“Why I Love Citizen Scientists”

Meet Chris Riggert, a Stream Team Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program Coordinator. He has the longest  job title at the Missouri Department of Conservation…and boy does he LOVE his job. He works closely with volunteers (citizen scientists) to monitor and preserve the rivers in MO.

At last count, 4,000 teams of Citizen Scientists, involving nearly 60,000 residents of MO, accomplished the following: 187 tons of trash were removed from Missouri streams; 11,973 trees were planted; and 6,000  volunteer specialists were trained and equipped to monitor water quality for the EPA. GOOOO Chris and your awesome Citizen Scientists! 

volunteers

He sent in this first-person account of what it’s like to work with Citizen Scientists and how he got hooked on rivers.  From Chris:

 “I consider myself extremely fortunate because I wake up every morning and want to go to work.  I know that sounds crazy, but I have the “bestest” job in the world…at least I think so.

I have the responsibility of working with and training citizen scientists.  My job takes me all across Missouri and allows me to interact with some of the most interesting and passionate people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

But before I get into what I do, someone once told me that a good story should always start at the beginning.  So let me tell you first how I got here.  

I grew up in a small town outside of Kansas City, Missouri.  I was very lucky to have two parents that encouraged me to play outside, and lived in a community that allowed me to do so.  This helped foster a love of the outdoors.  I always say it began when I was about 5 years old.  My dad took me fishing and I actually out-fished him (three keeper crappie for the boy and none for the dad).  Looking back, I strongly suspect this was because he was spending more time making sure my hook was baited and in the water rather then wrapped around the tree limbs behind us!  

As I grew older, I logged many miles peddling to and from several local farm ponds with my fishing rod and tackle box strapped to my bicycle, or spending the weekends on the farm of my best friend where we’d camp out and fish all weekend.  I got involved with Boy Scouts and this further encouraged my outdoor activities.  

Like so many youngsters wanting to get into this field, I wanted to be a Conservation Agent (Game Warden).  Up to this point, it was my only exposure to our state’s Conservation Department (no, it’s not because I got a ticket for a wildlife violation).  What a cool job, getting paid to work outside, providing recommendations to landowners on fish and wildlife questions, giving presentations to young people about a variety of outdoor topics, and enforcing the rules and regulations that help provide fair outdoor opportunities for all.  This is what I wanted to do!

When it was time to choose a school, it was an easy decision to head east to Columbia.  In addition to studying Fish and Wildlife Management at ‘Ol Mizzou, I began working for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) as an hourly employee at Research (now Resource Science).  Little did I know this would send me down a different career path.  I discovered there was so much more out there to do in the world of natural resources.  

Looking back, my career path is probably not that different than most that work in the field of conservation or natural resources.  I have had the opportunity to work on several projects, each giving me a new understanding, appreciation and love of the multitude of natural resources with which our state is blessed.  I must say I have worked with/for some fantastic supervisors.  All had a sincere interest in my young career, took the time to expose me to a variety of additional outdoor wonders, and helped mold my career path.  It was while working on the “crayfish crew” in the Ozarks I found my new love…Missouri’s streams (shhh, don’t tell my wife).  

I have always loved teaching and do it for the “light bulb” moment.  This is probably no different than a teacher within the classroom setting…to be able to explain a complex topic in a way that you see the “light bulb” come on when they “get it.”  The individual now has an understanding about a particular piece of the natural world.  Do this several times on various topics and the pieces start to come together until a picture is formed.  

I began working for the Missouri Stream Team Program in 1999, and I knew I’d found my niche.  I got to help teach volunteers about how they can conduct water quality monitoring, how to collect and identify stream bugs, and how they can make a difference for these resources within their communities.  

I worked as an hourly employee for a couple years before getting hired on full-time as a Stream Team Biologist, and currently as the ST VWQM Coordinator.  While my responsibilities have increased over the past ten years, one thing has stayed the same…the volunteers.

Here’s article I wrote for our newsletter that pretty much sums up how I feel about these incredible individuals: I recently attended a Stream Team Picnic that celebrated 10 years of service for the betterment of Missouri’s stream resources.  Like so many of the other Stream Team functions I have had the pleasure of attending, the volunteers thanked us not only for making the trip to be with them, but also for everything we have done to support their Team.  I am continually moved by the gratitude expressed by the volunteers that make this Program the best in the nation.

However, I usually feel guilty about accepting this gratitude.  In my mind, we should be thanking you, the Citizen Scientists.  You, the volunteers, are the ones at the grass roots level making a difference.  You are educating other family members, your neighbors, members of the community, and city and county administrators.  You are out there performing stream stewardship projects such as liter pickups, tree plantings, and storm drain stenciling.  You are conducting water quality monitoring and advocating for the betterment of our Missouri stream resources.  Quite simply, you are making the difference.  

Webster’s dictionary defines “thanks” as “An expression of one’s gratitude.”  It is a simple word with a simple definition.  In my mind it goes much deeper than that.  It is difficult to put into words how grateful we are and how much we truly appreciate everything you do.   For that reason, we say “thanks” to you for your interest, enthusiasm, and dedication.  –Channels January-February 2005

This gratitude extends beyond the fantastic volunteer Program for which I work.  It goes out to all of you that are that are volunteering your time and are citizen scientists.  You are grandparents, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.  You come from all walks of life, but have found an interest in science…you want to know more.  I applaud you, and feel honored to be able to keep this interest alive.  You energize me and keep me going through the long days and weeks.  You remind me every morning that I LOVE my job!!

Stay tuned, I am working on another installment for Darlene going into more detail about the Stream Team and the Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring activity!”