Photo Essay: Paddler Turned Volunteer

River Center volunteer opens up about her service


Rebecca Long

Marketing and Communications Associate at American Rivers

I love my hometown river, the Potomac.  

It's given me and my family so much over the years. Now, it's my turn to give back to the river. Earlier this year, I signed up to volunteer as a River Center Guide for Potomac Conservancy. 

My drive to be a part of the fight for clean water can be traced back to my childhood, but it wasn't until I was out on my own in the world that I came to better appreciate the river and my role in saving it.

The Potomac was always in view

Sitting on a cliff in VA's Great Falls NP.jpg

Growing up a mile from the Potomac’s shores near Mount Vernon Estate in Alexandria, VA, recreating on or near the Potomac was something I often did. From kayaking to biking along the GW Memorial Parkway to hiking the Billy Goat Trail, the Potomac was always in view. 

It wasn’t until I was 45 miles away from my home stretch of the Potomac pursuing a degree in environmental geology that I truly learned what the Potomac meant to me. 

In a fluvial geomorphology course (the study of river systems) in college, I learned about the many threats affecting the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay. Invasive snakehead and catfish, nutrient pollution from farms upstream, polluted urban runoff, raw sewage overflows.


I was horrified, but didn’t quite know what I could do to help

After graduation, I was lucky enough to be placed with Potomac Conservancy as their Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer, running volunteer events and doing communications work.

During that time, I learned 80% of the DC metro region’s drinking water comes from the Potomac and that barely anyone knows or thinks about where their drinking water comes from. It’s something that still surprises me to this day.

It made me realize that I need to do whatever I can to help the Potomac, not only for my own selfish needs — like my love of kayaking and clean drinking water — but also for those who don’t realize how much their everyday habits are harming their drinking water source, whether they live on the Potomac’s banks, or not.


The perfect way to get back out and engage with the public

When my corps program ended, my new desk job gave me the opportunity to raise awareness about environmental issues online, but I craved more time outdoors. I wanted to connect with neighbors who recreate on the Potomac and help educate them about local water issues and ways they can help.

Having run the Conservancy’s volunteer opportunities, I realized I knew the perfect way to get back out and engage with the public about environmental issues and the Potomac — by becoming a River Center Guide


Giving my time to support local clean water

From children to the retirees, I talk candidly with visitors at the River Center about the Potomac River, the Lockhouse, and the C&O Canal.

My favorite thing to tell visitors is that their tap water comes from the Potomac, which is often followed by a look of disgust and a discussion about what they can do to help protect the Potomac. 


Join me in supporting Potomac Conservancy's inspiring work

I thank Potomac Conservancy for jump starting my career in environmental conservation, informing me of all the threats facing my hometown river and drinking water source, and igniting my passion for river conservation. I thank them too for all the great work they do for the river. I know that Potomac Conservancy is doing inspiring work through its lands, advocacy, and community conservation programs to combat the threats our river faces.

I am proud to donate my time and money to a network of Potomac River enthusiasts — from staff, to donors, to volunteers — that care about the Potomac River and its health and protection as much as I do.

If you care about restoring clean, safe water to the Potomac River, please join me in support by matching my $15 tax-deductible gift today!

-Rebecca Long


Plan a Visit the River Center:

The River Center is closed now for the winter, but come spring, Rebecca Long and other River Center volunteers will be happy show you around and talk with you about the Potomac! Learn more about the River Center >


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