Meet Ben

Ben didn’t want to be a lawyer initially because he thought it was just arguing all the time. It may seem counterintuitive to have a lawyer working for a water organization. But it’s not just scientists that work for waterkeepers. “Kind of like how the Lorax speaks for the trees, we speak for the river,” explains ORK legal director Ben Kirsch. “We all live in the environment, so making sure that it was protected and thriving would allow people to be protected and thrive.”

Though he always loved being out in nature, he didn’t see the connection at first either. “I found my latent love for the environment during undergrad – both in the classroom and out in nature,” he recalls. “From there, it was a near-perfect marriage of history, current events, working for a greater good, and enjoying our shared natural world.”

In Mongolia

After undergrad, Ben joined the Peace Corps and taught English in a remote Mongolian village. It was there that the impact – positive and negative – that people have on the environment became clear. “It was an entirely different geography, biome, and level of development, coupled with the locals’ reverence, respect, and appreciation for nature. I could see things through fresh eyes; that is hard to do when you’ve been living in one kind of place for a long time.”

He’d never lived in the Southeast before, but has quickly taken to it. With ORK, Ben focuses on combing through permit applications, suggesting ordinance updates,  tracking legislative efforts, and more. Compared to some staff members, Ben doesn’t get to spend as much time actually out on the river but he loves to talk to anyone who will listen about what a unique blackwater river that ORK protects. 

Even though ORK’s staff and board members are based throughout the basin, “There’s an easy friendliness and camaraderie that comes with our shared goal to protect our waters,” Ben says.

In Oregon

For someone interested in becoming an environmental lawyer, Ben recommends they get involved, and watch and learn from other dedicated people.

“Ultimately, I chose to pursue law because it would allow me to know how our government, political, decision-making systems work and how to be able to affect systemic change to make people’s lives better.”  


What is your idea of happiness? Outdoors, surrounded by loved ones, and laughing

Who are your favorite painters and composers? I enjoy Van Gogh, Mucha, and Monet and I love listening to Billy Strings, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Earth Wind and Fire, Outkast, Holst, Vivaldi, and Handel.

What is your favorite bird? Cardinals, flamingos, the bird outside my window that sings to me every morning.

What is your most treasured possession? Either a piece of an asteroid or my petrified tree knot

What is the dumbest way you’ve been hurt? An (all things considered) fairly gentle fall during a Mongolian wrestling tournament.

What’s the best type of cheese for you? I love me a good feta. But it totally depends on the dish! Maybe my most divisive favorite cheese is bleu. Give me the stinkiest one you got!

What’s the worst color that was ever invented? All colors have their time and place! But, I’m not a huge fan of chartreuse.

Which talent would you most like to have? I would live to be able to play a musical instrument to some proficient level

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? I’d say I struggle the most with patience, but I still think it’s important!

What takes a lot of time but is totally worth it? The 12-hour drive back home to Cleveland.

What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation? “Hello, I’m Ben, and in my TedTalk I will be discussing the highs and lows of the Taco Bell menu.”

What’s the most amazing natural occurrence you’ve witnessed? The total solar eclipse in 2016 – looking forward to the next one in 2024

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “I heard on NPR/a podcast that…”

What is your motto? “A journey of ten thousand miles starts with a single step.”

 

RELEASE: Canoochee Paddle Race opens registration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
01/18/2024
Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

CANOOCHEE PADDLE RACE OPENS REGISTRATION
ORK brings the popular event back to Evans County

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) will host the Canoochee Paddle Race on Saturday, April 13, 2024 in Evans County, Georgia. The race will begin at noon, with fun paddlers to follow.

The race will take place along approximately seven miles of the Canoochee River, from Brewton Bridge to Rocks River Bridge landing. Rocks River Bridge landing will also serve as the headquarters for the awards presentation, winners circle, food vendors, and entertainment. Everyone is welcome to come cheer for the racers and enjoy a day out by the river.

Paddlers of kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and canoes are welcome to compete. Non-racing paddlers are also welcome to follow the route after racers have started. Entrants will receive a vessel identifier, map, and official race t-shirt. Registrants will receive packet pick-up information via email. Entry is $50 per person, regardless of racing status.

ORK does not provide vessels or equipment. Personal flotation devices are required for each participant. Entry is limited and pre-registration is required. The deadline to register is Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at noon.

Where: Canoochee River, Evans County
Rocks River Bridge Landing: GPS 32.184196, -81.889276
When: Saturday, April 13, noon. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $50 per person; Free to cheer for the paddlers
Details and registration: https://www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/events/canoochee-paddle-race/

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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2024 Canoochee Paddle Race – 04.2024 – Press Release PDF

Images from 2023 Canoochee Paddle Race
Canoochee Paddle Race - 2023

Types of Water

With so much development and expansion come significant questions about where clean water will come from and how it will be protected. But not all sources of water are the same and it’s important to understand the different terms.

Groundwater is a generic term for water that exists underground in saturated zones beneath the land surface. What we know as the water table is the upper level of the saturated zone. Most private homeowner wells are tapping into groundwater for their drinking, cooking, and wastewater. Groundwater fills the gaps in underground materials such as sand, gravel, and other rock, similar to how water fills a sponge. This water can be affected by the materials it filters through, picking up minerals along the way.

Surface water is classified as any water found on the surface of the earth, including saltwater and freshwater. This includes waterbodies such as lakes, ponds, creeks, and streams. Surface water is a key component of the hydrologic cycle — evaporating into clouds, becoming rain or snow, falling back to earth, and filling the streams, lakes, and oceans again.

Extraction is the term for removing water from the environment to use for another purpose. If water doesn’t come from a surface water source, it is withdrawn from an aquifer. Aquifers are a body of permeable rock that can contain and transmit groundwater. Aquifers are like underground reservoirs, encapsulated by a confining layer, a layer of impervious rock or clay that restricts the flow of water to or from an aquifer. Confined aquifers, like the Floridian Aquifer, are commonly used for drinking water.

U.S. Geological Survey Map of the Floridan Aquifer

Ogeechee Riverkeeper hosted an informational webinar on aquifers, groundwater and sustainability with James Reichard, Ph.D., professor of geology at Georgia Southern University (Statesboro) on February 6, 2024. The recording is available to view.

 

 

Winners of Annual Photo Contest – 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ogeechee Riverkeeper
Contact: Meaghan Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

OGEECHEE RIVERKEEPER ANNOUNCES WINNERS OF ANNUAL PHOTO CONTEST

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) has chosen the best photographs from across the 5,500 square mile watershed submitted for the annual photography contest. Judges sorted through images that highlighted what makes the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers, and the surrounding areas, ecologically and aesthetically remarkable.

This year marked the most entries, from the most photographers, since the contest began in 2020. The guest judge for 2023 was Josh Yates, co-owner of Green Truck Pub and amateur photographer. He enjoys working with vintage film cameras and shooting urban scenes. “I loved seeing the views of other photographers from around the state,” said Yates. “The range of wildlife and views we have in our area is truly amazing.”

The 2023 winners are: 

Black and White: An Ogeechee Halloween, Kristina Strozzo
Funny Wildlife: Struttin’, Don Howe
Landscape: Nighttime at the Cabin, Christian Scott
Plant life: Southern Crabapple, Shannon Matzke
Wildlife: Cardinal, Christian Scott
Portrait: Dog Paddling, Wesley Hendley
Aerial: Ft. McAllister Marina, William Harrell
Honorable Mention: Portal to the Ogeechee, Justin Gehrke

All winners and entries are available to view via the Flickr album. ORK has permission from the photographers to share their work. Contact ORK for files to reprint or share in publications.

2023 Annual Photography Contest

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

***

Meet Carly

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) is responsible for approximately 5,500 square miles of territory in Georgia. It’s a lot of ground to cover. And when the upper, largely rural part of the watershed began to face increasing pressure from industrial expansion and dangerous agricultural practices, ORK hired someone to be based specifically in the upper watershed. Carly Nielsen answered the call, and now she brings together community members looking to protect their rural way of life.

Carly (left) with riverkeeper Damon collecting water samples

When people ask what an upper watershed representative for a waterkeeper is, she has a number of answers. “I tell people I work for a nonprofit environmental organization that encompasses the entire Ogeechee River basin, but I have seven counties that I focus on in Middle Georgia, in the northern part of our basin,” she begins. “I explain that we monitor water quality, investigate water quality concerns, educate the public about the environment and especially our basin, and organize communities to protect their water resources.”

Her skills and tasks are wide-ranging, but she enjoys the variety. Some might be daunted by taking on a position that has never existed before. Carly relished it. “I have really gotten to mold this role into what I wanted it to be, so I feel like I have found a perfect balance between getting out into the communities and making sure they know I’m here for them, and sitting at home on my laptop doing research and applying for grants.”

“Meteora [Greece] was a priority for me because I wanted to visit the Orthodox monasteries. I met a couple of other people traveling solo, and we hiked up the mountain together to explore the caves and watch the sunset.”
Carly’s many previous hats include an assistant volunteer coordinator for Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, a soil conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service, a park ranger at Wormsloe Historic Site, a natural resources intern at Fort Pulaski, and an oyster conservation coordinator at Brevard Zoo.

Although she wasn’t sure exactly where she’d end up, she knew she wanted to work on environmental projects. “I’ve known I wanted to be an environmental scientist since I was a senior in high school, but I got very lucky with this job. I get to travel around Georgia, meet new people, learn about them and their communities, attend their county commissioners meetings and be involved in the communities.”

Carly and pilot John get ready to inspect the river from the air

The variety of jobs and internships has been important, and she encourages others who want to work in the field to do the same. “Volunteer – a lot. Apply for internships. The field of environmental science is vast.” These give one a chance to discover if they prefer lab work, field work, or research. Dabble in air quality, water quality, soils, plants, animals, and insects. “There’s so many decisions to make when you’re trying to decide what you want to be your specialty. So try a little bit of everything.”

–—

What is your idea of happiness?

  • Nowhere to go, nothing to do, just enjoying where you are with who you are with.

What is your favorite bird?

  • Painted bunting (pretty) and wood storks (creepy).

What is your most treasured possession?

  • My horse pillow my sister gave me when we were little. His name is Charlie. Charlie Horse.

What is the dumbest way you’ve been hurt?

  • My dad took me, my sister, and our friends to the driving range when we were kids, and my friend didn’t realize I was standing behind her when she went to swing at the ball and I got hit in the head.

What’s the best type of cheese for you?

  • Gouda.

What’s the worst color that was ever invented?

  • Pink.

Which talent would you most like to have?

  • I really wish I could draw or paint or do something artistic.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

  • Humility. You’re amazing and you deserve to tell everyone that.

What takes a lot of time but is totally worth it?

  • Driving to see my family.

What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation?

  • Oysters.

What’s the most amazing natural occurrence you’ve witnessed?

  • The sunset over the “floating mountains” of Meteora, Greece. I was studying landscape architecture, ceramics, and jewelry making abroad in Italy one summer and decided to spend a couple weeks visiting Greece and Cyprus as well, and I traveled all over Greece. Meteora was a priority for me because I wanted to visit the Orthodox monasteries. I met a couple of other people traveling solo, and we hiked up the mountain together to explore the caves and watch the sunset.

What is your motto?

  • “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I try to apply this to everything I do. Everything could be better and I want to contribute to making it better.