US Army Corp of Engineers- Northwest Discovery Water Trail
My internship has gotten off to a rocky start thanks to Hurricane Katrina. I e-mailed my boss, Phil Benge, on September 16 to check in with him and get plugged back in to what is happening with the Water Trail. I received an e-mail back from Mississippi where he was helping the Corp of Engineers (USACE) with the recovery efforts, and would not be back in the region until October 14. This necessarily put a delay on much of what I could do until that time. I talked to Scott Moore, who works with Phil, as well as Sara Krueger from the Washington Water Trail Association (WWTA) who has been heading up this project from her organization. We tried to arrange for me to go to the last two dedication events of the fall, but his did not work out because of various circumstances.
This of course begs quite a few questions about how an interagency project can work when circumstances within the agency take people away from their work temporarily. In this instance internal structures at USACE insured that all of the regular Phil had to do was covered, but special projects outside of official Corp structure (like the NDWT) had to be put on hold, at least for him. Luckily USACE has some other representatives on the NDWT steering committee, one person from the Portland District and a ranger that works in the Tri-Cities within Walla Walla District. Still, banner stands and portage brochures that I had worked on over the summer didn’t have the follow through within the Walla Walla district to be finished and distributed for the Fall dedication events. The portage brochures, for example, were still getting the finishing touches from the graphic designer when I left and were then going to need to go to the printer. When Phil got back they hadn’t gone to the printer so they weren’t used at all for the fall dedication events. Similarly, the banners had been sent to the printer but after they were delivered to the District Office there was no one there to get them out to the dedication events.
November Steering Committee Meeting
The Steering Committee is made up of partners in the project who are
interested in having a real part in making the trail happen. Many partners are
partners mostly in name, but there is a core group mostly of government agencies,
that is more involved in actually making the trail happen. All partners are
invited to Steering Committee meetings and depending on where the meetings are
held (they generally try to move up and down the trail as much as possible)
some new people attend each meeting.
The November meeting was held at the Mid-Columbia Library in Kennewick, WA on November 2nd and 3rd. I attended on the second, when the main topics of conservation where a recap of the 2005 dedication events and then beginning to plan the 2006 events.
During the planning for the 2006 dedication events we discussed the need to do more events on the stretch between the Dalles and Umatilla. This large section of the trail had been largely left out in dedication events so far because it doesn’t include any major population areas. I volunteered to work on that project. My idea for the project was to possibly have a paddle that ended at a winery where the participants could take a tour. It was suggested that Maryhill Winery would be a good choice since it is right on the river. A couple other suggestions were having something in conjunction with the Arlington (WA) Jazz Festival, the First Salmon Ceremony at the mouth of the Deschutes or something at the Horsethief State Park.
I was also able present the 9 foot display banners that I had been working on during the summer. They were generally met with approval from the other members, although there were some questions bout how well they would hold up in the wind. We also discussed the need to create more display maps, including some that are laminated and can be rolled up, rather then the ones I helped make over the summer that were on a foam core board.
After the Steering Committee Meeting
Dedication Event Plans for Umatilla to The Dalles
Since the Steering Committee meeting I have been working on getting some things together for a dedication event the area between Umatilla and The Dalles. So far it has involved making a lot of phone calls that are not returned very promptly. I was able to get in touch with Maryhill Winery who are now talking with WWTA, since with WWTA’s 501©3 status it will probably be easier for them to work something out. I also attempted to contact some people about the Jazz Festival and the First Salmon Ceremony. I eventually got through to Julie Marshall at the Jazz Festival who said that many different groups have booths there and that we would be welcome to have one. Other than that, I have not had a lot of luck. I will probably continue to work on these in order to see through what I said I would do.
Working on this project with the US Army Corp of Engineers in the fall and over the summer has taught me a lot about how federal agencies operate. I was very impressed and horrified in some ways by the way the people there (especially in the Natural Resource Management office) were somewhat opposed to the Snake River dams and other projects, but still worked very hard to make the best of it. I remember going to Mill Creek with Rex, the head fisheries biologist, and him describing it as “taking a really nice creek and putting it in a concrete ditch” and the going on to tell me about how they had made lots of improvements on the fish ladders that year.
I was also very impressed by the way all of the different agencies, non-profits, businesses, and individuals worked together on the NDWT. Especially group like Columbia River Keepers and the tribes, that butt heads with the USACE often. All of them were able to put their various disagreements aside in order to make this project happen.
Recommendations for future interns
I think that the Northwest Discovery Water Trail is a very worthwhile
project and would encourage anyone interested to get involved with it. That
being said, I think that I would recommend that they get in touch with Washington
Water Trails Association. There are a few reasons I say this. First of all,
I think that WWTA has a lot more experience in working with student interns
and will probably be a lot better about making sure that they have things to
do and that they are given the kind of support they need. Most of WWTA is volunteer
based whereas USACE is mostly paid positions. Also, for the Corp, the NDWT is
more of a side project, whereas for WWTA it is one of the primary projects that
they are working on right now. I think that it would also benefit WWTA a lot
to have an intern in the Walla Walla area since they are headquartered in Seattle,
which is pretty far away from any part of the actual water trail.