South River group moving, hiring director

By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer
Published September 10, 2007, The Capital

The South River Federation has some growing pains, but you won't hear its members complaining. The conservation group has grown steadily since its inception in 1999, and now it's looking for its first executive director, a paid position geared to move the organization into the future.

"We are thrilled that we have reached the stage where we can hire an executive director," said board President Kincey Potter. "This is a real turning point for us. An executive director is quite a leap, but we are now in a position to move up and do more for the river."

The federation has advertised for the position and will start interviewing next week.

Adding another employee to the current three-person staff also means the federation will need to move from the cubicle it has occupied for the past three years at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

This month the federation is moving its offices to a spot along the river at Oak Grove Marina. That's next to the South River Bridge on Route 2 in Edgewater.

"The federation is very grateful to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. They have provided us with space and a world of support to help us to get started," said Ms. Potter. "But now we will be on the river, right in the thick of things."

The organization hired Riverkeeper Drew Koslow three years ago, and having that presence for the public has helped the organization to grow.

"Having a full-time riverkeeper out there protecting the river, that gives (potential members, donors and volunteers) confidence we can do the job," Ms. Potter said. The riverkeeper not only patrols the river watching for violations of environmental law, but also does water-quality testing, testifies at hearings, and serves as an advocate for the river with community groups and decision-makers.

Chesapeake Bay Riverkeeper Coordinator Michele Merkel, who oversees 15 programs around the bay, said the programs work well together.

"It's a great model for grass-roots organizations working effectively together to engage the local community ... Having a riverkeeper as the eyes, ears and voice of the river helps people connect to their waterway."

But Mr. Koslow attributes more of the success to a solid base of volunteers.

"There is incredible dedication. Some of them have put in full-time hours," he said. "With that core of volunteers inspiring others, we have more people who are committed to making the organization stronger to help the watershed."

Membership has nearly tripled in the past three years to 500 individuals and community organizations, and the federation hopes to double that to 1,000 members by 2010. The executive director will help with that, as well as an update of the strategic plan that's already in the works.

The new director also will develop and implement a fundraising plan so the organization can support one or two additional staff members, as well as a system to recruit and retain volunteers, who are crucial to the federation's mission.

"Based on the watershed assessment we did with the Center for Watershed Protection, if we are to tackle those problems we are going to have to take on some big projects," Ms. Potter said. "We are gearing ourselves up ... to be able to step up to the plate to take on those bigger projects."

A $35,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust's Capacity Building Program will pay for part of the executive director position. The grant helps organizations take the next step in their development.

"But the best thing is they guarantee funding for the next three years, a great aid to planning," Ms. Potter said.

About half of the South River Federation's roughly $300,000 budget comes from foundations and other organizations, with the other half from fundraising events, memberships and donations.

More information about the executive director position is available on the federation's Web site at: www.southriverfederation.net

(Revised September 2007)