River People: Joe Moll, McKenzie River Trust

The Willamette is a long way from Kentucky and even further from Asia.

That’s where Joe Moll spent much of his time getting to know and love rivers before making a home in the Willamette River basin. Now, as the Executive Director of the McKenzie River Trust, a big part of his job is helping others see how much their everyday lives depend on a healthy river.

Joe started caring about rivers as a kid, fishing and camping with his family in Kentucky. For his parents, a visit to the water was a way to relieve the stresses of their busy jobs. He grew up associating rivers with good times first and came to learn the science later.

McKenzie River Trust Executive Director Joe Moll

“I wasn’t a kid who kept a bird list, I didn’t collect rocks. I liked to be out in it, and I liked to be out in it with people.”

That fundamental idea underscores much of the public outreach of the McKenzie River Trust. Their approach to gaining supporters for river conservation starts with the basic notion that people are more likely to protect the things that sustain them and bring them joy. The challenge is in creating the right opportunities for people to see rivers in that way.

In Joe’s experience, a big part of that is simply getting people outside.

“Because the landscape sells itself,” he says. “You get out into a site and all of a sudden things happen. A bird flies over with incredible timing.”

In his 8 years with the Trust, Joe has seen experiences like this bring back positive memories of childhood times in the outdoors for many people. They relax and they smile more. Often, people tell him this is why they love the Willamette Valley, why they live here. Many attend a second outreach event or make a donation.

The Willamette Valley is known for its vibrant local food culture, and Joe sees this as another way to connect people with the river. A quality source of water is needed to irrigate crops and make beer and wine. Clean, cold streams provide a place for salmon to hatch and mature, and later return to in order to spawn. To build an appreciation of how much we rely on our rivers, the Trust seeks partnerships with local restaurants, farmers, brewers and winemakers.

They’ve had a great response. Eugene-based Oakshire Brewing's 1% for Watersheds program donates a portion of its sales of Watershed IPA to the Trust. The brewery proudly advertises the McKenzie River as its water source and reminds customers of their contribution by serving their IPA in a special 1% for Watersheds glass.

“If we can get to a point where people feel only one or two steps removed from the river every time they eat something or drink something, we’ll be doing well,” says Joe.

The McKenzie River Trust works closely with private landowners to protect and restore natural areas along the McKenzie River, an iconic Willamette tributary. MRT also works on the mainstem Willamette River, the Long Tom River and Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette, and beyond the Willamette basin in the Umpqua and Siuslaw. Grants from the Willamette River Initiative support the McKenzie River Trust to work with private landowners, cover appraisal and transaction fees for land acquisition, and implement on-the-ground restoration work at sites on the Upper Willamette and Lower McKenzie Rivers.