Following our split day spent in Cornwall and Ottawa, the team reunited for a three-hour drive to Syracuse, N.Y. where we spent the night. The next morning, we continued our drive to the City of Buffalo for a meeting with Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
Our progress was slowed by a brief (and unintentional) navigational detour thanks to our GPS. But after quickly getting back on track, we arrived at the Riverkeeper offices in Downtown Buffalo, poured out of the Suburban in military formation, and set up our equipment in record time.
“We do everything,” said Jedlicka, explaining her organization’s role in the community, “from cleanup of toxic sentiment to engaging people with water.”
The Buffalo River, which drains a 447-square-mile area in Western New York, was historically important to the development and growth of the region. Beginning in the early 19th century, and continuing until the 1950s, Buffalo became a major hub for heavy industrial uses including grain elevators, steel mills and chemical production.
“Our waterways weren’t seen as waterways,” said Jedlicka. “They were seen as conduits to getting rid of wastewater.”
By the 1960s, the region had entered serious decline, at least in part because of its polluted waterways and the urban blight that resulted when companies ceased operations and left abandoned, dilapidated buildings.
The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization that works to inform and educate area residents about the Buffalo River, as well as provide citizens with the voice and tools necessary to advocate for change.
Environmental advocacy runs in the family. Jedlicka’s late uncle, Stanley Spisiak, an environmentalist well before that term existed, was credited with raising public awareness about Buffalo’s water pollution from the early 1960s until his death in 1996,.
Following to some extent in her uncle’s footsteps, today Jedlicka oversees a staff of nearly 30 staffers and the activities of some 2,000 grassroots volunteers.
“The folks that come here,” Jedlicka told us, “are so passionate about our mission and want to problem solve together by being an advocate and change maker.”
To see photos of our time in Buffalo, please visit our Buffalo River gallery page.
Next, the team plans to split in two again on Day 9 of filming to divide and conquer. More to come.