With our 2012-13 season kicking off this month, we thought folks might enjoy learning more about our fearless leader--Bill Richards.
1) Where are you from and what did you do professionally before Paddle Florida? I grew up in a Boston suburb, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 18 for boot camp in Orlando, and haven't left the Sunshine State for very long since 1974. After trying my luck as a baseball umpire, I finished an Associate's degree in Daytona Beach in 1982, a Bachelor's degree in 1985, and a Master's at the University of Florida in 1987. My main work experience was in putting on various athletic competitions with the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, until Governor Jeb Bush eliminated that program in 1999. Since that time, I have worked as a management and political consultant for several organizations and candidates. I got the idea for Paddle Florida in 2007 and we became a non-profit organization in 2011.
2) When and how did you first become interested in paddling? Like many people, I paddled a lot as a kid, but didn't really "get it" until I was much older. I'd say that I've been a regular paddler since the early 90's.
3) Describe one of your favorite places to paddle. What makes it special? Whew, that's a tough one. There are so many great paddling venues in Florida, but there is still something magical and mystical about the Suwannee River. Just this past August, I took a trip on the Marias/Missouri Rivers in Montana and Lac LaRonge and the Churchill River in Saskatchewan. I have been fortunate to have some great mentors in my paddling life. Two of them are Walt Jetter from Clearwater and Terry Johnson, who splits his time between Bozeman, MT and Homosassa, FL. They were the main instigators for the two trips out West. On the Missouri River, along with four Germans and four Canadians in our group, we re-traced some of Lewis and Clark's route from their 1805 expedition. The lake paddling in Saskatchewan was labor-intensive, with many portages. We explored "The Lost Land," which was described in the writings of Sig Olson, and where Alexander McKenzie and the first 'voyageurs' explored a decade before Lewis and Clark. I returned from the trip in better paddling condition than I have been in for years. Nearly 300 miles of paddling, camping, and portaging will do that. I look back at these trips and see them as burnishing my paddling credentials. I can now brag a little about having "street cred." Ha!
4) Describe how Paddle Florida came into being and its transition to a non-profit organization. The seeds for Paddle Florida were planted in November 2006, when four friends paddled most of the Suwannee River, self-contained. About halfway through the 150-mile trip, we remarked that people would love to do this if they didn't have to carry all their gear and cook each day. The idea was born. We set out to make it happen. In March of 2008, we had 163 people join us for a seven-day excursion on the Suwannee. Since that time, over 500 people from 28 states have participated in 16 trips on water bodies in each of Florida's five water management districts.
As we staged events in 2008 and 2009, we saw what was happening to our waterways, especially our springs...and a new non-profit mission emerged: the conservation of water, the preservation of wildlife, the restoration of springs, and the protection of waterways in Florida. We couldn't have come this far without the cooperation of the Department of Environmental Protection through the Office of Greenways and Trails and the Florida Park Service.
5) What do you enjoy most about your work with Paddle Florida? Least? By far, the most enjoyable aspect of running a non-profit is the people I get to meet on each trip. Whether they are seasoned Paddle Florida veterans or newbies, they always learn something from our trips and I always learn something from them. The other great thing I get to do is work with some wonderful musicians, who seem to have similar sensibilities to my own. What do I like least? Maybe drying out, sorting, and unpacking from each trip.
6) Tell us something about yourself that might surprise folks to learn about you. Hmmm. Let's see. I bet folks don't know that in 2006, with a group of five others, I helped to raise over $50,000 for the Climb for Cancer Foundation by climbing Mt. Kilimangaro in Tanzania.
7) Who tells the best jokes around the Paddle Florida campfire? Guerry Bradley from St. Augustine is our reigning joke-teller extraordinaire. He has regaled us with the same joke on the Suwannee and in the Keys, with great results.
8) What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? I would suggest that they come with a sense of humor. Paddlers tell me that by "going with the flow," they have some of the best experiences of their lives. The upcoming season, beginning with the Suwannee later this month, should be our best yet. At the peak of October's full moon, Tom Shed plays at Lafayette Blue Springs on the 29th and Grant Peeples will perform at the Suwannee River Rendezvous Resort and Campground on the 30th. What could be better?
9) What do you hope to see Paddle Florida achieve in the future? We hope to continue to advance our mission. Springs are in dire condition in North Central Florida. There is a water crisis because we are not better stewards of our precious resources. We must be more engaged in water policy matters, because current policies indicate that we have forgotten one of the eternal truths: nature bats last.