• RiverWatch Volunteer Award Winners


    Volunteer of the Year – Mac Austin

    Mac AustinMac Austin has been a RiverWatch volunteer for three years and monitors two sites. Not only does Mac participate in monitoring, but she has offered to scout out new sites, help spread the word about RiverWatch, and mentor new volunteers. Mac is always willing to help new volunteers in her area with their first monitoring trip. A fellow volunteer has described her to be “pleasant, approachable and outgoing,” and “she makes people feel good about volunteering.” Mac goes above and beyond the expectations of volunteers, and we recognize her efforts in supporting RiverWatch!

    Young Scientist Award – Jeremiah Herche

    Jeremiah HercheJeremiah Herche has participated in several RiverWatch events, along with the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy, over the last three years. He has spent hours in the river collecting macroinvertebrates and scouring for mussels and was even featured in our film, Mussel Grubbing: A Citizen Science Treasure Hunt. At just nine years of age, Jeremiah is already a veteran community science volunteer who sets a great example for other kids who participate while being an exceptional volunteer in his own right. He is learning about the importance of community science and the role that macroinvertebrates and freshwater mussels play in our rivers and streams. Jeremiah is in the fourth grade and loves everything outdoors. He also shows his commitment to hard work and perseverance through his practice of Tae Kwon Do, through which he has earned his first-degree black belt!

    Inspiration Award – Scott Moss

    Scott MossScott Moss is a professor at Lewis & Clark Community College and incorporates RiverWatch as part of their Ecological Restoration curriculum. Scott is incredibly passionate about his job and encourages his students to participate in community science opportunities in and out of the classroom. His students said that RiverWatch was their favorite part of the class and inspired one student to look into a potential career in water-related science and another student to do stream monitoring on their own property. Scott creates a welcoming community for his students, allowing them to form close bonds with one another and connecting them with ecological organizations in the area. Scott is an inspiration to his students and to us here at RiverWatch.

    Lifetime Achievement Award – Lynn Dempsey and Brian Musker

    Lynn DempseyLynn Dempsey and Brian Musker trained with RiverWatch in 2012 and have been collecting data in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie streams ever since. Lynn and Brian have participated in over ten events, monitoring multiple sites along Prairie Creek. They have been very supportive of the RiverWatch program at Midewin and have helped cover additional stream sites when needed. They also have encouraged other volunteers to get involved with the program. Lynn and Brian are known for being friendly, reliable, patient, and good at problem-solving.

    Partner Prize – Kaskaskia River Biological Station

    Kaskaskia River Biological StationKaskaskia River Biological Station, a part of the Illinois Natural History Survey, has been an amazing partner to RiverWatch for 17 years. Members of the staff serve as Quality Assurance Officers, helping us ensure that our program is meeting data quality standards and identifying where we can improve. They also share similar goals to RiverWatch: conducting aquatic research, providing mentorship to future biologists, and engaging in public outreach. We are grateful to Anthony Porreca, Dakota Radford, Thomas Detmer, Joseph Parkos, Matt Diana, Joshua Tompkins, Brittany Trushel, and all other staff, past and present, who have contributed to the success of Illinois RiverWatch.


    Volunteer of the Year Award – Bruce Colravy

    Volunteer of the Year Award 2022, Bruce ColravyBruce Colravy participated in six RiverWatch invertebrate monitoring events this year and a total of 29 monitoring events in the past four years. He is the Citizen Science Coordinator for the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy (USRC). As a lead partner for the Sangamon River Mussel Monitoring project, Bruce was a key team member for the coordination of four highly successful mussel monitoring events in August. Bruce also participates in our Winter Chloride Watchers program, monitoring four locations and submitting 53 observations this year. Bruce dedicates much of his time to promoting water quality, educating his community, recruiting volunteers, and collecting data for RiverWatch. His fellow volunteers note that he is dedicated, kind, and hardworking. And he loves the Sangamon River!

    Young Scientist Award - Kruz Antonini

    Riverwatch Young Scientist Award 2022, Kruz AntoniniAt only 8 years old, Kruz Antonini was trained last year as a RiverWatch citizen scientist. He showed great enthusiasm at the training workshop, eager to participate in all parts of the process. Since attending the workshop, Kruz has passed his knowledge on to friends and family whenever visiting rivers and creeks. He is constantly on the lookout for insects and other creatures during his adventures, both aquatic and terrestrial. He likes to build habitats and take care of the critters that he finds. Kruz will demonstrate the use of a dip net to his friends and teach them about the importance of the organisms and the health of the water. We are glad to have such an inquisitive young scientist among us!

    Inspiration Award - John Griffis

    Riverwatch Inspiration Award 2022, John GriffisJohn Griffis is a retired professor with Joliet Junior College and has been a RiverWatch volunteer since 1998. He spent much of his career introducing undergraduates to Illinois RiverWatch and stream ecology research. John uses RiverWatch techniques to teach lessons on stream ecology in his Introduction to Biology classes. He also teaches an undergraduate research class each summer where students design their own stream ecology research projects, collecting data using RiverWatch and other methods. Many of John’s students have presented at national conferences and published their research on stream ecology.

    Lifetime Achievement Award – Sandy Perkins

    Lifetime Achievement Award 2022, Sandy PerkinsSandy Perkins has been a RiverWatch volunteer since 1997 and has submitted data during 23 seasons. As a high school biology teacher, Sandy led her students in collecting RiverWatch data every spring in Knights Creek. Though recently retired, Sandy introduced her colleague to the program, ensuring that high school students continue to have the opportunity to conduct stream monitoring. Sandy still assists in monitoring Knights Creek with the students when she is available.


    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.