A River Journey: the 2021 Waccamaw Conference

How do we connect when we have to be apart? Rivers had an answer for the 2021 Waccamaw Conference. The Waccamaw River watershed encompasses a wide area, spanning over 140 miles. Starting its journey at Lake Waccamaw in North Carolina and flowing to Winyah Bay in South Carolina, the tea-colored water of the Waccamaw River passes through indigenous lands, historic river towns, deep swampy wilderness, rice fields built by slaves, and eventually joins the ocean. Although distant and seemingly isolated, these places are all linked by waterways. After a difficult and isolating year, we wanted to recreate that sense of connection using the Waccamaw River Blue Trail as our guide. The theme of the 2021 Waccamaw Conference was “Confluence: The Blue Trail Connection.”

The Waccamaw Conference is an annual educational conference for the public focused on the importance of our natural water resources and efforts to protect them. The conference is co-hosted by the Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER® Program of Winyah Rivers Foundation, North Inlet – Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and American Rivers. In a typical year, the conference would be a one-day, in-person event. In a year that was anything but typical, we had an opportunity to think outside the box and create a conference that was broader and more accessible.

The 2021 Waccamaw Conference featured a month of activities from World Water Day on March 22nd to Earth Day on April 22nd.  Over 650 of participants were engaged in both virtual and in-person events, including river clean-ups, a webinar series, a student poster contest, and an iNaturalist BioBlitz. The Conference was organized as a journey down the Waccamaw and included opportunities for participants throughout the watershed. A key take-away from this year’s conference was that waterways do not just bind us geographically, but they connect past and present and weave together people and cultures.

Explore the 2021 Waccamaw Conference

During the “Confluence Clean-Ups,” participants picked up 2,450 pounds of trash at six events throughout the watershed. Intrepid clean-up participants removed cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and even a kiddie pool that found its way into the river. Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to protect the river and estuary from plastic pollution!    

Exhibitors from local businesses and organizations highlighted the many ways communities are connected to the river and water resources. Exhibitors produced videos showing their work and explaining how local community members can get connected and involved.

The Blue Trail BioBlitz recorded over 2,500 individual observations of 873 species. The Bioblitz really captured the biodiversity of our watershed. Congratulations to the BioBlitz award winners who recorded the most species, observations, and spotlight species!

The student poster contest prompted K-12 students to express their individual connections to the Waccamaw River Blue Trail through an artistic or scientific poster. Over 50 students submitted entries that showcased the beauty of the river and the talent of local students. Congratulations to the student prize winners!

Finally, we dove into learning and discovery with “The Source,” a webinar series about the Waccamaw watershed. These webinars covered topics ranging from ecology and biodiversity, culture and history, and conservation and stewardship. We are very grateful to all the speakers who shared their expertise and wisdom and showed that the Waccamaw Watershed is home to inspiring individuals and organizations.

 To learn more about the conference, including video and webinar recordings, exhibitor videos, and submissions for the BioBlitz and student poster contest, visit the 2021 Waccamaw Conference Story Map.