BEAVER — RiverWise, a newly formed nonprofit project of the Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Growth, recently received a $160,000 grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation to fund a year-long pilot program aimed at using Beaver County’s rivers and their surrounding communities as wisely as possible.
“RiverWise is as creative a partnership as we’ve seen in many years in Beaver County,” said Jack Manning, Executive Director for the Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Growth. “It’s a carefully planned effort to align the structure of the organization with the needs of our region. The focus on our rivers is important and long overdue, and the Beaver County Partnership is pleased to be supporting this work and its efforts at developing a regional identity with our rivers at the center.”
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Executive Director of RiverWise, agrees with Manning. “The rivers of Beaver County represent one of our greatest and most enduring resources as a region,” he said. “Both symbolically and in actuality, our rivers span long-standing divides, draw us together and call for us to think regionally about our identity and our future. Historically, we have underappreciated the value of our rivers, and RiverWise seeks to begin reversing that trend.”
At the heart of RiverWise’s work is an ongoing effort to organize stakeholders to dream, learn and collaborate through action on behalf of Beaver County’s rivers and the communities through which they flow. As a way of guiding this process, RiverWise is leaning heavily on a new tool called “ecodistrict thinking.” For several months now, ecodistricts have been forming in Beaver Falls, Monaca and Aliquippa. This process will grow and deepen as the year progresses. Ecodistrict thinking involves careful assessment and planning about a community’s water, energy, transportation, air and food systems. It seeks to develop healthy systems that promote equity and participation for all members of a community.
Assisting RiverWise is New Sun Rising, a Millvale-based community economic development non-profit. According to Brian Wolovich, director of Triboro Ecodistrict and New Sun Rising’s consulting partner for RiverWise, “Ecodistricts represent a wholistic way of organizing that sees a community as an interconnected and multifaceted set of systems. Rather than only focusing on the physical infrastructure of a community, ecodistrict thinking seeks a broader approach to community development. Citizens of Millvale, Sharpsburg and Etna have used this method of organizing with considerable success in the Triboro Ecodistrict, and we are excited to see residents of Beaver County begin to engage with this kind of thinking.”
Scott Wolovich, Executive Director of New Sun Rising, thinks RiverWise is poised to lead some very exciting work with the people of Beaver County in the coming months and years. “We know that communities are complex ecosystems, and we have witnessed how a backbone organization like RiverWise can help stakeholders create a unified vision, make creative connections, and get to action. RiverWise is quickly becoming a leader in innovative thinking about developing clusters of Vibrant Communities in Southwestern PA. As the future of Beaver County becomes a bigger part of our regional story, New Sun Rising is excited to be partnering with them in this important work.”
In addition to forming ecodistrict communities in Beaver Falls, Monaca and Aliquippa, RiverWise is also working closely with Cathy McCollom, principal at McCollom Development Strategies, to promote projects and seek funding to build physical infrastructure along the
Funding for RiverWise was made possible through a creative partnership with the Beaver County Regional Council of Governments, who acts as a fiscal sponsor for RiverWise’s projects and whose recent strategic plan called for municipal activity aimed at achieving landscape-level change through thoughtful governance and community engagement. RiverWise and COG are working closely to align their efforts. Their collaboration will be on full display this summer during COG’s annual Local Government Conference focused on “Facing the Rivers.”
“Paying careful attention to our rivers raises all kind of issues of concern to municipal leaders,” COG President and RiverWise co-founder Rebecca Matsco said. “For the first time in quite a while, the work of RiverWise has initiated a truly regional conversation about what it means to steward our natural resources as municipal officials. The COG is honored to help lead these important conversations with the citizens of Beaver County.”
A calendar of public events for RiverWise will be published via social media later this month.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, RiverWise
Jack Manning, Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Growth
More About the Partnership: The Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic
Development is a public/private partnership designed to leverage the multi-billion-dollar
investment by Shell Chemical in the county. Created by a collaboration of Beaver County
business and community leaders, the Partnership aims to attract business investment and
community development with the goal of having a positive impact on every aspect of life and
work in the region. More information is available at http://thebcpartnership.org/.