NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Kirk Riley of the Friends of the Shiawassee River (FOSR), now a few weeks into his new position, is rapidly becoming familiarized with the area, pleased that his board has been so supportive.

   Riley brings years of nonprofit experience to FOSR, along with a passion for nature – and has already actually jumped in feet first during the recent river cleanup event.

   He is shown just to the north of the FOSR office building on Shiawassee Street in Corunna on Monday morning, Aug. 23.

(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)


   Kirk Riley was hired this summer as the new executive director by the Friends of the Shiawassee River (FOSR) after previous director Lorraine Austin announced she was retiring the end of June. Austin had invested numerous years of committed service to FOSR, including four years leading the organization as part-time director, but had concluded the job needed to become a full-time position due to organizational growth and a need to coordinate many varied projects.

   Riley has now stepped in bringing over 20 years of experience, including his work directing ITEC-Lansing and as the deputy director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. ITEC-Lansing is the Information Technology Empowerment Center, helping interested Lansing-area students in science technology, engineering and math. Riley’s educational background includes degrees in developmental biology and resource economics from Michigan State University.

   In discussing the recent river cleanup, Riley shared he had ventured out to assist in several areas along the river, mentioning one particular cleanup at Harmon Patridge Park in northern Owosso. He was pleased to announce FOSR had over 200 people participate in the event this year. He shared there were 150 people involved last year. Both were great turnouts when considering the pandemic.

   “This was the first big event I got to participate in,” Riley said. “There were lots of businesses and individuals participating and so much more of the river impacted. I counted nineteen or twenty stretches of the river that had people out on them. It was great.”

    Riley grew up in Livonia, which is down near Detroit. He now lives in Ingham County, not far from Perry. He has previously canoed and kayaked on the Shiawassee River – becoming more familiar with the county now that he is working here. He is happy with the board he is working with, explaining that members of FOSR have a visceral attachment to both the river and the nonprofit mission to “share, care and enjoy.”

    FOSR committees are broken down in accordance to the mission, an aspect Riley finds “brilliant,” because members remain connected to that mission. The organizational design does not allow for committees to lose sight of their need to be involved, keeping everyone connected to the goals of sharing, caring and enjoying.

   The intrinsic need of the Shiawassee River is obvious. The river acted early on historically as a type of highway, assisting in the formation of Durand, Corunna, Owosso and other localities situated on the river. Riley believes many residents are again recognizing the river as an amazing asset.

   “It’s all come full circle,” he shared. “Leaders here have thought about this and are asking how do we market our community? What is the identity of our community? Will we attract people to the community by emphasizing this asset?” Many local councils/boards have had conversations on how to highlight the river and make it available to everyone, seeing the river as a unifying component in the county.

   One of the more prominent unification events is just around the corner. The Friends of the Shiawassee River has partnered with the cities of Owosso and Corunna on the upcoming Owosso-Corunna Labor Day Bridge Walk planned for Monday, Sept. 6. Friends members have been working with longtime organizers Donna Kerridge and Corunna Mayor Chuck Kerridge in managing the event starting in 2021. This will be the 18th year for this special event. Commemorative t-shirts, designed by Amber Fuller of Owosso, will mark the event.

   The Owosso-Corunna Labor Day Bridge Walk launched in 2004 as a joint partnership between the Owosso and Corunna mayors, taking inspiration from the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on the same day. The roughly 3-1/2 mile walk begins in Curwood Castle Park and continues to McCurdy Park along the James S. Miner Riverwalk. Participants are welcome to walk, run or even push a stroller. Once making it to McCurdy Park, a pancake breakfast, hosted by Chuck Kerridge and the city of Corunna is available for a small fee inside the Corunna Community Center.

  Registration is free and the public can register on site, if needed. People interested in volunteering to help, particularly with the pancake breakfast in Corunna, should contact FOSR.

   “A lot of things I have done professionally and personally are connected to the mission here and to the outdoors,” Riley shared, talking about how his family is “always out in nature, hiking and climbing.” Both of his sons, who now live on the west coast, are active outdoor enthusiasts.

   For the 2022 bridge walk, Riley is considering introducing temporary, interpretive signage along the trail to connect to both Friends and the river. His overall hope is to garner further notability regarding FOSR work in the area, creating a stronger public awareness – and also networking with several local organizations.

   From the educational side of FOSR, Riley is interested in helping other groups have a broader understanding of plants adaptable to climate change and how climate change could play out in the long-term future of the river and the nearby environment.

   For more on the Friends of the Shiawassee River, visit or call (989) 723-9062. The office is located at 538 N. Shiawassee St., Corunna.

New Friends of the Shiawassee River Director Works Toward a Positive Impact was last modified: August 31st, 2021 by Karen Elford