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.
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.”
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.”
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?
What’s the worst color that was ever invented?
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?
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.