeks to protect the Hudson River and surrounding wetlands and waterways through advocacy and public education. Founded by folk singer Pete Seeger with his wife Toshi Seeger in 1966, the organization is known for its sailing vessel, the sloop Clearwater, and for its annual music and environmental festival, the Great Hudson River Revival.


US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Education Programs (USA)

The FWS, where Rachel Carson of Silent Spring fame worked for many years, offers a wide array of educational programs and curricula, including a number of them that focus on rivers. One focus is on engagement through play. For example there’s the Pacific Lamprey Geocache Adventure, a geocaching adventure where kids use their smartphones to find and learn about the migrations of the small but significant Pacific Lamprey.


The Telluride Watershed Program (USA)

The Watershed Education Program (WEP) provides hands-on education for grades K-12 in the San Miguel river valley, from its headwaters in the high alpine zone down to the confluence of the San Miguel with the Dolores River. Our main focus is assisting classroom teachers in planning, preparing and executing full day and overnight field trips that are tied directly to their classroom curriculum and the Colorado State Standards. We use the San Miguel River Watershed as the core element of a place-based curriculum that includes science, history, mathematics, language arts and art and offer different programs each season.


The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Lab (Global)

The Nature Conservancy has created curriculum materials for teaching children ages 11 to 18 about nature and conservation. One of the lessons focuses on how nature works to filter water and to release water over time, thereby reducing the amount of artificial treatment needed to filter water and helping to prevent flooding. In this lesson, students learn about the importance of water quality for human health and agriculture. They also offer “virtual field trips” via videos and lesson plans, including one on a virtual canoe trip on lakes and rivers.


UK South East

One of my team researched the river projects in the south east uk.

I have been looking into education projects taking place around the UK which may be similar to 'The Wild Mile' in Chicago. There are different educational projects and locally the best is probably at the Horton Kirby Environmental Centre. Whilst searching I did also find some other projects taking place around the country too and I came across this website 'New vision to re-wild Nottingham City Centre'. It looks like a really exciting project:

There was a programme on telly last night about the floods at Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire. There was a story about how the local community built over 500 leaky dams to try to slow the flow of the river, but they weren't able to stop the flooding from Storm Ciara back in February, so much more work is needed. They are also working with children in the area as follows:

'Slow The Flow and Noisy Toys have joined together to run an after-school club where young people in Mytholmroyd can learn how to use programmable digital devices to make a working model of an early-warning flood defense system. The young people will gain new skills and understanding of the role of technology in flood mitigation. They will present their work and it's uses at a showcase event for friends and family. There will be four runs of the club, each comprising 5 hour-long sessions, as well as the showcase event.'

Local projects & The Thames:

Educational groups around the Thames:

This one ties in with what you were asking about last week about outdoor classrooms - Thames Explorer Trust use the River Thames as an outdoor classroom and they provide a range of programmes supporting the National Curriculum for KS1 - KS5:

The South East Rivers Trust run various educational projects including Project Kingfisher, which is an education programme for schools, designed to challenge children to learn more about their local river, its history, wildlife and the role we can all play in protecting rivers for the future. They offer outdoors classes too:

The South East Rivers Trust also run SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems) in Schools, encouraging schools to use their big roofs and tarmacked areas to drain water into planted areas to prevent water runoff. -- bad link

The Darent Valley Landscape Partnership works had to protect the Darent Valley, including the River Darent. There are various projects in place to protect the Darent Valley:

Lullingstone Country Park, with beautiful walks and nature trails along the River Darent. A visitor centre and stuff to do in half term with children:

Horton Kirby Environmental Centre:

The Horton Kirby Environmental Centre works closely with schools and visits, including a River Study Day and they are run by the Education People:

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