In 2015, the Wolf River Conservancy entered into a partnership with Ring Container technologies, with the announcement of a $500,000 Ring Challenge Grant that was formally announced at WRC's fundraiser, the Greenway Soiree. Proceeds from the evening's "Fund A Need" portion of the live auction were matched dollar-for-dollar by Ring Container.
"Thanks to the Ring Challenge Grant, WRC has protected hundreds of additional wetlands in the Wolf River corridor, bringing our number of protected wetlands to over 16,000 acres," says Keith Cole, executive director of the Wolf River Conservancy. "No other company in the state of Tennessee has made this level of investment into land conservation and preservation.
Ring Container is a plastic bottle supplier with 17 automated manufacturing facilities across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The company works with international food processors and suppliers including Stratas Foods, Cargill, Hormel, Con-Agra, and others to develop packaging for products such as dressings, sauces and oils, peanut butter, mayonnaise, snacks, and pet food. In addition to its manufacturing facilities, it also has three distribution centers and a corporate headquarters and research facility in Oakland, Tennessee. Companywide, it employs about 700 workers with 2017 projected sales of more than $400 million.
"We have an incredibly strong focus on sustainability and because the Wolf River flows near our headquarters and the homes of many of our team members, this partnership made complete sense," says Ben Livingston, president of Ring Container Technologies. "Our wetlands and watershed are amazing assets for the Memphis region and protecting them should be a top priority."
Established in 1985, WRC is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the Wolf River and its watershed as a sustainable natural resource.
"The Wolf River Conservancy has three major focus areas that reflect the mission of the organization," says Barbara Kabakoff, chief development officer. They are:
Conservation-- Protecting more than 16,000 acres along the Wolf River watershed to improve air and water quality, provide healthy habitats for plants and animals, and protect land and water
Education-- In the past year, WRC has worked with about 2,392 young people and 1,027 adults in service projects, classroom and community programs, field trips, workshops, and a lecture series.
Recreation-- More than 600 paddlers participated in recreation and outreach trips.
"The Wolf River Conservancy is also making strides in completing the 22-plus-mile Wolf River Greenway trail within the Memphis city limits by 2019-2020," says Cole. "This urban greenway will help connect many communities within the city and supports our three focus areas of conservation, education, and recreation today and for future generations."
Jim Gilliand, a Ring shareholder and longtime supporter of the Wolf River Conservancy, was instrumental in getting the challenge grant and creating the partnership. The challenge grant was launched in 2015 and Ring Container has supported three land conservation projects representing about 300 acres of strategically important lands to the conservancy's watershed management plan.
WRC also hosts the Greenway Soiree, the organization's largest annual fundraiser. This year, it's November 11th at Opera Memphis.
Kabakoff says that fundraising continues year-round, with a variety of opportunities for the public to get to know the Wolf River.
"On the first Saturday of every month, guided trips (First Saturday Paddles) led by Wolf River Conservancy Volunteer River Guides, are offered to take members down various sections of the Wolf Rivers," says Kabakoff.
"Twice a year, the public is invited to embark on a Ghost River Eco Tour," says Kabakoff. "The afternoon paddle on the Ghost Section of the Wolf River includes canoe rental and dinner on a sandbar."
WRC also offers team-building experiences - including paddling outings and eco-tours - as well as service project experiences.
WRC has embarked on a strategic planning process. Already underway is Phase 1 of "Confluence Park," just north of Mud Island, which will include Wolf River Greenway Grand Opening events.
This article was originally published in the August/September 2017 edition of Inside Memphis Business.