• RiverWatch Volunteer Award Winners


    Volunteer of the Year Award – Joe Niernberger

    Riverwatch Volunteer of the Year 2021, Joe NiernbergerJoe Niernberger participated in six RiverWatch invertebrate monitoring events this year and a total of 28 monitoring events in the past four years. He has led scout troops during monitoring events, providing the students an opportunity to learn about the importance of freshwater invertebrates to rivers and streams while they fulfilled their service requirement. Joe is a key participant in RiverWatch mussel surveys with the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy (USRC) as well as in river clean-up events. He understands that the health of rivers and streams extends beyond the stream banks to entire watershed. He leads roadside clean-ups that help reduce the amount of unnatural debris that enters rivers and streams. He also plays a key role in removal of invasive honeysuckle from the streamside in and around Mahomet. Joe is also a member of the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist (ECIMN) and has disseminated information, promoted RiverWatch, and recruited volunteers from them. He is a committed volunteer for RiverWatch, the USRC, the ECIMN, and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District and has dedicated his retirement years to giving his time and talents to the missions of these fine organizations.

    Inspiration Award – Peggy Doty

    Riverwatch Inspiration Award 2021, Peggy DotyPeggy Doty is an Educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Boone, DeKalb, and Ogle counties. She has trained as a RiverWatch volunteer and has incorporated her knowledge into curriculum that is used at The Natural Resources Education Center in Genoa and beyond.  She has hosted and helped to promote RiverWatch workshops, educated countless students about stream ecology, and recently helped secure grant funds to create RiverWatch monitoring kits for local volunteers.

    Partner Prize – The Campbell Creekside Outdoor Center for Environmental Education

    Riverwatch Partner Prize 2021, Campbell Creekside Outdoor CenterThe Campbell Creekside Outdoor Center for Environmental Education at Lincoln College (“Creekside”) has partnered with volunteers to conduct annual RiverWatch surveys since 2014.  Dr. Dennis Campbell, the Director of Creekside, has consistently been supportive and helpful, making sure volunteers have safe access to the site and facilities and helping with surveys.  Creekside is the only outdoor environmental education facility in Logan County and has sponsored RiverWatch activities in partnership with Master Naturalist volunteers and 4H youth groups.  In addition, Creekside participates in RiverWatch public relations communications (e.g., press releases) about the volunteers’ findings.  Creekside also organizes public Earth Day celebrations and nature festivals that promote RiverWatch priorities within the local agricultural community.

    Lifetime Achievement Award – James Bland

    Riverwatch Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award 2021, James BlandJames Bland was first trained in the RiverWatch program in 2009 and has submitted data during six seasons. He has participated in the RiverWatch temperature monitoring program and is currently tracking the recovery of a stream site that was dammed until recently when stream restoration efforts resulted in the removal of the dam. He has been an advocate for the RiverWatch program in Lake County, promoting the program to members of his local community. One of Jim’s greatest contributions has been the creation of “Aquatic Macroinvertebrates of Illinois: A Supplement for the Illinois RiverWatch Program.”  Jim is described by his fellow RiverWatchers as a great mentor and teacher who has dedicated much of his life to understanding aquatic organisms and water quality.


    Volunteer of the Year Award – Mary Vieregg

    Riverwatch Volunteer of the Year 2020, Mary ViereggMary Vieregg leads a team of volunteers in monitoring water quality at the Nachusa Grasslands. She is a former high school biology teacher who coordinates monitoring events that include both experienced and novice participants. For the past seven years, Mary has submitted samples from sites on Clear Creek, Wade Creek, and Babbling Brook. In addition, Mary is the chair of the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands Scientific Research Grant Committee, which awards grants related to water quality studies at the preserve.

    Partner Prize – Upper Sangamon River Conservancy

    Since 2009, members of the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy (USRC) have worked to preserve, maintain, monitor, and promote appropriate public use and awareness of the Upper Sangamon River. They monitor aquatic invertebrates for RiverWatch at nine sites, often introducing student groups and new volunteers to the program. USRC also participates in RiverWatch mussel monitoring, with a rotating schedule of monitoring at 4 locations to prevent harming the communities by over-sampling. They host river clean-ups, make presentations about the river and water quality at area farmers' markets, and participate in roadside clean-ups and invasive species removal events. Current board members of the USRC are Bruce Colravy*, Joe Niernberger*, Scott Hays, Bart Duesdieker, Mike Daab, Mary Stech*, Phil Hult*, Elizabeth Kirby*, Nick Frillman, and Ken Keefe*. 

    * denotes RiverWatch citizen scientists

    Lifetime Achievement Award – James Pustz

    Riverwatch Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award 2020, James PustzJames Pustz was first trained in the RiverWatch program in 1995 and has submitted data for 19 years at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Fellow volunteers describe James as skilled and knowledgeable and are grateful that they can depend on him to share his time and skills. He regularly participates in the annual National Public Lands Day at Midewin, demonstrating RiverWatch sampling to members of the public. He and his team also monitor temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and flow at five locations on a monthly basis between April and October as part of a program that helps the staff at Midewin to monitor stream health.