The Doug Blatny Public Service Award

Ranger Doug Blatny was a New River State Park Ranger, tireless warrior for the natural world, community educator, explorer, and mostly, a very good friend to New River Conservancy.

New River Conservancy created this award in loving remembrance of Doug Blatny whose energy, love, and commitment to the natural world has inspired countless others to pick up the torch.

The following was written by New River State Park Superintendent, Joe Shimel:

He was introduced to a career in state parks when he took a seasonal position at Crowders Mountain State Park. It did not take long for him to realize that NC State Parks would be his career home. He was hired as a park ranger Falls Lake State Recreation Area and worked there for a few years before taking a promotion to New River State Park in 1997. He spent the next 20 years plus as an ardent supporter of our natural resources in and around New River State Park.

Although he was not a native to the High-Country Mountains, this soon became his home and his passion. The New River became his to take care of. He felt a personal responsibility to become a custodian of the New River and Wagoner Access at New River State Park. He continually pushed everyone, whether park visitors, conservation partners, even co-workers to become better stewards of our environment.

He had a love of clean energy and spurred the park to invest in solar energy on several different projects and to do things differently to try to make this place and our planet better. He had a complete love affair with nature, doing his best to protect it at every opportunity.

Over 14 years ago, Doug was the catalyst for the state park’s research of the Eastern Hellbender in the waters of the New River. It began with inviting experts to show staff how to conduct these surveys and research. Over the years it morphed into a week-long, huge collaboration that brings in a multitude of volunteers from other parks, universities, and agencies to see and learn how it is done by NC State Parks. There have been public information initiatives including education programs, informational brochures, posters, and riverside signs. New River Celebration Day has been an event that was born of this effort to not only celebrate the river but educate people about the river using the Eastern Hellbender as a sort of mascot.

Speaking of mascots, it was Ranger Doug’s brainchild to partner with the NC Zoo as well as Randolph Community College to create “Snotty” the snot otter, the actual mascot costume that has traveled the eastern U.S. to connect people with this creature ever since. I have many fond memories of snorkeling in wet suits in the search of hellbenders with Ranger Doug at the helm of the effort, as do many others I have heard from since his passing. He also loved to see and listen to the Woodcocks with their elaborate mating rituals, and to share this experience with others through guided hikes and programs every spring.

He loved river life. He helped develop paddle-in camping sites along the New River to expand the paddling and camping opportunities for everyone. When the paddle-in campsites needed maintenance attention, he set up a system for staff to paddle in the equipment needed to take care of the sites. Yes, it was work, but you had to take the time to paddle to the campsites and be in nature and on the river to get to the “work.” He took many paddle trips with beloved friends across the country to explore the natural wonders that many of our nation’s rivers hold in secret except for those daring travel by watercraft. This is a whole different way to experience the natural world that has rewards for those who attempt it, and Doug knew this.

Ranger Doug retired on November 1, 2020 and had plans to travel in the RV with Jackie. He planned to use retirement as an opportunity to not only explore our amazing public lands around the country, but to continue his public service through volunteering and camp hosting in these special places. Doug’s plans were to continue his public service and commitment to conservation, education, and recreation.

On behalf of all of us at New River Conservancy, Thank you, Ranger Blatny, for the energy, love, and commitment you’ve shown the natural world in your years as a public servant. There is no way of knowing how many individuals you’ve inspired over the years, but there’s no doubt that the world is in a much better place now that when you first began. The best way in which to honor you is for us to pick up your torch and carry it far. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.

Past Recipients

  • 2023: Pete Huber (New River Conservancy Board Member)
  • 2021: Doug Blanty (New River State Park)