Guest Author: Andrew Todd
Editor: Patrick Cooney
“We believe that the brain cell that drives a craft beer / spirits snob is the exact same brain cell that fuels a native fish advocate. We’re just connecting the dots in a super tasty way.” -run. fish. beer. Flyathon.
I have often struggled with the relatively narrow scope and breadth of my professional impact as an aquatic biologist within the United States federal government.
Over the last 15 years, I have had extensive opportunity to study the public lands, public waters, and native fish that make Colorado an incredible place to call home, but have been involved in precious few projects with measurable, on-the-ground, long-term environmental benefit. With diminishing resources being made available for the protection and preservation of these wild places and organisms, I fear that their irreplaceable value could be lost to future generations unless those of us who know the most about them stand up in their defense.
For these reasons, and a few others, several years ago, I started down an extracurricular path that has evolved to become a non-profit called Running Rivers, a Colorado-based 501(c)(3) organization promoting natural resource conservation through outdoor recreation.
The origin story of Running Rivers begins around a campfire in Grand County, Colorado, where in 2013, a small group of my friends and family gathered for an unofficial (and probably illegal) trial run of a highly unusual, outdoor, multi-sport event that I dubbed the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. In a nutshell, a Flyathlon simply mashes up three of the world’s greatest backwoods pursuits (fly fishing, trail running, and craft beer drinking) into a single event.
Run. Fish. Beer; simple as that.
While we did a number of things very wrong in that inaugural event, including drinking all of the craft beer the night BEFORE the race, everyone had a ton of fun and no one got too injured. And in the hazy afterglow of that weekend, it dawned on me that I might be able to employ my incredibly dumb race concept to make an on-the-ground difference for the wild places that matter most to me…
So, in 2014, we held the first “official” Flyathlon on a small creek near Saguache, Colorado. Forty people showed up for the race, which featured an opportunity to catch (and release) the San Luis Valley native Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Importantly, we decided that we could also use the Flyathlon race to raise money for local natural resource conservation projects, and so we employed our 40 Flyathletes to “crowdfund for conservation”, incentivized with products donated by our many outstanding outdoor industry sponsors. In that first year, we raised nearly $7,000 for native trout related projects, including several trail restoration activities and a Rio Grande cutthroat trout trailhead sign educational project.
Over the last 4 years, the impact of the Flyathlon has grown significantly, expanding to three races (two in Colorado and one in the Driftless Region of Iowa) and raised more than $100,000 for on-the-ground projects. The races have been featured in many publications, including TROUT Magazine, The Drake, The Fly Fish Journal, Fly Fisherman magazine, and many others.
Along the way, we have created unique pathways to educate our audience about the intrinsic values of healthy watersheds and the native fish that live within them and create a culture of natural resource stewardship among our community of flyathletes. For example, many of our race participants now show up as volunteers for restoration projects. This June, we had more than 10 flyathletes show up to plant riparian vegetation, drink great local craft beers, and explore a remote and beautiful watershed in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.
Running Rivers has recently embarked on a new form of Conservation through Recreation, this time in partnering with local businesses to create craft beers and spirits that celebrate and raise money for fish native to the watersheds that those businesses reside within. The premise of “The Rare Fish Rare Beer Project” is simple: we believe that the brain cell that drives a craft beer / spirits snob is the exact same brain cell that fuels a native fish advocate. We’re just connecting the dots in a super tasty way…
Our first beer was named Trucha Grande, a barrel-aged coconut brown ale made by Del Norte Colorado brewery Three Barrel Brewing honoring the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Our second beer, highlighting Colorado’s state fish, was a partnership with Denver-based Baere Brewing company called Bring the Greenback.
Our newest native trout release, Nativa, is a whiskey borne out of our partnership with Denver-based Laws Whiskey House as a tribute to native trout around the state of Colorado. So far, these products have reached hundreds of people with our message of native fish conservation, and have raised nearly $10,000 for native trout conservation projects in the process. We have several more RFRB projects in the works, including a beer benefiting brook trout in Iowa, so stay tuned.
Moving forward, our goal with Running Rivers is to expand the impact of our programs to new parts of the country for the benefit of other native fish species, public lands, and public waters. With our Iowa Flyathlon race, we have proven that these programs are exportable to anywhere in this great country, as long as we have the involvement of passionate locals who know their trails, native fish, and craft breweries more than we ever could. We’d love nothing more than to share our tools and experience in advancing our mission of turning outdoor enthusiasts into natural resource advocates.
If you are interested in exploring a partnership with Running Rivers, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.
We are all public land owners.
run. fish. beer.