Whatever it takes: Protecting the French Broad River

Lisa Raleigh, photo by Duane Raleigh

Editor’s note: For our fall Nonprofit issue, we invited local nonprofit leaders to reflect on the successes and challenges of operating a 501(c)(3) in Western North Carolina. 

Lisa Raleigh is the executive director of RiverLink. The nonprofit promotes the environmental and economic vitality of the French Broad River and its watershed.

Xpress: What has been your organization’s greatest achievement this year?

Raleigh: RiverLink celebrated a couple of milestones in 2023, including the completion of the Southside Community Stormwater Project, which was a collaborative effort to address water quality issues and meet the need for outdoor amenities in a marginalized community. In addition, we activated and connected Karen Cragnolin Park’s greenway, in honor of our extraordinary founder, providing public access as a key milestone on this parcel’s 20-year journey from brownfield to public river park.

What unique challenges has RiverLink faced this year?

Building a greenway in a former brownfield. In addition to our robust programming, we championed this $1 million-plus construction project from fundraising through its dedication earlier this fall.

What is one fact about your nonprofit that might surprise readers?

RiverLink is the only conservation organization focused exclusively on the French Broad River and its tributaries. We operate three programs that include water resource management, land conservation and youth education. In 2023, RiverLink provided river conservation education to over 5,000 young people throughout the region via in-school, after-school and summer programming — all free of charge with an emphasis on equity and access.

What is your immediate focus for 2024?

To raise awareness around the negative impacts of stormwater runoff — sediment being the No. 1 pollutant in the watershed — and inspire increased use of green infrastructure solutions. By keeping your runoff on-site and letting it return naturally to the ground, you can enjoy gorgeous landscaping amenities and greatly help improve water quality. We will be running a yearlong public service campaign, in addition to disconnecting hundreds of downspouts throughout the community.


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