Chemung River Friends

Chemung River Friends have been a part of the Coalition for over a decade, so we figured this was a great time to highlight our long-time N.Y member. Chemung River Friends is a non-profit organization that teams up with municipalities to protect all waterways throughout the Chemung River. We spoke with Jim Pfiffer, director of Chemung River Friends for an inside scoop on the organizations endeavors.

Tell us about your organization and your mission.

Incorporated as a 501(c)3 in 2009.

Our mission: Protect and promote the 45-mile-long Chemung River and its tributaries, and encourage the public to better use, enjoy and respect our waterways for recreation, education and a peaceful commune with nature.

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

We helped build and maintain 10 public boat launches, three riverside trails and several fishing access sites. We lead guide paddle trips, hikes, bike trips and cross-country ski trips. We have removed more than 14 tons of trash and illegal dump sites along our waterways and trails. We developed and maintain a concise online river paddling guide that features real time river levels, safety tips and river history.

We teach paddling and safe water classes. We present public education programs about river ecology, the water cycle, pollution, river history and environmental stewardship. Because it is often difficult to bring the public – especially youth school classes – to the river for education programs, we purchased a portable and foldable 16-foot-square pool that we take to schools and community centers, fill with hydrant water, add kayaks and canoes and use it to teach water safety and basic paddling.  

We work with area farmers, golf courses and private land owners to help them use environmentally safe and clean water practices. We give free monthly public education presentations about river wildlife and plants at a riverside restaurant and bar in Elmira.

We developed a citizen scientist program to teach volunteers how to collect and analyze macroinvertibrates from our rivers and streams, and report their findings to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who uses the info to monitor and remediate pollution issues in our waterways. 

Since our inception we have increased tenfold the recreational use of the river. Through our education and water safety programs we have drastically reduced the number of drowning (one in 10 years) and emergencies on our waterways.

We obtain grants and private funding to purchase river rescue boats, motors, trailers, rescue mannequins and cold water rescue suites. We donated this equipment to fire departments that respond to river emergencies. We provide river rescue training for firefighters and other emergency personnel – last year we did a night rescue training program for 23 firefighters from seven fire departments.

We erected four osprey nesting poles on our waterways, including a newly installed osprey camera that provides the public with 24/7 real time viewing of a pair of nesting osprey’s on the river in downtown Elmira.

Since our inception we have helped the local population to realize that our waterways are important assets to regional development and quality of life. We are proud to say the most of the public now have a better respect and understanding of the benefits that our waterways provide. The public is more environmentally conscious and works with us to keep our waterways and environment clean, safe and accessible to all.

Our philosophy: We’re all on this canoe trip together. Let’s paddle in the same direction.

What was your favorite part of Chesapeake Lobby Day this year?

Working with and learning from other clean water supporters as a group. I learned so much just talking with and hearing about the issues, problems and solutions that my cohorts face, that are the same as mine. The camaraderie and sense of “we are all on this paddle trip together” unity is refreshing and important in achieving our goals.

I discovered how to better lobby our elected officials, what to expect and what not to expect. I was surprised by the young age, and often times seemingly inexperienced, legislative staff members that we met with and talked too. I wasn’t  always confident that they fully understood what we were lobbying for and why.

Best of all, I enjoyed learning about the projects and program being done by my fellow coalition members. We really have a talented, experienced and passionate group of  advocates who work hard to protect and promote our clean water and environment.


What is one of your current projects you are the most excited about?

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

We are installing an osprey camera to allow the public to view a pair of ospreys that have been nesting on an island in the Chemung River for the past six years (raised at least 15 offspring). We use those ospreys as an attention-getters and  calling cards to get members of the public, who might not otherwise care about the river, interested in the river and in protecting these amazing birds.

The camera will allow thousands of people – especially youth and schools – to watch and learn from the ospreys and realize the roles and importance we play in keeping the rivers clean, safe and appealing to future osprey nesting families.

The more people who watch and fall in love with the ospreys, the easier it is for us to raise funds, secure grant and in-kind support to allow us to continue to protect and promote our waterways and encourage the public to better use, respect and enjoy our natural resources.

What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future?

Educating and informing the public about the TDML diet and what individuals, neighborhoods, and communities can do to help meet the anti-pollution requirements.

We are developing a 2019 year-long public education program, with a local TV news station and area water-quality organizations, to explain to residents how and why we need clean water and how it can help improve our economy, community health, quality of  life and environment.

Topics include: combined sewer systems, riparian buffers, rain barrels and gardens, don’t pour toxins down the sewers, lawn and landscaping chemical use and alternatives, flooding, non-littering and picking up litter, etc.

Result: Cleaner water in the Chemung River Watershed means cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay.

How has being a member of the Coalition benefited your organization?

The networking, combined knowledge/experience, publicity, assistance with information and problem solving.  

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.