Friends and Family Remembering Dr. John Richter with Chestnut Tree Planting

On Saturday June 6th 2015 FOJ members, friends and family gathered at the FOJ Watershed Center to plant a chestnut tree in remembrance of Dr. John Richter, who passed away one year ago. Dr. Richter was founder and president of Friends of the Jordan for over 20 years. The event provided an opportunity to exchange stories and memories of John.

We are planting this chestnut tree today to remember John and all he accomplished in his life. He was many things to many people, he was a good friend for many of us, a veterinarian, leader in the community, family man, and of course, an environmentalist with a deep love of the Jordan River and its watershed.

Today we take a moment to give him his place in history.

John was preceded by a long line of conservationists who recognized the strength and beauty of the Jordan River and worked tirelessly to protect and preserve its wild untamed nature. Dr. David Pray, (late father to Jinny Heick, one of our board members) was the first chairperson of Save the Jordan group, formed in 1967. These early individuals and community groups came together to protect the Jordan from rampant unchecked development. They helped push through the Natural Rivers Act in 1970, of which the Jordan was the first river included. John was forever inspired by, and learned from, these early conservation visionaries.

John was a founding member of FOJ and through his vision and strength led FOJ for over 20 years. We all know his accomplishments. I want to talk about one in particular - which shows his strength of character and ability to lead and what it means to be a visionary. That is this Watershed Center building. The Friends of the Jordan Watershed Center is the oldest building in East Jordan, built in 1872. It was slated for demolition. Actually, getting this building was JoAnne Beemon’s idea (another visionary and long-time FOJ member). She saw the beauty and possible new life in an old run-down storefront. To John’s credit, he agreed with her. Together with other board members and community leaders, they brought the building here, renovated it and created a home for Friends of the Jordan. It was no easy task - moving the old general-store building involved temporarily removing electric wires across the roads, permits and inspections galore, construction to fix it up to code. The project involved the city of East Jordan, community groups and numerous volunteers who donated hundreds of hours of time to built a deck, put on a roof, flooring, install electric and plumbing. John even procured and refurnished lumber from other old torn-down buildings in East Jordan which came from trees timbered in the Jordan Valley in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Getting this building, moving it and renovating it was a huge project, and it was not without controversy. Not everyone agreed it was a good idea, many thought it was an unwise expenditure of time and money. But a visionary can see beyond all that - to what CAN BE. Today we cannot imagine NOT having this Watershed Center. It is the staging area for all our meetings and projects. The POWER coalition met here to fight the Alba Injection Well. The Young Friends program takes place here, many community groups use this building for meetings. This building is an example of John’s vision, his ability to see the big picture, and his ability to know how to get things done. As he always liked to say, “The devil is in the details.“ And there were a lot of details. But through it all John never lost sight of the bigger goal.

I want to talk about one thing in particular that I learned from John. John felt connected to the natural world, walking in the woods or fishing in the river kept him grounded and he realized how important that connection was for his personal well being. As we all do.

John recognized that we are (or should be) part of the intricate web of life and we must protect that whole web, hence that emphasis on the terms watershed and biodiversity.

The river is much more than the water and fish between its banks. It is the stonefly larvae under the rocks, the forests surrounding its banks and tributaries, the wildlife big and small, and the surrounding human communities. As John stated and I quote “If we manage our watershed ecosystems for balance and sustainability, we not only preserve the healing properties of nature, we also provide for our own quality of life. We must place a high value on the health of our watershed ecosystems and then figure out our proper place and impacts within them.”

Now this is where I come to what I learned from John. We talked a lot at work, we bounced around ideas big and small. We actually solved all the world’s problems. But in reality, we cannot as individuals solve the world’s problems. And it gets depressing and overwhelming seeing all that needs to be done, so many causes, endless emails asking for help to save the bees, the whales… What I learned from John is that we don’t have to take on all the problems. We have a treasure here in our backyard. This is our home, this is the river we love. If we don’t protect it, then who will? Spend your time and energy protecting what you love. Whether you live next to a national park about to be opened up to fracking, or a community garden surrounded by skyscrapers that you don’t want to see turned into a parking lot. Protect what you love.

And the powerful thing is, all these struggles are connected. When we fight to keep fracking, or injection wells, or tree-burning biomass logging out of our Jordan River Watershed, whether we know it or not, we are also connecting with people all over the world fighting to protect their beloved places. We are connecting with the Cowboy and Indian Alliance in Montana who blockaded roads to keep Exxon’s convoys of heavy equipment and supplies headed to the Alberta tar sands from traveling on scenic mountain roads which crisscross blue-ribbon trout streams (an accident would devastate these rivers with contamination). We are connecting with kayakers in Seattle attempting to keep Shell Oil from using their port to move risky oil drilling operations to the Arctic National Refuge. We are connecting with Texas Tea Party members and environmentalists as they fight imminent domain taking of their land for construction of pipelines. We are connecting with indigenous people of Canada fighting to protect their land and water from mining.

And by educating and learning how we are all an integral part of our watershed, by extension, we are realizing our place in the world as a whole, how our actions on a local level are helping to affect change on a larger stage.

We are connected, by geography, and by time. John Richter and other environmentalists before him laid the groundwork and charted the path. Their vision will always be a guiding light and for that we will be forever grateful.

Now it is time to move forward.

Our challenges today are great, but our love of our rivers and forests, our communities and future generations, is stronger. United we forge a path into the future.

Join us. Our meetings are every 3rd Thursday at 6:30 at the Jordan River Watershed Center, 101 Union, East Jordan.

Anne Zukowski,
President of Friends of the Jordan River Watershed Inc.