From planning this year’s Wild & Scenic Film Festival to announcing leadership changes at the top, there’s a lot happening at Friends of the Rappahannock.

The nonprofit conservation organization will offer the festival featuring 11 short environmental films March 23 at Chandler Ballroom at the University of Mary Washington from 6–9 p.m.

And the organization that supports river advocacy, education and restoration recently announced that Daria Christian, FOR’s assistant executive director, has taken over as the organization’s interim executive director.

Christian has served as FOR’s education director for nine years, overseeing strong growth in its education programs. In recent years, she has also served as assistant executive director.

The move was preceded by the departure of Kathleen Harrigan, who had been FOR’s executive director for five years.

A press release from the organization noted that during Harrigan’s term, FOR expanded its education programs to reach more than 10,000 students in a single school year and launched an initiative to plant thousands of trees in the upper Rappahannock River watershed. It also tackled local environmental challenges, including a proposed development at Fones Cliffs and the prevention of fracking operations in multiple counties in the Northern Neck.

Chris Muldrow, executive committee president at FOR, said Harrigan “has given a tremendous amount of effort, time and dedication to Friends of the Rappahannock. Her deep knowledge of issues affecting water quality and environmental threats to the watershed has really helped protect the Rappahannock that we all hold so dear.”

The Wild & Scenic Festival is made available to conservation groups at more than 200 locations by the South Yuba Citizens League in Nevada City, Calif., which holds its own five-day festival there.

Nick Cadwallender, FOR’s development director, said that he and a few other staffers at the Fredericksburg-based organization looked at more than 80 films to come up with this year’s lineup.

He said that the one with the best Virginia connection is “Flipping the Switch,” about a woman in Flint, Mich., who ends up working with a professor at Virginia Tech to get to the root of problems and solutions for lead-tainted water there.

“I like that story because the person that accomplishes so much is an ordinary person, not a professor, not a powerful biz person, not some state governmental official, but a mother trying to take care of her kids,” said Cadwallender.

Other films tell stories of how non-native fish decimated the mountain yellow-legged frog population in the Sierra Nevada, of a 97-year-old still breaking records running up Mount Washington and of a novel way of studying carnivores through the DNA they leave in prints in the snow.

Cadwallender said they chose a film called “Blue Carbon” because it tells the story of an estuary very much like those in this region, and the important way it helps to mitigate climate change.

“It’s a short film, but it underscores the critical importance of how the coastal wetlands store so much carbon,” he said.

And Cadwallender said he was personally struck by a 27-minute film called “The Hammocks,” which is about the creation, in 1961, of the first beachside state park exclusively for African–Americans.

He noted that the film tells the tale of how a wealthy doctor from New York connected with a black hunting guide on a visit to North Carolina. The pair eventually worked together for the doctor to purchase several hundred acres north of Wilmington.

“When the doctor got older, he told the guide that he wanted to give the land to him and to his wife, a school teacher,” he said. “They suggested that he instead give it to the North Carolina Teachers Association, which represented black educators. It became a retreat center for them, something important because there was nowhere at that time for blacks to easily go to the beach. Eventually, they gave the land to the state for it to become a state park.”

And Cadwallender said that the festival will kick off with an animated film called “Save the Bees” by a local sixth-grader from Spotsylvania Middle School, 12-year-old Jada Carpenter.

“It’s a three-minute video about the problems experienced today by pollinators, and it’s brilliant,” he said. “She narrates it, made 1,700 slides to create the animation and it’s simple, clear and very effective.”

Cadwallender said several groups at UMW—the President’s Council on Sustainability, EcoVillage, the Office of Sustainability and Adopta Panama Rainforest—will be doing something interesting with the trash collected in a big river cleanup just before the festival.

“The plan is for them to take the trash collected up to Ball Circle on the Thursday before the event and sort it into its component parts, to make a visual representation of the trash that’s in our river,” he said. “We’ll put the trailer holding it in front of the festival on the day of the event.”

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

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