Meet Our River Protectors!

Colleen Cooley

Colleen Cooley

Rica Fulton and Colleen Cooley, trip facilitators for the Desolation Canyon Watershed Specialty trip and all around water enthusiasts, have been working to protect various watersheds across Western North America for years now. Combining efforts with amazing organizations like The Waterkeeper Alliance , the Diné C.A.R.E group, and many others, these two women have the utmost respect for our fragile water systems, their histories, and care deeply about addressing the ways they are managed. Or mismanaged, in many cases. 

Rica, a Grand Junction Native and the Stewardship and Advocacy Director for the Delores River Boating Advocates, described her efforts in Watershed Protection as being  “really focused on how to connect people with rivers and to really shift the management paradigm away from the way it is now… really address climate change, injustices, and inequity, all of those things.” 

Colleen, a native of Shonto and Blue Gap, Arizona, two towns located on the Navajo Reservation, expressed a similar sentiment in regards to her own work. “I just started my own consulting business around facilitating projects that align with what I value, which is protection over air, land, water… I’ve built a network of people that are working on some of these issues… on the protection side, but also the advocacy side, and the sustainability side.” 

Protecting Our Watersheds… but from what?

Now more than ever, we need people like Rica and Colleen to address the threats to our water systems. According to a study published in Science Magazine in 2020, the Colorado River, where many of the Holiday River Expeditions take place, is seeing a flow reduction of 9.5% for every 1C degree of global warming. It is estimated that the earth will experience a warming increase of more than 3C by the end of this century, so the threat of flow reduction isn’t imminent, it’s already here. 

The Green River, which flows through Desolation Canyon and is the site for Rica and Colleen’s rafting trip, was once designated the second most threatened river in the country. Currently, on the American Rivers website, the Green River is described as being “subject to threats from persistent drought, climate change, and increased consumption from a growing population.” 

Holiday River Expeditions, unlike some outdoor trip organizers, has always been dedicated to taking care of the natural areas in which their trips take place. According to the ‘Environment’ section of the HRE website, “respect for the environment and its interconnection with every living thing: that’s what makes your trip with Holiday special… These rivers have given us everything: from enjoyment and adventure to a deep sense of peace and belonging, to the very sustenance of life both in ecosystems and our bodies. Water is life.” 

Water As A ‘Living Being’

Rica Fulton Writer Facilitator

Rica Fulton

“Say it again! Water IS life!”

Colleen agrees with this statement wholeheartedly, though she herself phrased it a little differently. “This is a living being,” she said, talking about the Green River. “It provides water and life not just for us humans, but for plants, the animals, and for the soils… water is really important and [she wants to help] people understand where their water comes from.” 

These lessons, and more, are what you can expect to leave with after attending the Desolation Canyon trip. Both Colleen and Rica are dedicated to teaching people not only about the amazing ecosystems that make up The Green River and its surrounding areas, but also how to care for those ecosystems, how to protect them. They want guests to return home with a greater respect for these watersheds, and for them to see rivers as more than just, “a resource for us, or as a place to raft and recreate.” 

Colleen went on to say she wants people to understand where this water is coming from, and to ask the question, “What are the other communities that are surrounding this region… I want to definitely talk about the indigenous communities and perspectives, and acknowledging that before park service, before BLM, before these boundaries and these policies were put into place, this river was free flowing, like many rivers.” 

Responsible and/or conscious recreation, that’s a priority not only for these two trip facilitators, but for HRE as a whole. In Rica’s words, “recreation is a really fun and enjoyable experience, but [so is] learning about what the river is and how it acts in a natural state, vs. what humans have done to it… The Green [river] in Desolation Canyon is actually a fairly wild system, and just being on river is the best place to explore everything that those rivers are. They really represent, or mimic, the health of everything else… It’s just the perfect natural classroom.”

Teachings in watershed protection, moments of contemplation in this wonderfully remote ‘natural classroom’, and rapids that Rica described as really fun but not too intimidating are just some of the many life-changing things waiting for you on the Desolation Canyon Trip. There are also new friends to meet, hundreds of rare species to see, and lessons to bring back with you, so that you can better take care of the aquatic ecosystems that provide necessary life as well as unparalleled beauty to the places you call home.

Sawyer Smith WriterSawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.