Key Personnel

Friends of the Cheat's staff on the Cheat River Narrows, Spring 2014.

Friends of the Cheat’s staff on the Cheat River Narrows, Spring 2014.

Executive Director: Amanda Pitzer

Amanda is originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, where she grew up catching crayfish in backyard creeks.  She studied studio art and biology at Allegheny College, and participated in a variety of community art and environmental initiatives.

Following a year of teaching high school art and geology, Amanda moved to Preston County in 2006 to live with her now-husband Jake.  From 2007-2010 she worked for Friends of Deckers Creek as their Education Coordinator, building the foundation for their very successful youth programs and implementing grant-funded initiatives for environmental service-learning initiatives in Monongalia and Preston Counties.  In 2009, Amanda was awarded the “Guiding Light” award from the West Virginia Watershed Network for her enthusiasm and dedication to environmental education outside of the Deckers Creek watershed.

Amanda began her tenure with Friends of the Cheat in July 2010.  Under her leadership, the organization completed the Targeted Watershed Initiative in Muddy Creek, representing over 7 years of work and over $1.5 million dollars in AMD remediation and associated research.  FOC has also installed one new AMD treatment system, executed retrofits to two existing systems, and expanded its partnership with WV DEP’s Special Reclamation program.  The organization’s visibility and community engagement has also grown, most notably through its new website, social media presence, and outreach to Tucker County via the Upper Cheat River Water Trail project.

Amanda is an active community member and appointee to the Preston County Litter Control Board and Preston County Solid Waste Authority.  Amanda and Jake live with their three dogs in a 100-year old farm house atop Laurel Mountain near Rowlesburg where they grow vegetables and frequently entertain friends and family.

Restoration Program Manager: Kevin Ryan

Kevin comes from upstate South Carolina where he has enjoyed many years exploring the rivers of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Broadly interested in science and the environment, Kevin considers the maintenance and restoration of healthy freshwater ecosystems a fundamental challenge to a sustainable future.

Kevin graduated from Winthrop University with a Bachelors of Science in biology and chemistry and has worked in a variety of scientific laboratories.  He was awarded a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship to study soil biochemistry at the University of Idaho in 2010.  Recently, he helped develop a water quality monitoring program for the Bellbird Biological Corridor on behalf of a consortium of private non-profit organizations, government agencies, and research institutions in Costa Rica.

When he is not working, he enjoys running, mountain biking, kayaking and other outdoor sports.  As Project Manager for the Friends of the Cheat, Kevin is committed to maintaining focused and rigorous water quality monitoring in the Cheat River watershed in order to identify AMD sources and evaluate treatment systems performance.

Administrative & Accounting Consultant: Vicky L. Shears

Vicky is a native of West Virginia’s birthplace of rivers: Pocahontas County.  She has 30 years’ experience in the administration of Federal and state agreements both with nonprofits and as an employee in the Acquisition and Assistance Division of the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Center.   Her most recent employment before striking out on her own was serving as Corporate Business Manager for international nonprofit The Mountain Institute.  She has served as a volunteer for many years with various nonprofits and currently serves as Treasurer for Friends of Deckers Creek, the Mountaineer Chapter of the National Audubon Society, and the Central District of WVDAR.  She also serves as Secretary of the Monongalia and Preston County Literacy Volunteers,  Regent of the Hagans-Evans Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and WVDAR’s State Chairman of Literacy Promotion.  The WVDAR Literacy Promotion Committee recently received a national first place award.  For a different experience, Ms. Shears served as a House Committee Clerk at the West Virginia Legislature during the 2011 and 2012 sessions.

Ms. Shears is a graduate of West Virginia University with a Masters in Professional Accountancy and a Certificate in Forensic Accounting and received her Bachelor’s Degree from Fairmont State College in Education.  In her free time she is an avid reader, enjoys traveling and trying new and different experiences.

valoriecheatpicAccounting and Office Associate: Valorie Dixon

Born and raised in Mount Storm, WV, Valorie studied business administration and marketing at Fairmont State College and Eastern West Virginia Technical College, and graduated with a degree in Graphic Design from Garrett College. Formerly a licensed real estate agent, Valorie runs her own small business bookkeeping service and is the financial manager for her husband’s metal fabricating and manufacturing businesses.  She is very engaged with her community, serving as pianist, Handbell Choir director, elementary Sunday School teacher, and treasurer of the Fairview Church of the Brethren, and as an active member of Appalachian Beekeepers Association, Garrett Engineering and Robotics Society (GEARS), and Country Explorers 4H Club. Valorie enjoys gardening, canning, pygmy goats, music, the beach, and spending time with her husband, Steve, and sons, Payton and Wesley.

Festival Coordinator:  Emma Donovan

EmmaEmma is from Charlottesville, Virginia, where she grew up rambling through fields and venturing to nearby bluegrass festivals. After stints in North Carolina and New York, she is excited to now call Tucker County home.

Emma graduated from Davidson College with a BA in English, and has worked in creative and administrative capacities for a variety of organizations.  Whether organizing community design symposiums or volunteering on goat farms, her work has been motivated by a preoccupation with the constructive intersection of natural and built landscapes. She’s thrilled to engage these issues in celebration and promotion of the Cheat watershed as Festival Coordinator for Friends of the Cheat. Emma spends her spare time hiking, road tripping, and taking a crack at learning the mandolin.

Monitoring Coordinator: Lauren Greco

5351658911_7ee2e18722Lauren Greco is from the Chicago suburb Naperville, Illinois.  A recent graduate from the University of Illinois, she studied civil & environmental engineering with a focus in water quality and water resources. While in school, she was a part of Engineers without Borders, researching point of use water treatment technologies for developing areas.

Despite hailing from the flat lands, Lauren is a passionate rock climber and outdoors enthusiast. During her summers, she lived out of her tent while working as a rock climbing and zip-line guide in the beautiful New River Gorge. There, she quickly fell in love with West Virginia, all the while becoming acutely aware of the chronic water quality and pollution problems that plague Appalachia.

As Friends of the Cheat’s new summer associate, Lauren is thrilled to be returning to West Virginia, this time as a steward of the environment she has grown to appreciate so much.

DEP Pilot Project Manager: Owen Mulkeen

owenpic2A native of West Virginia, Owen grew up in and around the city of Morgantown. Since graduating from West Virginia University with a degree in Environmental Protection, he has worked in various capacities within the private and public environmental sectors. From mapping and monitoring coal mining impacts in southwestern Pennsylvania to treating acid mine drainage in West Virginia, Owen’s work has revolved around environmental issues fundamental to the region.

As Project Manager for the DEP Partnership Project, Owen oversees water quality monitoring and facility operations at state-owned AMD treatment sites, and is proud to have a hands-on relationship with water treatment in the Cheat River Basin.

Owen is interested in a broad range of outdoor activities, from climbing and mountain biking in the warmer months to downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter. He also enjoys woodworking, adventure traveling, ice hockey, and the pursuit of happiness.

Field Technician: Chris Bern

chrispicA native West Virginian, Chris grew up in Preston County and spent his childhood hiking and swimming along the Cheat River. He started boating the Cheat in high school, which only deepened his appreciation for his home. After high school, Chris continued his exploration of the watershed as a raft guide on the Cheat and Youghiogheny.

Chris has spent the past ten years working construction in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and studying Sign Language at Pierpont Community College, where in 2012 he earned a degree in Sign Language Interpretation. He still lives in Preston County, spending his evenings with family and friends.

Field Technician: Jeremy Sidebottom

jeremypicJeremy grew up in Preston County experiencing the effects of industrialized resource farming, a background that motivates his course of study and work. He finds refractions of these issues—and the inspiration to address them–everywhere he looks, even between the lines of John Prine’s oft-recited Paradise: “but Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away…”

After high school, Jeremy worked as an interpretive naturalist for the Maryland Park Service while attending Garrett College.  After earning an associate’s degree in natural resources and wildlife technology, he continued to Frostburg State University where he is pursuing a degree in ethnobotany.  Jeremy is excited to join Friends of the Cheat as a Field Technician and looks forward to making a valuable contribution to the watershed.

Field Technician: Garrett Thompson

garrettpicOriginally from Fredericksburg, Virginia, Garrett was drawn to North-Central West Virginia by a passion for exploring the mountains and rivers of this great Appalachian landscape.  He lived in the area in 2008 and 2009, guiding for local outfitters on the Cheat and other nearby rivers, and was struck by the immense beauty and character of the Cheat Basin as well as by the water quality issues that plague the region.

Garrett moved to Boone, North Carolina, in 2010 to pursue a degree in sustainable development at Appalachian State University, concentrating in environmental studies and minoring in geology and geography.  During his time there, Garrett contributed to ongoing field research on the effects of urbanization and subsequent streambank restoration projects on the water quality of headwater streams.

Garrett returned to West Virginia this year, eager to join the FOC team as a Field Technician and contribute to ongoing efforts to mitigate the effects of acid mine drainage in the lower Cheat River Basin.

Board of Directors:


Dr. Robert Spangler, Jr.Board Chair, was led to the organization by his love of the watershed and a research side road concerning the Cheat Three-Toothed Snail. The Amazing Dr. Bob has worn several hats over the years.  In his current stable of hats are those appropriate for an Associate Professor of Physics at Bethany College, the owner and winemaker for The Broken Tractor Winery, and a member of The Halftime String Band. Dr. Spangler’s formal education includes a B.S. in physics with a Concentration in Environmental Studies from The Rochester Institute of Technology, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Mathematical Physics from WVU. In his spare time he is an avid kayaker, a member of the Mountaineer Area Rescue Group, a musician, a general outdoors enthusiast, a spoiler of dogs, and he enjoys his farm in Preston County, WV. Dr. Spangler has been on the Board of Directors since time untold [although the archives suggest he joined around MMIV of the Common Era].

Charlie Walbridge, Board Vice-Chair, started paddling whitewater in college and first visited West Virginia in the late 60′s. An active C-1 slalom and wildwater racer, he worked part-time as a river guide on the Cheat River in the late 70′s. He ran a mail order company, Wildwater Designs, for 22 years. After the company closed he and his wife, Sandy, moved to Bruceton Mills. He now works as a sales rep for Northwest River Supplies in Idaho and serves outfitters from Maine to Georgia. A long time member of the American Whitewater board, he maintains their accident database and produces a bi-annual annual report of U.S. whitewater fatalities. He’s also an ACA instructor-trainer in swiftwater rescue and teaches regularly on the area’s rivers. He’s produced several books and is especially proud of A Canoe and Kayak Guide to West Virginia, the updated version of the publication that first brought him to the state. He’s also on the board of Camp Mowglis, the place where he learned to canoe.  His web site is

Rick Chaney, Treasurer, has been a supporter of FOC since its formation in 1994 when he worked as a river guide.A resident of Preston County since 1992, Rick is an accomplished singer, song writer, and musician. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from WVU in Animal & Veterinary sciences and an Associate degree in Natural Resources and Wildlife Technology. Mr. Chaney presently works as the Army TrainingSite Environmental Manager at Camp Dawson in Albright, WV. His position requires knowledge of current environmental compliance guidelines along with natural and cultural resources. His office has been able to assist FOC in various projects including water quality monitoring, eradication of invasive species, and grassland restoration. Mr. Chaney hopes to assist FOC in moving forward in spite of cuts in funding at the state and federal level and increased pressure on the watershed from Marcellus Shale activity.

Connie participates in a riparian area planting at the FOC festival site with the family’s dog, Reggie.

Connie Miller taught elementary education in Kanawha County for several years and then at Bruceton Elementary for 11 years. An FOC member for years, Mrs. Miller became more significantly involved in the work of the organization during her son Andrew’s service as an Office of Surface Mining/AmeriCorps Volunteer In Service To America (OSM/VISTA) for two years. She’s presently completing her Master Naturalist certification along with having completed the WV Save our Streams volunteer monitoring certification last summer. Connie plans to continue to participate in FOC’s volunteer water quality monitoring program and assist in the development of future environmental education programs involving the local community.

Leonard Knee is a partner at Bowles Rice with extensive experience in environmental litigation. A member of the WV Bar Association and other legal affiliations, he was named one of the Best Lawyers in America (Energy Law, Environmental Law, Litigation – Environmental). Mr. Knee was appointed by the Governor of West Virginia to the state Carbon Capture and Sequestration Working Group and the West Virginia Energy Task Force, was a past chairman of the West Virginia State Bar Environmental Committee, former member of the Brownfield Task Force, and served as Deputy Attorney General for the Environmental Task Force. Leonard also represents clients before the Surface Mine Board, the Environmental Quality Board, the Air Quality Board and the PSC.

TarynMTaryn Moser is a native of Preston County.  Growing up on Kanes Creek, a tributary of Decker’s Creek, she developed a familiarity with AMD at a young age. During Taryn’s undergraduate  studies she traveled to Sweden to work on various Environmental GIS projects with Linkoping University.  After receiving a BA in Geography from WVU, Taryn has spent the last ten years employed in various mapping projects in the state of West Virginia. Currently she is employed as the GIS mapper for all pipelines in PA Operations for EQT. With her wide scope of mapping experience throughout the years, Taryn has developed a dichotomous skill set and understanding for environmental stewardship.  This unique dichotomy is the result of an unbridled love for the environment of her home state, combined with her employment within the Natural Resource industry.  She uses her skills and experience to demonstrate that environmentalism and industry do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts. Taryn currently lives in Paradise Lake, Morgantown, ;West Virginia with her son, Jude; husband, Evan; and dog, Duke.  She serves on the board to the Homeowners Association and also on the Lake Committee, whose current focus is sediment issues of the lake, and reestablishing the natural ecosystems along with prevention of additional sedimentation.

Ben BadgerBen Badger first became acquainted with the Cheat River while training as a raft guide on the canyon in 1999.  Struck by both the natural beauty of the watershed and invasive threat of AMD pollution, Ben became a FOC member shortly thereafter, and joined the board in the spring of 2013.  A Morgantown resident, Ben enjoys skiing and snowboarding, backpacking, playing rec league ice hockey, and spending time on the river with his girlfriend (former FOC Monitoring and Mapping Coordinator Jessica Zamias) and their two dogs.  A member in good standing with various river advocacy organizations including American Whitewater, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Mountain Watershed Association and Friends of Decker’s Creek, Ben holds a Bachelors of Science in Public Administration from George Mason University and an MBA from West Virginia University.

NicoZegre2013Nicolas Zegre, PhD, is an avid river explorer, assistant professor of forest hydrology, and director of the West Virginia University Mountain Hydrology Laboratory. Nicolas adamantly believes that the lines between his work life and play life should be fuzzy and working as a research hydrologist and educator allows him to combine his passions of whitewater kayaking, surfing, exploration of seldom trodden environments, teaching, and sharing the love of water and environmental sciences.  Since the water cycle is global, Nicolas is compelled to travel and follow water from high mountains and streams to the seas. Fortunately Nicolas is partnered with Sera, who, as an accomplished whitewater kayaker and Colorado River guide, loves water just as much!

After Nicolas and Sera moved to West Virginia from Oregon, they immediately fell in love with the Cheat River watershed by spending numerous days exploring headwater forests and creeks and the Cheat River itself.  Nicolas and Sera believe that the Cheat is one of the country’s most precious resources, offering solitude, adventure, and numerous ecosystem services to society.  Nicolas first became involved with FOC as a volunteer at their first Cheat Fest in 2009. Since then, Cheat Fest has become an annual pilgrimage to celebrate the rebirth of the Cheat and fortuitously, the birthday of their water-loving daughter Colette, with our extended river family!

Nicolas’ current research program at WVU focus on all aspects of water resources with a particular emphasis on watershed processes, patterns, and trends to ultimately understand how watershed function changes in response to environmental change.  Much of his research takes place in high energy, steep mountain catchments where complex topography, land cover, and weather interact to produce highly dynamic stream systems and extreme events. As such, his research aims to understand how watersheds work to better understand how anthropogenic and natural disturbances such as energy development, land-use/land cover changes, and climate change ultimately affect water quantity and water quality. Because of the complex nature and climate of mountain catchments and the mosaic of landscape disturbances, he uses wide range of research tools including field experimentation, numerical and statistical modeling, and stable isotopes. Currently Nicolas and his graduate students have three on-going studies underway in the Cheat River watershed: 1) Effects of climate change on the hydrologic regime of Canaan Valley and the upper Blackwater River; 2) Characterizing hydrological variability of headwaters catchments in the Fernow Experimental Forest to land use and climate change; 3) Water cycle intensification in the Cheat River watershed: Implications for future water resources.

Nico looks forward to seeing you out enjoying the Cheat River watershed!

Kathrin Allen currently works as an anesthesiologist and intensivist at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.  She is an “army brat” and grew up all across the US, but spent the most time in Seattle, Washington where she received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.  Kathrin attended medical school at George Washington University and completed her residency and fellowship at Harvard Medical School.  Since her first whitewater kayak trip in 1997, she has been obsessed with rivers and the outdoors.  Kathrin has spent time in many beautiful places and paddled amazing rivers around the world.  She never thought she would be happy setting permanent roots in any one place until she moved to West Virginia in 2009.  She has totally fallen in love with West Virginia and the Cheat River watershed. Kathrin spends all of her free time either kayaking or running and biking along these special rivers.  You might say they are her best friend and thus she feels the need to help protect them.  KathrinAllenKathrin comments that, “It’s amazing how much FOC has done to bring them back from devastation and I am honored to be a part of the continued efforts.”  Kathrin has participated in many international medical missions and seeks to apply some of these experiences to her work with FOC.


Friends of the Cheat continually seeks new Board Members from a wide range of backgrounds to bring new vision to the future of the organization. If you are interested, please review the board member expectations and contact Board Chair Bob Spangler at