My name is Lauren Wood, and I’m Holiday’s Trip Director and the person often shaking things up behind the scenes here. I’m happy to say 2022 will be a year for new adventures, trying things out, and taking intentional next steps towards a more explicitly inclusive world. As Holiday grows in years, culture, and character, some meaningful new trip offerings have come with that growth.
I am excited to introduce our first ever BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Affinity Group rafting trip through Westwater Canyon. As a white led rafting company, and as the white person putting this trip together I wanted to ground this inaugural trip offering in some bedrock values: accountability, integrity, and perhaps more than a little fun. To that end, I asked a few BIPOC-identified community organizers, facilitators, and friends to be both trip participants and to help shape what this trip will look like. We have been meeting this “off-season” to ask the important question -how will this trip feel different from a regular Holiday Expedition?
One of those trip curators is Leah Richardson. She is a water rights engineer, a deeply caring human, and a great friend. Read on to learn more about Leah, her love of water, and the “why” behind her choice to co-create this BIPOC river trip experience with us!
Lauren: Tell us about yourself! I know you’re a water engineer and as such you know a good deal about the physics and rules that govern the river we will be floating. How does that background impact your interest and intentions around a whitewater river trip?
Leah: Haha well my name is Leah, (she/her pronouns) and I am currently a Water Rights Engineer for the State of Utah. I did my undergrad in civil engineering and went on to get my master’s in civil and environmental engineering with an emphasis in hydraulic structures. After that, I worked as a Drainage Engineer and then a River Engineer before coming to work for the State. In my line of work, you are often behind a computer so much you forget what is actually happening in these bodies of water. You start to believe that the models you create are so accurate. There is nothing like being brought back down to reality when you observe these locations in person.
Lauren: What is it you love about water?
Leah: I love that water is powerful. It always does exactly what it wants to do eventually no matter the restrictions we place on it. I think water is the most rebellious piece of nature. It shows you when it’s angry through incised channels and algal blooms. At the same time, it is the most healing. All life that we know requires water to survive.
Lauren: The state of water in the West is a particularly sobering conversation at the moment – especially after the record-breaking drought we recently faced in 2021. In the wake of climate change, desertification, increasing population around our region, in what ways do you see humans’ relationship to the mechanisms controlling the Green & Colorado River needing to change moving forward?
Leah: I think the reality is that our society needs to change what we consume. The single biggest way for an individual to reduce their water usage is to stop eating beef. A pound of beef takes about 1,847 gallons of water to produce while a pound of tofu takes about 302 gallons to produce. That’s almost 6 times as much water to produce beef! Legislation can change how tax breaks are allocated (currently only 3% of all USDA subsidies go to fruits and vegetables). There are organizations that are dedicated to those goals. In the meantime, participating in and potentially creating local gardening groups in underserved areas can make a huge difference. TLDR: if you have the means, stop eating meat. If you don’t, eliminate beef and limit other meat consumption. It does way more in water savings than other individual initiatives.
Lauren: This BIPOC trip series is in its inaugural year, why did you choose to sign up for this experience?
Leah: I just want to see more black and brown people get out and experience nature. Being outside and close to natural lands brings me so much joy and I want others to experience that. When I started hiking and spending more time outside my parents would tell me that only white people did what I was doing. I used to try to defend myself, but I eventually realized that my parents were made to feel like nature was not an accessible space for them to exist as black people. I am hoping trips like this can help change this perception.
Lauren: What are your hopes for this trip?
Leah: Besides hoping to change that perception, I want black and brown people to feel like nature is a space for them too. White people do not own the outdoors, and we can participate too.
Check back to read more interviews with the folks coming together to shape this specialty trip and if you identify as black, indigenous, or a person of color, please consider joining us in creating these brave spaces in beautiful places!
About the author: I have been a river runner my entire life. It was learning from the Holiday boatwomen and men of the 1990s that led me to find my own oars. I have been a guide for Holiday River Expeditions since 2009. In my spare time, I work as the Green Riverkeeper Affiliate with Living Rivers. A life well spent organizing communities to protect the rivers and lands I love. I find that the lessons from the river inform my climate justice work and truly all aspects of my life.