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River Stories 2014 at the Lane County Historical Museum

RiverStoriesSmilesIn January of 2014, the Environmental Leadership Program’s River Stories Team asked itself two questions: “what if we could listen to our water source?” and “what would the McKenzie River tell us?” What followed was an intensive process involving 30 interviews with McKenzie River community members, multimedia products drawing on text, photography, audio, and film, and four major community events where the students showcased their work.

The McKenzie River cascades 90 miles from its headwaters at Clear Lake to its convergence with the Willamette River in Eugene; its cold, clear waters are home to McKenzie Red Sides, endangered Chinook Salmon, and countless other species. Together with community partners including the Lane County Historical Museum, McKenzie River Trust, and the McKenzie River Drift Boat Museum, students operated under the conviction that storytelling matters, and that stories about the McKenzie can help preserve its unique heritage, promote stewardship, and draw residents from the greater Eugene area into a closer and more communicative relationship with their only water source.

An ongoing exhibit at the Lane County Historical Museum, scheduled to run until January 2015, is currently serving as the team’s capstone collaboration. “McKenzie River Stories” showcases the work of the team by featuring stories of the original McKenzie River drift boat builders, stories and audio clips from current residents, vivid river photographs and video footage, and a white water boat made by Woodie Hindman for Prince Helfrich. The team describes the many voices featured as similar to “one of the many springs and streams that converge in the McKenzie River; before we can hear the ripples echo, we must first step in.” In the exhibit, the River Stories team encourages visitors to think about their own connection to the McKenzie and how to sustain a conversation with their water source.

RiverStoriesExhibitSupporting the main exhibit, the team has also installed “River Stories” around town at water fountains and other locations where people interact with the McKenzie. These posters feature photography and quotes about the river and further the team’s goal of promoting awareness, connection, and stewardship of the McKenzie River. To hear these stories and for more information, please click here.

The River Stories Team has also emerged from their experience with a new respect for how difficult some stories can be to access. “Countless unheard voices along the McKenzie River,” they write, “resound in the shadows of the stories that rise to the surface. Many historical and social factors combine to create these silences, but if considered thoughtfully, they can be as transformative and as revealing as the oral histories we do hear . . . For instance, the indigenous names for the river have been dislocated, replaced by the name of a passing fur trader. Our team acknowledges that we have only skimmed the surface of the depth of stories that exists at the intersection of people and place along the McKenzie River.”

What is your McKenzie River story? What if you could listen to your water source? Stop by the Lane County Historical Museum for a chance to explore with the students of UO’s Environmental Leadership Program.

ELP is currently recruiting students for winter and spring of 2015. Click here for more information.