John, what would you say is the most satisfying part of your job as a local waterkeeper?
Getting to work with kids and people who are just beginning to take an interest in the creek. Seeing people awaken for the first time and watching their faces light up is amazing.
Last year was not an easy year for our community. How would you describe your darkest moment as a Creekkeeper?
April 28th, 2011. The moment when I first looked down and saw the magnitude of what was lost. It was difficult to want to stay. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. All the locals were shaken to the core. I promised Jimmy Watson I would take care of Watson's Bend if he'd let me. That promise made it easier for me to start looking for constructive actions- it gave me a reason to do things instead of feeling overwhelmed.
You mention "doing things". What sort of things have you done in the past year since the tornado?
We cleared the creek and let the community know that it is safe for use. Thanks to all the volunteer help, canoes can hit the water this spring.
We also had the opportunity to reward businesses for good stewardship and best management practices. During the recovery, we were able to highlight an eco-conscious recovery process and learn what good stewardship involves in the context of natural disaster. The reputation of FOHC made businesses want to work with us, and we want to continue to offer incentives and encouragements to businesses seeking to leave a green footprint in their work.
We also worked daily with various construction companies to assist them implementing practices for erosion control. Of course, we learned a lot in the process.
You spend a LOT of time in the watershed and have the opportunity to encounter local wildlife. Your photos of creek "residents" are simply beautiful.
Off the top of your head, name a few of your favorite local "residents" whom you've had the opportunity to meet.
(John laughs). That's a hard one because there are so many. Let's see, I love watching the deer, the beavers, the raccoons, and the turkeys, each active in a certain way at a certain time of the year. They have their own clocks and calendars.
Among the plants, the wild azaleas and the big leaf magnolias.... and the mountain laurels. Kids love the blueberries, huckleberries, and mulberries that they can eat straight from the bush.
Steering in a different direction, what songs remind your of the creek or bring the creek to mind? I'll settle for give.
1. "Southern Smoke- Cold Steele" with music and vocals by John Wathen. The creek lives in that song.
2. Also, driving around the creek area, "Country Roads" by John Denver comes to mind.
4. Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" has a train part that reminds me of the railroad bridge in Holt.
5. "My Home is in Alabama" by Alabama. That one speaks for itself.
So how does it feel to be named one of 3 international River Heroes of 2011 by the Waterkeeper Alliance? (Some of us can't wait to see your speech in Portland. There's an irony in Alabama-goes-to-Portland.) It is one of the highest honors awarded to a waterkeeper.
Humbling, inspired, Honored to even be mentioned by the world's water advocates, let alone be selected as a hero by my peers.
I remember a great photo of you being published when you won the Locust Fork News-Journal Person of the Year Award back in 2009. You don't talk about this sort of thing often, but I'm curious. Have you won other awards or acclaims over the years as a creekkeeper?
Several awards over the years, including: