Gerard Nellestijn is a founding member of the Salmo Watershed Streamkeeprs Society and currently our coordinator. Lessons he learned at the knee of his father (a Dutch master carpenter) have served him in good stead. All structures, he was taught, demand a solid foundation and ongoing care. As an environmentalist, he realized this lesson holds true for the natural world as well.
Nellestijn grew up in London, Ontario, not far from the banks of the Thames River, and like many members of his generation, he spent countless hours exploring the outdoors and developing a passion for nature. After earning a degree in anthropology at the University of Western Ontario and travelling the world, Nellestijn migrated to Western Canada in the late 1970s, where he worked in the oil industry, before he became involved in outdoor education. “I became involved with high-risk kids,” he says, and “They gained an understanding of the environment; they got into nature, and appreciated its beauty.”
By 1997, Nellestijn was able to make his beloved weekend home near Salmo, British Columbia his full-time address, after completing a post-graduate Environmental Management program at the University of Calgary in Alberta. The outdoorsman had found a community in transition, with some area residents eager to rehabilitate area waterways long despoiled by decamped forestry and mining companies. Nellestijn put his skills to work as coordinator of the nascent Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society, building an ethic of environmental stewardship from the ground up.
Nellestijn fostered partnerships with like-minded organizations and applied for funding. Adapting the community how-to handbook written by the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation, he and a biology consultant walked the Salmo River’s tributaries. Beginning the long process of getting to know the Salmo River Watershed, they conducted surveys to identify restoration options and engage local youth in fieldwork through a Human Resources Development Canada project fund in 1999. “Youth provided our baseline analysis of the watershed; they described the impact of clear-cut logging and tailings sites on the uphill streams,” he says, and “Today, some of those kids have degrees in environmental science.”
Nellestijn’s lasting success has come from his gift for integrating the decade-long Streamkeeper campaign into the fabric of community life — The RiverArt 2000 project showcased artists’ interpretations of the area, and a poster and postcard initiative has educated citizens about the impact of development on riparian habitats. His inclusive message has galvanized community will in support of restoration strategies, including the cleanup of two tailings sites and the creation of a watershed planning team and a Watershed-based Fish Sustainability Plan. “We took a creative approach,” says Nellestijn, “and now we have industry, government and landowners who are in tune with the environment. It’s the social connection and a sense of stewardship that are moving things along.”