Inspiration from the Swamp

These days, it’s not terribly common to hear folks admitting to finding inspiration in Washington, DC. Sure, maybe you’ll see the occasional #inspired note tagged onto a photo of a friend leaving one of the remarkable museums on the Mall. But, otherwise it seems the ole swamp doesn’t exactly have that rosy a reputation. But, as I look out my airplane window down on this beautiful city, I must admit the awe and gratitude overcoming me. Really, I suppose, it’s inspiration.

I’m returning home from four days of meetings with the leadership of Trout Unlimited. On Wednesday the Board of Trustees – a group of about 30 volunteers entrusted with the business, property and affairs of TU – met to kick off this important, triannual ritual with meetings to the Hill. Trustees paid visits to their elected officials to advocate for the interest of trout and salmon. TU, of course, is a non-partisan organization. That is fundamental to our essence and to our success. We don’t close doors, and in return, in general those doors aren’t closed on us. Trustees – folks with families at home, Fortune 500 businesses to manage, or local TU chapters to run – took time out of their busy lives to walk through those open doors and engage in dialogue with their elected officials and their staff about the importance of cold, clean water for trout, salmon and communities. Democracy in action. I am inspired.

The next day is a day of committee meetings. This is when the Board really gets their hands dirty working hard from early in the morning to late at night examining ways they can solve problems or capitalize on opportunities to move us ever closer to realizing our organizational vision. Our board is made up of people from every corner of this country and from every walk of life. 10 of the Trustees are folks who have been elected to serve in this capacity by our National Leadership Council. These are typically folks who have run chapters, pulled together newsletters, banquets, stream clean ups and restoration projects. This wealth of expertise and experience provides for our Board such rich and robust discussion around organizational development, risk management, financial planning and so much more. Our volunteer leaders dig in on some tough issues and don’t give up until they know they’ve done everything they can to make TU a stronger, better and more resilient organization. I am inspired.

Friday is the formal Board meeting. This is when the previous day of intensive committee meetings come together in a mosaic of work, weaved together with senior staff expertise, thoughtful legal counsel and even some humor. There is a great diversity of interests, expertise, geographic representation, gender and ethnic diversity, and folks who personally align on every side of the political aisle. The stability, strength and imagination of this diverse group is so apparent when they are all in the room together and pointed with common purpose towards the TU mission. I am inspired.

And today, the final day, TU’s Headwaters Youth Education Board came together to explore how we can do more and better by the next generation. This is a different group of volunteers that is similarly devoted to the TU mission and motivated to sustain our efforts by ensuring young people fall in love with coldwater streams such that they too are compelled someday to stand up in their defense.

The Headwaters Board and staff smartly understand that they don’t have all the answers, and that those answers are more likely to be found with the youth themselves. Accordingly, at each of these Headwaters Board Meetings, participants from TU’s Youth Camps, STREAM Girls programs, Teen Summits, TU Costa 5 Rivers clubs or other chapter/ council run youth activities are invited to join us to share their experiences.

Let me summarize it to say that the future is bright. The two young women that joined us today both have an infectious love for fly fishing, and they are already doing more for conservation than many adult TU members. The Headwaters Board and staff, on an otherwise beautiful Saturday, sat in a windowless meeting room with jaws open and pens racing to catch-up. I am inspired.

I fly home today to my Wyoming home where the snow is piling up, filling the mountains and later our coldwater rivers that I so love. But, I am a native to the lowcountry of South Carolina, and the water I first fell in love with was in a swamp. Perhaps I see more beauty in swamps than most others today? Maybe. But, I believe every one of you would have been as inspired as me by this week in Washington, DC.

Great things to come.






Beverly Smith, Trout Unlimited Vice President for Volunteer Operations 


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