River Roundup volunteers gather samples of insects to help HRWC gauge the health of our creeks and river

HRWC strives to cultivate a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all our volunteers who help out in our offices and the field. HRWC acknowledges the possible risks and challenges associated with fieldwork and has developed procedures to minimize these risks. In an effort to ensure utmost preparedness and safe volunteer outings, HRWC asks new volunteers to review the safety information below. If you have any reservations or concerns about participating in our fieldwork, let us know and we will be happy to work with you to make sure you feel comfortable and safe during your field experience.

Social Safety

HRWC welcomes and encourages anyone who is interested in our fieldwork programs and we are committed to providing all volunteers with a safe and enjoyable experience regardless of age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or ability. However, HRWC recognizes the unique challenges some individuals can be faced with due to their identity and abilities, and we will make every effort to ensure all of our volunteers are safe when participating in fieldwork, particularly people of color, people with disabilities, women, and children.

To ensure volunteers are properly identifiable when in the field, HRWC volunteers are strongly encouraged to wear branded gear with HRWC’s logo, such as t-shirts, hats, ID badges, safety vests, or waders.

In many of HRWC’s field-based volunteer programs, volunteers are asked to visit sites that may be on or adjacent to private property. When asking volunteers to visit sites on private property, HRWC works with property owners to provide advance notification and receive consent for volunteer access. In other programs, notably the Creekwalking Program, volunteers and interns are asked to visit streams adjacent to private property and public waterways that flow directly through private property. In these situations, HRWC works with volunteers, interns, and local law enforcement to ensure safe access to public waters near private property:

  1. Dispatch Notification: Prior to volunteer outings near private property, HRWC notifies local dispatchers to provide advanced notice of activities.
  2. Public Waters Education: HRWC has developed a public waters factsheet to educate local landowners and law enforcement about Michigan law protecting public access in navigable streams and rivers.
  3. De-escalation Training: During program and pre-outing orientations, HRWC staff members conduct de-escalation trainings with all advanced volunteers. To view training content, please contact Jason Frenzel.

While in the field, HRWC volunteers may be approached by members of the public with questions about fieldwork. Most often, these individuals share an interest in, and passion for, the Huron River and are eager for more information. HRWC provides volunteers with talking points as a resource for answering questions and encourages volunteers to share their own experience. In cases where the public has additional questions or immediate concerns beyond the volunteer’s capacity, volunteers can provide contact information for HRWC staff members.

When volunteering for HRWC, volunteers serve as representatives of the organization and therefore, need to communicate and act in a professional manner. HRWC will provide any resources necessary to make interactions with the public positive.

Physical Safety

HRWC’s programming is predominantly during the growing season, often when it is sunny and warm. If you’re working in the field during this time,

  • dress appropriately including light clothing that shades you well,
  • always bring enough water to keep hydrated, and
  • consider bringing sunscreen and/or bug repellent.

Other HRWC programming is offered in the winter or on cool, rainy days. When the weather is inclement,

  • dress in appropriate layers, wear warm shoes/boots, and bring hand and head protection;
  • cold weather can also pose a risk for dehydration, so make sure you always bring something nonalcoholic to drink;
  • halt any outdoor field work at the sign of lightning and wait in a safe place, such as under a pavilion or in a vehicle for a recommended 15 minutes to determine if the lightning will pass.

HRWC offers volunteers the opportunity to visit beautiful locations throughout the watershed, some of which have physical hazards that require caution. Most of our field locations require the physical ability to navigate uneven terrain either terrestrial or aquatic. Some of our programs offer accessible locations. For folks interested in volunteering with concerns regarding accessibility, please contact our Stewardship Coordinator to discuss opportunities for involvement. Many of our field locations mandate parking or walking along roadways. The upmost care must be taken when traversing these sites. HRWC will provide volunteers with signs to indicate your vehicle is being officially used under our auspices.

Some of our field locations have poison ivy and occasionally poison sumac. Being able to identify these plants is important. Please make sure you are able to identify them by visiting this website. If you are exposed to either, make sure to wash well with soap and cool water within a few hours. Pre- and post-exposure treatments are available from many stores.

Ticks pose the threat of Lyme disease. Preventing Lyme disease is critical and can be done through physical measures and chemical dissuasions, such as applying insect repellent and wearing long pants and closed toe shoes. Volunteers should take proper precaution when visiting wooded areas in an effort to prevent ticks. Identifying ticks and Lyme disease symptoms is also critical. Additional information on ticks, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, visit www.michigan.gov/lyme.

Mosquitos can make fieldwork miserable. Volunteers are encouraged to bring mosquito netting, insect repellent, and cool long-sleeved shirts and long pants to prevent bites. HRWC also has insect repellent available.

Many of our volunteers like spending time in the water helping HRWC because they find it inspiring and fun. However, if you ever feel unsafe do not get in the water. Cold water, without appropriate clothing, can quickly lead to hypothermia.

HRWC will provide waders to all volunteers accessing water. You must wear socks and it is recommended to wear long pants in waders. Please dress appropriately for the temperatures and your volunteer activity.

Fast moving and deep water can quickly create unsafe situations. Generally,

  • it is safe to wade in fast moving water below your knees, or
  • slow moving water if it is below your hips.
  • When going from knee to hip depth, go very slowly and if possible feel ahead with a wading stick to test depth and look for obstacles.

If water velocity and/or depth threaten safe site access, cancel your outing, choose another location, or do not get in the main current.

In addition to weather, staff and volunteers are encouraged to check air quality conditions prior to an outdoor activity. U.S. AirNow reports the real-time Air Quality Index as well as the anticipated forecast. When the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches above 100, please take the following precautions:

  1.  For an AQI of 101 – 150, volunteers will be notified of poor air quality and volunteers or staff sensitive to air pollution will be encouraged to opt out of the outing.
  2. For an AQI of 151 or higher, all outdoor outings will be canceled.

Community Involvement

The Huron River Watershed Council welcomes feedback on volunteer inclusion and safety so we can continue to improve procedures and promote an enjoyable experience regardless of identity. Please contact Jason Frenzel with your feedback.