Key Personnel


Friends of the Cheat Staff – October 2016


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.  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 three new AMD treatment systems, executed retrofits to four existing systems, and expanded its partnership with WV DEP’s Special Reclamation program.  In 2016, the EPA declared the Cheat River “reborn” as FOC now shifts its focus to restoring AMD-impacted tributaries.

Amanda has also increased FOC’s involvement with Source Water Protection Planning and land conservation.  On the recreation side, the organization has secured nearly 20 miles of rail corridor for conversion to rail-trail, founded the Upper Cheat River Water Trail, and raised over $40,000 for maintenance of whitewater access points and critical county roads.  The organization’s visibility and community engagement has also grown through education initiatives, and outreach to Tucker County and Cheat Lake.

Amanda and her dog Pepper live just outside the historic Preston County town of Arthurdale.  She is an active community member and appointee to the Preston County Litter Control Board and Preston County Solid Waste Authority.  In 2017, Amanda was named one of West Virginia’s 50 “Wonder Women” by WV Living Magazine.  In the summer, she can be found perched on a rock at Fascination Alley or dancing to live music in a grassy field.

Restoration Program Manager: David Petry


Originally from the Upper Midwest, David grew up in Wisconsin before attending Bethel University in St. Paul, MN to study biology and environmental science. He became passionate about stream ecology and restoration while studying the effects of dam removal on macroinvertebrates in the Boardman River in Traverse City, MI with Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. David graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2015 with his Master’s degree in Biological Sciences where he studied the effects of a wastewater treatment plant on the Sangamon River as well as evaluated various techniques for sampling macroinvertebrates in Illinois.

David enjoys spending time outside and on the water. During his summers, he enjoys camping and fishing and has made several trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area in northern Minnesota. As Restoration Program Manager, David oversees restoration projects treating acid mine drainage throughout the Cheat River watershed. He is excited to work in and explore the diverse watershed of the Cheat River. Stop by the office and say hello to David and his black lab, Argos.

Monitoring Coordinator: Madison Ball

MadisonMadison Ball grew up a fisherman’s daughter near rural Lake Michigan. Taken on many a boating adventure and photographed with prized catches side-by-side for scale, Madison quickly developed an immense love for the aquatic realm. In 2014, she received her B.S. degree in Natural Resource Management, and shortly thereafter moved to Bartow, WV to serve as a Watershed and Fisheries AmeriCorps with the Monongahela National Forest – which hosts the headwaters of the Cheat River.

Already enamored by the beauty of the forested mountains and rural scenery, Madison was amazed by the aquatic biodiversity offered by West Virginia’s rivers. She traveled all over the nation after joining a travel crew with the Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer, yet always felt called back to Wild and Wonderful Mountain State. Madison is immensely excited to restore, preserve, and promote the Cheat River as their new Monitoring Coordinator. Madison looks forward to leading monitoring efforts across the watershed as well as overseeing the CAPABLE citizen science program. While she is very familiar with the headwaters of the Cheat River, she is honored by the opportunity to help restore and learn more about the main stem of the Cheat.

During her free time, Madison can be found hiking and backpacking a trail or wilderness area, enjoying one of many local festivals, or snorkeling and floating one of West Virginia’s rivers.

Cheat River Festival Coordinator: Ellie Bell

IMG_2383Ellie grew up skiing the headwaters of the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. She recently graduated from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Soil Science with emphasis in Watershed Management. She wants to focus on passive treatment of water through soil in her future studies and work to bridge the gap between science and people.

Ellie enjoys West Virginia on snow, on horseback, on water, or on foot. Inspiration gained from the mountains then fuels her work to protect the land, water, and people that have given her so much. She believes that if you take care of your home, your home will take care of you, and so she aims to live her life in symbiotic mutualism with the environment.

Ellie is really excited to get to know the FOC community and the lower Cheat Watershed!

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.

Associate Director: 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 Associate Director, 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: Brian Hurley

Unbeknownst to Brian, he made several trips into the greater Cheat River watershed as a kid growing up on the outskirts of Washington D.C. and despite his carsickness, he was struck by the immense beauty of West Virginia. When the time came, he eagerly jumped on the opportunity to go to college at WVU and graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources. Afterwards, he was a ski bum disguised as a graduate student and earned his Master’s Degree. While attending graduate school at WVU, Brian interned at FOC and dove head first into the organization and learned as much as he could from the experts. After finishing school, Brian enlisted in the Navy and spent the next four years stationed out of San Diego. Despite the beaches, palm trees, and sun of Southern California, he yearned for the soulfulness, grit, and beauty of West Virginia, and made his way back. Between ski runs, you will find Brian working and seeking out hidden spots in the Mountain State by kayak, bicycle, foot and those old dirt roads. He is thrilled to be working at FOC and still makes many trips into the striking greater Cheat River Watershed with his co-pilot (who luckily isn’t car sick) Cooper the dog.

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.

Media Specialist: Beth Warnick


photo by Hanan Shafir – Bethsaida, Israel

Born and raised in Preston County, Beth spent her childhood playing in the dirt, swimming in ponds, and running around with her friends. Decades later, not much has changed. After high school, Beth worked for Appalachian Wildwaters and USA Raft in the summers, and spent countless nights camped on the side of the Cheat River with her friends.

Over her college career, Beth studied many subjects, resulting in an English degree with an emphasis in Professional Writing and Editing, a degree in Religious Studies, and a minor in 3-dimensional art. Working in the Relg. Studies department at WVU, she spent two summers taking students to Israel to work on an archaeological dig at Bethsaida, near the Sea of Galilee.

Beth has many hobbies, but daydreams mostly about ceramics, archaeology, history, biology, and design. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching bad movies, gardening, cooking, annoying her son, Aidan, and being outdoors.

Beth is super excited to be working with Friends of the Cheat as Media Specialist! She can’t imagine being part of a more dedicated and progressive group of people making a difference, right in her hometown.


Board of Directors:  


2Adam Webster, Board Chair, is a West Virginia native. He earned a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries and M.S. in Journalism from West Virginia University. He has worked for industry, private consulting, nonprofit, and government organizations. He currently works as a Conservation and Communications Coordinator for the West Virginia Land Trust. He previously helped develop a source water protection and water quality monitoring program for the City of Salem Public Works in Oregon. He led stream surveying crews for the Bureau of Land Management in support of the Northwest Forest Plan, worked for a remote sensing company, and conducted wildlife surveys for the timber industry. He was a volunteer in Friends of Cheat’s earliest Americorps program in the late 1990s and also spent time working for West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Eastern Coal Regional Roundtable, and the National Environmental Service Center at West Virginia University. He enjoys nothing more than spending the day on the banks of the Cheat, floating its waters, or poking around for ramps and salamanders on its steep slopes. “I’m humbled to know that so many people have dedicated their personal and professional lives to improving these waters”, he says. “Resilience and recovery are amazing things to witness.”

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 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.





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!

Mike Strager was introduced to the Cheat River Watershed in the mid 1990s as a WVU graduate student sampling water quality in Sovern Run and the Big Sandy watersheds. An avid fisherman, he lamented at that time the fact that such beautiful local streams were devoid of any game fish such as brook trout or smallmouth bass. This experience helped form his graduate work on prioritizing watersheds for restoration.

As a professor in the Davis College – School of Natural Resources at WVU, Mike works on water resource issues statewide and has a special affinity for the Cheat River Watershed. Mike’s ability to analyze spatial datasets within both the physical and social sciences realms are part of the unique skill set he brings to the organization. His also has connections to the Cheat Lake Environment and Area Recreation (CLEAR) organization and the Power Company at Lake Lynn Dam in which he has helped to coordinate lake cleanups, establish public access sites, and develop rail trail and beach projects.

Mike has a true love for this watershed and has either waded, paddled, or wakeboarded from the upper sections of the watershed in Shavers Fork all the way to the lake and tailrace to Point Marion, PA.  He is proud to be part of an organization that is helping to improve the Cheat River now and for future generations to enjoy (such as his two young daughters).

DSCN0330Sarah Hinnant grew up on a small sheep farm in rural Pennsylvania, and nature has remained a big part of her existence. During her formative years, her family would pack their van and head to her Grandmother’s house in Masontown, West Virginia.  Asleep in the back seat, she would awake to the smell of the mountains, cool and dank. After following her heart to the desert of New Mexico, Sarah and her husband, John, have returned to ancestral land in the mountains of West Virginia to raise their family. They run a small organic vegetable farm called Cheat Hill Farm. They are situated at the top of Cheat Hill, just above Jenkinsburg Bridge.

Sarah works in Morgantown as a nurse anesthetist and John works for Rustic by Design as a mason. They both enjoy working part time so that they can devote a majority of time to their farm, friends, family and spiritual well-being. A great deal of their free time is spent outside playing on the farm and in the Cheat Canyon. They are naturalists at heart and pride themselves in the self-reliant living the land provides. Becoming a board member for Friends of the Cheat was a natural progression in Sarah’s journey to protect the invaluable land in which we work, live and play.

Dani Martin pic1often boasts that the Cheat River and the FOC community altered the course of her life. When she first moved here from Oregon, she had little intent on staying; however, she quickly fell in love with the Cheat River. And when you love something, you want to take care of it. She is dedicated to spreading environmental awareness and to preserving the integrity of the watershed. Dani is a Forest Pathologist for the USDA Forest service and works with Federal, State and Private land managers in the identification and management of invasive forest pathogens. She also collaborates with Universities in conducting forest pathology related research. She spent many years in Oregon, where she earned a master’s degree in Plant Pathology from Oregon State University. She also has bachelor’s degree in Forest Resources from the University of Minnesota. She is chainsaw certified and has worked on several wildfire and hurricane disaster emergency response details. She also does work details with USAID, the lead federal international disaster relief agency. She loves to travel and has been to 49 states and 15 different countries. She enjoys mountain and road biking, cross country skiing and watercolor painting. Most of all, she enjoys white water rafting. She just got a new Aire puma, and looks forward to seeing you on the water.



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 Adam Webster at