A LIFETIME OF RIVER CONSERVATION
Consider Don McEnhill the keeper of the Keeper—the Russian Riverkeeper.
As executive director of the nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Russian River and Russian River watershed, the 59-year-old McEnhill helms a team of conservationists protecting Healdsburg’s primary waterway at a time when climate change presents daily threats.
And with this year’s drought wreaking havoc on water levels and water quality from Cloverdale to the Pacific Ocean, McEnhill’s job has never been as important than it is right now.
“The River is our single most vital resource in our community and supports most jobs in our community on farms, restaurants, hotels and our homes. “It is also a big part of our quality of life and cultural heritage,” he said earlier this month.”
Though McEnhill grew up on the Sonoma/Marin county border, he spent lots of time as a child on the river. His grandparents bought a cabin near Del Rio Woods on Fitch Mountain when he was a young boy, and he spent summers playing there. Later in life, after he earned a business degree and spent 14 years working in sales and marketing in the bicycle and outdoor recreation industries, he switched careers and became the second full-time staff member at Russian Riverkeeper in 2000.
When you do the math, that means this is McEnhill’s 21st year.
What keeps him interested? Novelty, for one. He described the Russian River as “the best swimming and boating river within reasonable distance of the Bay Area.”
He added that he loves the way the river connects communities across the Sonoma County, and cited Mill District as a neighborhood that will extend and amplify those connections by a result of its location in the south end of downtown Healdsburg.
“One reason I love Healdsburg is it has so many natural resources like the river, Fitch Mountain (which I hike every morning) and endless backroads for biking allowing for a lot of leaving the cars behind and enjoying the real world and nature,” McEnhill said. “The multistory development also has proven to reduce water use, so Mill District is helping there, too.”
Looking forward, McEnhill said that with the recent drought forcing water management issues into the spotlight, he plans to continue fighting to protect the river and its watershed. One way he’ll do that: By spearheading his organization’s annual river cleanup (see above).
Another strategy: By advocating for a change in the way cities and communities manage water moving forward.
“We want to maintain connected flow,” he said. “Conservation is more important now than ever.”