Minnesota DNR Employee Receives National Recognition for River Management


Paul Nordell, Adopt-a-River coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Trails Division, has received the “Outstanding Contribution to River Management” award from the River Management Society (RMS), a professional organization dedicated to support professionals who study, manage and protect North America’s rivers.

“RMS awards represent the highest form of peer appreciation,” noted Dennis Willis, president of the RMS Board of Directors.

The Adopt-a-River program, coordinated by Nordell, encourages volunteers to “adopt” a section of a Minnesota lake, river, wetland, ditch or ravine to ensure its long-term health.

“Few people can weave together the history, science and the human story of a place into a single narrative the way Paul can,” said Peter Hark, RMS board member and DNR Parks and Trails operations manager. “Paul helps Minnesotans become good stewards by teaching them to listen to and understand their rivers, adopting segments of rivers that are integral to their lives.”

Since 1991, Nordell has coordinated more than 3,000 cleanups along 11,000 river miles. These efforts have rallied the support of more than 87,000 volunteers that have removed more than
6 million pounds of garbage from local rivers. Nordell passes this passion for stewardship to future generations through the “Big River Journey,” in which 50,000 fourth through sixth graders have joined him on a floating “crime lab” to investigate how trash gets into the river.

Nordell’s reach extends in many other forms, including the Adopt-a-River sculpture, constructed each year from trash collected through cleanup efforts and displayed in the DNR area at the Minnesota State Fair. Hundreds of thousands of visitors view the sculpture each year, leading to conversations about how fair-goers and other citizens can become better river stewards.

“Paul is endlessly creative in coming up with new ways to engage the public, particularly kids,” read his award nomination. “By dedicating more than 20 years of his life to empowering thousands of people to become active river stewards, Paul has become the best friend that the rivers of Minnesota could ever hope for.”

“The award is recognition of both the incredible accomplishments of Paul Nordell, as well as the ways in which Minnesota state parks and trails lead the nation in river management,” said Hark.

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