Meet the 2019 MountainTrue Award Winners

Meet the 2019 MountainTrue Award Winners

MountainTrue is proud to announce our annual award winners for 2019. These awards are given to MountainTrue members and volunteers who have been outstanding in their commitment to preserving WNC’s natural heritage. Awards will be formally presented at our Annual Gathering on October 23 at New Belgium Brewing Company in Asheville.

The awards are as follows:

Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Katie Breckheimer
This award is given in honor of Esther Cunningham, the founder of the Western North Carolina Alliance, and is MountainTrue’s most prestigious award.

Katie Breckheimer has been a leader in environmental advocacy in WNC for over three decades. She was active with the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO) in Henderson County, and then was crucial to the success of the transformative 2015 merger between ECO, the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA) and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance (JMCA) that created MountainTrue. Not long after the merger, Katie’s natural capacity for leadership and her commitment to our work led her to serve a term as MountainTrue’s Board Chair.

Katie has played a major role in advocacy efforts including green energy, promoting greenways and recycling, and stopping coal ash pollution and expansion of Asheville’s Duke Energy power plant. Katie launched and continues to host Green Drinks in Hendersonville, a monthly social gathering and lecture series on environmental issues. Her passion for and dedication to environmental protection is beyond compare, and has positioned her as a leading voice for natural resources across the region.

Volunteer of the Year for the High Country Region: Chris Souhrada

Shortly after moving to Banner Elk, Chris connected with MountainTrue and immediately became one of MountainTrue’s most dedicated and reliable volunteers in the High Country. Chris has been a long-running water quality volunteer with the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) program. High Country Regional Director Andy Hill calls him “the MVP and anchor of the water quality team who covers for others when needed, goes above and beyond what is asked of him and is always willing to help with other projects like livestaking and non-native invasive removal.” In general, Andy says Chris is just a hell of a guy and we are pleased to award him our High Country Region Volunteer of the Year!

Volunteers of the Year for the Southern Region: Kay Shurtleff and Lucy Butler

Kay and Lucy have both been committed volunteers with MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Office water quality monitoring programs for over a decade. Together they coordinate over 30 water testing sites by collecting samples from all of the volunteers and transporting them to the lab every month. They also participate in and coordinate biomonitoring for water insects in local streams twice per year. In addition to their ongoing commitments to our water programs, they have helped with a variety of other initiatives including Christmas tree recycling, river cleanups, local festivals, and advocacy at public meetings. Southern Region Director Gray Jernigan says “they are two of our most dedicated and reliable members and set the example by being great stewards of our natural environment.” Congratulations Kay and Lucy!

Volunteer of the Year for the Western Region: Charlie Swor

As the former secretary of the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (HRWC) board of directors, Charlie worked hard on the complex and successful merger between HRWC and MountainTrue this past summer. Charlie also participates in our volunteer water quality monitoring program, taking monthly water chemistry and E. coli measurements from Corn Creek. He spearheaded a partnership between Young Harris College and HRWC for management of the Corn Creek riparian corridor, creating a much healthier stream environment and a more pleasant walk on the college’s streamside trail. Charlie float-fishes area rivers on a regular basis and lets us know when he discovers issues that might impact water quality. “Charlie is one of those ‘go-to’ guys when we need help with set-up for an event or really any ‘ole thing,” says Western Regional Director Callie Moore. “If he’s not busy and his wife, Rachel can take care of the kids (thanks Rachel!), he’s there!”

Volunteer of the Year for the Central Region: Erin Gregory

Erin has been a key volunteer for the French Broad Riverkeeper program for the last two years, spending hours each week collecting water samples that have led to the team finding no fewer than three major sewer issues. When French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson and Watershed Outreach Coordinator Anna Alsobrook were out of town earlier this summer, Erin texted them to report an issue and then also contacted the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on their behalf to instigate a quicker response. She has single-handedly created a French Broad River Festival for our Beer Series at The Wedge, including gear builders, outfitters, and other local producers, and she prompted the Asheville Yoga Center to designate MountainTrue their Charity of the Month. We couldn’t do it without you Erin!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist, Josh Kelly, next to a “temporary road” built in 2012 in Nantahala National Forest.

In August, Forest Service staff for Nantahala National Forest made their final decision on the Buck Project. As you may remember, the Forest Service had selected Alternative B as its proposed alternative in April, and we called on you to oppose this project because it would have harvested 845 acres of timber and constructed 9.1 miles of new road – much of that in sensitive places like existing old-growth forests, Outstanding Resource Waters, Natural Heritage Areas, and the Chunky Gal potential Wilderness addition. 


In response, the Forest Service created a new alternative for the project, Alternative G. In the positives column, Alternative G includes understory thinning and controlled burns in the Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens. It also calls for watershed repairs in areas where old roads, culverts and infrastructure are causing erosion and blocking the passage of aquatic organisms. But unfortunately, Alternative G still proposes to build 8.9 miles of road and to harvest timber in sensitive areas.  

Here’s where MountainTrue stands on the Forest Service’s new alternative:

  • We support Alternative G’s inclusion of water quality work and activities in the Serpentine Barrens.
  • While we welcome the reduction of timber harvest by 50 acres to protect old-growth forest and a North Carolina natural heritage area, as well as the .2 miles of reduced road construction, these are very small changes around the margins. This project still does tremendous harm to wild places, soil and water, old-growth forest, and goes against the wishes of hundreds of people that commented on the project.
  • Alternative G would still build new roads and harvest timber in one of the wildest places in North Carolina – the Chunky Gal Addition to Southern Nantahala Wilderness. At over 7,000 acres, this is the largest potential addition to an existing Wilderness in North Carolina, and one of the wildest, most remote, and ecologically healthy places in Nantahala National Forest. Proceeding with Alternative G would surely disqualify thousands of acres of Chunky Gal from management as either Backcountry or Wilderness for at least 20 years. This at a time when there is broad public support for protecting the area in the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan.
  • The 8.9 miles of road construction will have considerable risks for erosion, landslides, and the spread of invasive plants. The Forest Service has over 2,200 miles of roads in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, yet they want to build more in the wildest remaining places. They are proposing a 10-mile roundtrip haul and 2 miles of new road construction to access just 50 acres of timber on Kitty Ridge. The new road would cross rock outcrops and extremely steep slopes, which increases the risk for erosion and landslides. The value of the timber being accessed is likely to be less than the cost of constructing this “temporary” road!
  • In compartment 110, the Forest Service still proposes to build a 14-16 foot-wide “temporary” road paralleling an unnamed tributary of upper Buck Creek. Both Buck Creek and this tributary are known to be native brook trout streams that are already under stress from non-native trout. Road construction will further jeopardize this fragile brook trout population.
  • Alternative G still contains existing old-growth forest with trees over 200-years-old in at least three locations. The Forest Service claims to be working with MountainTrue to exclude these areas from harvest, but still has them mapped inside harvest areas. The simplest solution would have been to exclude those areas from the decision to harvest. What happens if and when there is a disagreement about the location and boundaries of existing old-growth? The decision makes no promises in this regard.

MountainTrue continues to push for a modified Alternative D, which the Forest Service has acknowledged would meet the purpose and need for the Buck Project. We will object to the Buck Project, as this is our last recourse short of going to federal court. The Forest Service has not been responsive to our concerns on recent problematic decisions in the Mossy Oak and Southside Projects, and does not seem inclined to fix the problems with the Buck Project either. 

It’s also come to our attention that those who commented on the Buck Project through MountainTrue’s comment portal received a message from Steverson Moffat, NEPA Planning Team Leader for the Forest Service. While we’re glad that the Forest Service is taking the time to engage with people who comment on their projects, we have a very different take on the Buck Project than what Moffat’s message shared. You can read our response here.

The Forest Service proposed the very flawed Buck Project in early 2018. They have now made changes around the margins of the problem they created and called this a balanced compromise. Any compromise that relies on compromising the health of the land and water is unacceptable to MountainTrue.

Sincerely,

Josh Kelly, Public Lands Biologist for MountainTrue


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

You’re Invited to MountainTrue’s Annual Gathering on October 23!

You’re Invited to MountainTrue’s Annual Gathering on October 23!

Join MountainTrue for our biggest party of the year.

MountainTrue members from all over our region gather every October to celebrate outstanding volunteers and advocates, vote on new board members, and connect with others who are passionate about protecting our region’s forests and rivers and creating healthier communities. This October 23, we hope you’ll join our Annual Gathering at New Belgium Brewing to celebrate another great year of protecting the places we share and our recent merger with the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition.

Stronger Together: MountainTrue’s Annual Gathering
October 23, 6-9 pm
New Belgium Brewing Company

21 Craven St., Asheville, NC 28806
RSVP through the ticket form below.

This year’s Annual Gathering is made possible with the help of the law firm of Davis & Whitlock Environmental Law. Together with New Belgium, their generous support helps us keep the costs of the Annual Gathering low – we just ask that your membership is current in order to attend. (Not sure if your membership is current? Check for your name here.) 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Renewal: Celebrating the Merger of Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition and MountainTrue

Renewal: Celebrating the Merger of Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition and MountainTrue

Local favorite Gnarly Fingers will play during the merger celebration event on August 17th. From left to right, band members are Brian Kruger, Tom Edwards, Pat List, Joann Holoman, and Keith Layton. 


For Immediate Release

Media Contacts:

Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
C: 415-535-9004, E: karim@mountaintrue.org

Callie Moore, MountainTrue Western Regional Director
C: 828-837-5414, E: callie@mountaintrue.org


Renewal: Celebrating the Merger of Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition and MountainTrue

Brasstown, N.C. — MountainTrue invites everyone to a celebration of its recent merger with the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (HRWC). The event will be held at the Staurolite Farm Barn in the Trout Cove community of Brasstown, NC on Saturday, August 17, 5:30-9:00 p.m.

Long-time members and supporters of HRWC will join with staff and local members of MountainTrue for food, games, music, dancing and fun. Program coordinator, Tony Ward, will offer a tour of one of the Coalition’s oldest stream restoration projects, Trout Cove Branch, and live music will be provided by local favorite Gnarly Fingers.

The merger represents a renewal of MountainTrue’s roots in far Western North Carolina, as well as a renewal of the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition’s programs. This event is a great opportunity to learn more about MountainTrue and its current and future work. Admission is free, but please RSVP online at: https://mountaintrue.org/event/21549/ or call 828-837-5414.

#  # #


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Take Action: Protect the Public’s Role in Public Lands

Take Action: Protect the Public’s Role in Public Lands

 

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition and MountainTrue Team Up Through Merger

Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition and MountainTrue Team Up Through Merger

Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (HRWC) has merged with Western North Carolina conservation nonprofit MountainTrue as of July 1. Both organizations share a commitment to protecting our waters and forests. The merger is an important step toward building one organization that can effectively advance the interests of our mountain region through a combination of grassroots organizing, community-driven planning and strategic advocacy.

HRWC will maintain its Murphy, NC office, and its work in North Carolina and Georgia will continue under the name MountainTrue. However, HRWC Executive Director Callie Moore will take on the expanded role of MountainTrue’s Western Regional Director.

This merger is the result of focused discussions within and between both organizations’ boards and staffs since November. Prior to merging, each group reached out to their major funders, partner groups, and other stakeholders. The overwhelming conclusion from this exploration was positive, and both boards voted to support a formal merger in early June. Then, MountainTrue members were polled and voted to approve the merger in accordance to that organization’s bylaws.

Why Merge?

In Fall 2018, wanting to have an on-the-ground presence in the seven far western counties — Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain — MountainTrue posted a job listing for a regional director. When Callie Moore, the executive director of HRWC, saw MountainTrue advertising the position, she wondered if it would be possible to gain more capacity for HRWC’s mission by collaborating in some more formal way with MountainTrue.

After consulting with the HRWC board executive committee, Callie met with MountainTrue co-directors, Julie Mayfield and Bob Wagner. That discussion led to considering a merger. “When Callie suggested working together in the western region we immediately put our hiring process on hold in order to start exploring a merger,” explains Bob Wagner.

Much of the two organizations’ work, especially around water quality and watershed protection, is complementary. HRWC has built up a local grassroots constituency of volunteers and supporters to improve water quality in the Hiwassee watershed in Georgia and North Carolina through water quality monitoring and education, controlling sediment pollution by restoring stream banks and stream side native habitats, and reducing bacterial pollution from septic systems and agricultural operations. MountainTrue has a nearly identical set of programs through their Broad, French Broad, Green and Watauga Riverkeeper programs.

“It makes a lot more sense to join forces with an organization that already has an impressive list of accomplishments and a strong base of support than to build all that from scratch.” explains MountainTrue’s other co-director, Julie Mayfield.

Both organizations approached their respective boards. Interest was high and formal discussions began to tackle the hard questions: What are the benefits of merging? And what are the challenges and concerns?

For the HRWC, it was clear that merging with MountainTrue would open new doors for growth. HRWC is financially stable but a small operation with an annual budget of only around $140,000. Many larger foundations and funders are hesitant to provide big grants if it means that they would make up a significant portion of an organization’s annual budget. With 37 years of experience and a $1.7 million budget, MountainTrue is a better fit for larger institutional funders.

Merging with MountainTrue would also allow HRWC to streamline their operations and direct more time towards projects and programs. MountainTrue has an experienced staff of 20 professionals who can provide HRWC volunteer/member engagement, communications, and management support — including back-of-the-house services such as bookkeeping and database management. MountainTrue has a communications and engagement team to help with event and program promotion, a development team for assistance with fundraising, and a public lands team ready to lend their expertise. “I am very excited about handing over many of my administrative responsibilities to someone else so that I can focus more on programs,” says Callie.

“Our organizations are stronger together,” explains Jason Chambers, chairperson of the HRWC board of directors. “The merger means that HRWC’s long-standing mission of sustaining good water quality will continue, but with better resources for our programs, services, and on-the-ground projects.”

“Both organizations recognize how important it is for HRWC’s supporters to feel their voices are heard and their concerns continue to be addressed,” Callie Moore notes. “There’s going to be a transition period where both organizations will maintain their websites, but the long-term goal is that HRWC’s volunteers and supporters will be just as proud to be members of MountainTrue.”

“The merger is an important step toward building one organization that can effectively advance the interests of the mountain region of Western North Carolina and North Georgia.” says Bob Wagner. “At MountainTrue, we know that the people of Western North Carolina and the people of Towns and Union counties have a shared love of our forests, rivers and natural environment that crosses county, state, and partisan lines. We want to harness those shared values for the benefit of all our communities. That’s what it means to be MountainTrue.”


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.