Here I am today, still flipping over rocks
You are an Aquatic Ecologist. Can you tell us what that means and what you do? Did you always want to be one?
Aquatic ecologists study water environments and the things that live there. I spend my time working to better understand how water quality and changes to habitat affect fish, aquatic insects, freshwater mussels, and people who live and recreate in the New River.
I grew up near a few beautiful native brook trout streams in the eastern panhandle of WV and spent my summers flipping over rocks– chasing crayfish and admiring beautiful caddisfly cases built from sticks and tiny stones. I was amazed by the animals that lived in clean water and was disappointed to learn that many aquatic systems are not as well off as the one I knew. These observations made me want to learn more about pollution and how chemicals harm living things. This took me down a career path of environmental toxicology and aquatic ecology. And here I am today, still flipping over rocks and marveling at what I find underneath them (and looking for opportunities to make the home of aquatic creatures better). It never gets old.
The New River is such a source of wonder and life for us all. How and where did you meet the New River?
I first visited the New River on a family vacation when I was in high school and started coming back more often beginning in 2010 when I learned to whitewater kayak. I had a memorable first run down the New River Gorge. I was amazed by the beauty, the giant boulders, whitewater, and the feeling of solitude. And I got to know it even better after flipping my kayak, exiting, and having a sporty swim through Middle Keeney rapid.
You have joined Dave Bassage, our New River Gorge Program Coordinator, on many a clean up on the New River in the Gorge. Where else have you done clean ups, and on what type of craft?
I pick up trash every time I visit a river because plastic doesn’t go away anytime soon, and it makes me sad to see it in the water. I recently got “hooked” on picking up as much discarded fishing line as I can find when I paddleboard and kayak around popular fishing holes on Smoke Hole on the South Branch Potomac River.
The New River Conservancy has not been in WV for very long. How did you hear of us?
I had the great fortune of working with the New River Clean Water Alliance, a productive task force led by the New River Conservancy– nonprofits, state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders who are interested in water quality inside and outside New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. As the saying goes, “we all live downstream” and I was thrilled to be part of a group that spends so much time thinking about how we can keep improving a large and important watershed.
Do you have a favorite memory of the New River?
Too many to count! My grandfather grew up exploring the Greenbrier and New Rivers and I’ll always treasure the tales of his fishing trips and story-book-like adventures on the river. My own trips on the New River are filled with happy memories of old and new friendships. There’s something about being on water that seems to make connections stronger. Maybe it’s lack of electronic distractions and the opportunity to be fully present, maybe it attracts like minded people, or something else. In any case, I always find great conversations and laughs on the water.