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David Thoreson for TEDxOkoboji's 1st Annual Conference

November 12th, 2019 | Meet the Speakers

David Thoreson

"Follow the Water"

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // 22 November 2019

Pacing, lots of pacing. I am nearing 10,000 steps today and I have hardly been out of the house. That is not a bad thing as the temperature has been hovering around zero but the majority of my day has been spent in very anxious memorization of my script for the TEDxOkoboji event coming up all too soon.


I recently heard someone say that if you are not feeling a little bit anxious about your work then you are probably not doing anything important. Interesting words for all of us to ponder. Preparing for a TEDx Talk feels like that. I have an idea which is important to me. I want to validate this idea, make it interesting and share my passion. I want people to talk about it. This is important to me as I want to inspire others. I’m nervous.


Preparing for a TEDx event is exhausting as a storyteller. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, but this is different; this is a process. I question myself from hour to hour. What a strange feeling to go from confident to wondering if you can pull it off.


I have to stay on message; don’t wander off into a thread that is not in my story. Stay focused and build the passion I feel for conservation, water quality and the importance of leaving this planet better than I found it, possibly a naïve challenge in the era of climate change.


As an outdoor photographer and explorer, I have always been attracted by the beauty of the landscape, the water and what can be found by venturing out over that horizon. The TEDx experience feels like that with similar challenges. I’m trying to draw strength from this analogy and channel it into my talk.


Water quality is a really, really tough subject. It can get geeky and technical very fast. I was at a water quality conference a few years ago and there was a consultant there to help us learn to talk about the subject. He said very few people care about the details; they want to know how water quality affects their families, their health, drinking water and ability to enjoy the outdoor environment. Make it personal.


I wish to point out that we have tremendous water challenges here in the Midwest, in Iowa, and in fact, we have a crisis which needs to be solved within small watersheds and communities from the bottom up. I live in Okoboji and have been inspired by this great water quality community here for decades now. We have an economy built on clean water, trails and public lands. We have the model for the rest of Iowa suffering from lack of outdoor opportunities.


I have forged many new friendships by getting involved in conservation. It is fun, hopeful and inspiring and also builds community. That is what TEDxOkoboji is all about. Whether I perform perfectly, or not, is less important than building community, having the conversations and expressing the passion I share for this idea. I’m honored to be part of the team of this new and exciting event in the lakes area. I’ll give it my best shot; that’s for sure.

David Thoreson for TEDxOkoboji's 1st Annual Conference

September 4th, 2019 | Meet the Speakers

David Thoreson

"Follow the Water"

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // 22 November 2019

As a Midwestern boy, it seems strange to say that I’ve always been drawn to water, but ultimately this interest changed my life forever.  I was fortunate to grow up in a time where playing and exploring the outdoors was the natural thing for a child to do. My days were spent exploring the woods, rivers and lakes of northern Iowa. It was during these great experiences of my youth that the dream to further explore the world became very real.

I have now spent the past three decades as a professional photographer and sailor, documenting the outdoors locally in the Iowa Great Lakes region and sailing the world’s seas and oceans. Water still guides my path in life and has become the issue that changed me from a person attracted by its physical beauty to an advocate for its protection for future generations.

My TEDxOkoboji talk tells this story of my connections to the water and how it has taken me along so many highways in life from local lakes to the great oceans and polar regions of the world. Sailing to the waters of the Arctic Ocean led to me to the issue of our changing climate, which altered my life’s work forever.

Back in Okoboji, and reflecting on the Iowa Great Lakes, I now understand that we have a different economic engine than the rest of the state of Iowa. Our engine runs on beautiful, clean water. As long as there are high quality natural resources, we enjoy a $300 million dollar, tourism-based economy. Everyone is outside having fun. Everyone is happy.

Iowa’s small, rural counties have seen water quality degraded, opportunities diminished and residents leaving. On the flipside, Dickinson County is growing and celebrating clean water in workshops, festivals and completed projects. We work hard in a very nonpartisan, cooperative manner to create and maintain a mix of agriculture and robust tourism. It’s a win-win.

Iowa’s agricultural economy has expanded to a point where it is damaging to our waters and nature, and we are losing our precious topsoil downstream. Restoring and enhancing natural landscapes and resources is key to developing local, sustainable economies. There is an “Okoboji Model” here that certainly could be exported to other rural areas of the state.

Let’s create a new vision of the Iowa landscape where not only agriculture thrives, but also healthy, outdoor corridors of opportunity. We once had a tallgrass prairie wilderness across the state with abundant clean water. Bringing back nature around the edges for public use is the cure for the rural Iowa blues, cleaning our waters and providing healthy family and community opportunities.  This is the Okoboji way.  

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // Friday November 22, 2019