DRBA Stories

On this page you will find stories about DRBA, about our people and about our region. More stories are added frequently, so visit often!

Birth of the Dan River Basin Association

“What did you organize to fight against?”

That was the question representatives of the Dan River Basin Association(DRBA) were asked repeatedly at River Rally 2004, River Network’s annual conference of river preservation organizations. We enjoyed watching questioners’ faces transform in amazement and envy when we replied, “We’re not fighting anything. We organized to preserve what we have.”

This is how our organization began.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the Dan River and its tributaries supported industries along the border of Virginia and North Carolina, powering the mills and carrying their wastes. When the traditional economic bases of tobacco, textiles, and furniture manufacturing declined in the 1990's, the rivers gradually reacquired their wildness, characterized by clear waters and forested banks. Bolstered by the national Clean Water Act, the change was silent and went unnoticed by many, but river lovers realized that without a constituency for the rivers, the wilderness stream that they cherished might be gone within a generation.

Over the summer of 2001 geologist Jeffrey Johnston and a few river enthusiasts in Rockingham County, North Carolina, discussed with national and state parks representatives how we could preserve the Dan River. Quickly deciding to organize the entire 3300-square-mile basin, the group selected a steering committee and appointed Johnston and historian Lindley Butler to approach river devotees throughout the watershed.

At two meetings in the fall, the steering committee chose the name Dan River Basin Association, developed the mission statement, “To preserve the natural and cultural resources of the Dan River Basin by promoting stewardship, recreation, and education,” drafted proposed by-laws, and elected interim officers—President, Jeffrey Johnston; Vice President, Mike Covey; Secretary, T Butler, and Treasurer, Lindley Butler. Roanoke River Basin Association supported DRBA with a $50 donation and use of their web page.

On 19 October 2001 in Mayodan, NC,a general meeting of organizers set dues at $25, prioritized increasing recreational access to the basin’s rivers, promoting recreational use, and keeping the rivers clean.

The public organizational meeting was held on 24 January 2002 in Eden, NC with 60 charter members attending. The by-laws were ratified, the mission statement and the four officers were approved, and a board of directors from across the basin was elected. To start building the crucial constituency for the rivers, DRBA took local officials on river trips and began holding free year-round First Saturday Outings for the public.

DRBA believed that with cooperation and careful planning, development and preservation could work together to their mutual benefit. Whenever possible, DRBA’s approach was not to be against anything; rather, DRBA would before the rivers.  

By the time of River Rally in 2004, DRBA was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit organization with an official logo, members in all of the basin’s counties, a quarterly newsletter, and a presence at many local festivals. DRBA had initiated a state park on the Mayo River, one of the Dan’s five major tributaries, and had published a graduate student’s water quality, recreational use,and master park plans for the Mayo.

In addition, DRBA had obtained a 40-foot-long batteau replica for use on the Dan, conducted award-winning river cleanups, given dozens of programs for schools and civic clubs,consulted with tourism officials on river accesses, signage, and brochures, and served on committees and boards of other conservation groups.

The constituency we sought for the rivers was strong and growing, as more and more citizens recognized the shining treasure they had overlooked. The two-year-old Dan River Basin Association was well established, poised for growth and leadership across the region, and dedicated “to preserve what we have.”

T Butler
Wentworth, NC
24 April 2016