A Watershed Moment: Kate Ridgway on Curiosity and Environmental Ethos

Sustainable Conservation donor and Los Angeles native Kate Ridgway has been starstruck since she was five years old, when her father took her out of the urban sprawl of LA and up to her family’s forest service cabin at Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains.

“After dark, we went down to the lake and my dad told me to look up. I had never seen a night sky like that – it was such a surprise to me,” Kate said. Her father told her that the stars are just like our sun, and explained gravity and the relationship between the sun, the moon, and the earth. “That was my introduction to both science and nature, and I was hooked.”

About Kate

That was just the beginning of Kate’s passion for the outdoors and a lifetime of experiencing nature’s wonder. From a childhood exploring trails in California and snorkeling through the giant kelp forests off Catalina Island, Kate became an avid rock climber, kayaker, and mountaineer, summitting Denali in her early 20s. She followed her love of adventure to the Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS) where she spent several years as a COBS Instructor, before heading to Stanford for her MA in education. Over the decades, helping youth build connections to their natural surroundings has been Kate’s passion.

“I was lucky to have access to nature growing up. In my work running outdoor education programs for underserved youth, I recognize how rare those opportunities are for so many urban kids. I loved introducing them to the natural world and helping them understand their connection to it. I had the honor of introducing many children to the Pacific Ocean for the first time and seeing their awe and curiosity — it was just like when my Dad introduced me to the stars! You must know where you sit on this earth. And as a species, we must understand the natural world and our dependence on the health and well-being of our environmental systems.” – Kate Ridgway

Currently, Kate volunteers her time as a board member for COBS, Ten Strands and the John Muir Trail (JMT) Wilderness Conservancy. She still spends summers with her husband Rick and their children at that cabin on the shores of Big Bear Lake.

What Inspires Your Generosity?

“Rick and I look for smart, passionate leadership in the causes we support,” says Kate. “I’ve known Ashley for a long time. She has deep integrity, is whip-smart, strategic, and hardworking. Sustainable Conservation’s strategy and focus on building back resilience across our landscapes is vitally important. We also like that Sustainable Conservation is practical, and a problem-solving organization.

Humans, for all our intelligence, often fixate on short-term gains while ignoring long-term impacts. Sustainable Conservation fights this myopia. You are compassionate partners in that you provide tools and resources that are win-win solutions.  There’s a lot of psychology in this work, because you’re often going to people where their livelihood is based on that landscape.

The intersection between the environment and education is what inspires our giving. I feel the need to pass the baton to the next generation in such a way that young people develop values that lead them to craft more new environmental solutions.”

What Do You Wish For Others?

“Be curious! Being curious is one of the best human traits, because it’s about inquiry, listening and problem solving. We all should keep our curiosity activated about the environment.”

What Do You Wish for Sustainable Conservation?

“Thinking locally, just keep doing what you’re doing. Thinking globally, we need a Sustainable Conservation in every state and every country in the world because healthy, working landscapes are critical for the wellbeing of people and the planet. Expanding beyond California is a very heavy lift but strategically it may be the most important lift of all, right now.”

With the generous, loyal support of donors like Kate, Rick, and so many of you reading this, consider that first wish granted! As for taking our model beyond California, this is happening if we look at how other states are adopting our innovative PlantRight program, our BrakePad Partnership model, and our award-winning dairy irrigation innovations. Kate’s big wish arrives at a good time, as we look to the future and craft our next strategic plan. Join us now!

What’s Next?

This is our watershed moment. Join us!

We introduced you to the watershed project as a whole, and chatted with Water for the Future Program Director Aysha Massell. We also introduced you to our full Water Team and heard what they’re looking forward to as we expand the study. Next, we’ll deliver some more in-depth looks at California’s water complexity, community engagement, and potential policy future.

More Profiles in Conservation

Giving Together for Generational Impact: Staying True to CA

Building a Sustainable Economy: Meet Adán Ortega

Seek, Savor, Share: Meet Sue Rikalo

A Lifetime Appreciation of the Outdoors: Meet Sally and Craig Falkenhagen

Farms and Fish: A Dooley Family Tradition