Key Personnel

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Executive Director: Amanda Pitzer

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

Following a year of teaching high school in rural southwest Virginia, 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 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 EPA-funded 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 installed five new AMD treatment systems, executed retrofits to four existing systems, and completed a 6 year work-share 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 increased FOC’s involvement with Source Water Protection Planning and land conservation, most notably participating in the coalition that finally accomplished the preservation of 3,836 acres of the Cheat River Canyon. On the recreation side, the organization has secured nearly 20 miles of rail corridor for conversion to rail-trail, founded the ~40-mile Upper Cheat River Water Trail, and raised over $60,000 for maintenance of whitewater access points and critical county roads.  Further, in late 2018 FOC was awarded over $3 million dollars to construct the 8-mile Cheat River Rail-Trail, including the remediation of contaminated soils. This project, known as RE/CREATE, includes funding for an acid mine drainage learning park at the Lick Run portals AML site and Trail Town economic development programming across Preston County.

As the organization turns 25, Amanda has lead a push to diversify funding and projects. This pivots the organization to address broader pollution impacts, engage in proactive water quality protection, and lead the removal of the low-head dam on the Cheat River at Albright. The organization’s visibility and community engagement has also grown through education initiatives, and outreach to Tucker County and Cheat Lake. 

Amanda and her family live below a high wall on Scotch Hill in southern Preston County. She is an active community member having served on 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 2020, she was awarded the national River Hero award following in the footsteps of her predecessor at FOC, the late Keith Pitzer.

Associate Director: Owen Mulkeen

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A 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 works alongside the E.D. in general management of the organization but also oversees the Recreation and River Access Program. This program is focused on the Cheat River Rail Trail, Whitewater Access on the Cheat River and Big Sandy Creek, and trail initiatives in the region.

Owen is interested in a broad range of outdoor activities, from fly fishing 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.

Restoration Program Manager: Madison Ball

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Madison 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 for two years to serve as a Watershed and Fisheries AmeriCorps with the Monongahela National Forest – which hosts the headwaters of the Cheat River. She also served as a Watershed Technician for WV Trout Unlimited & the US Forest Service, and was a seasonal Environmental Educator with Experience Learning (formerly The Mountain Institute) at Spruce Knob, WV.

She then traveled the Southeast after joining a fisheries crew with the Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer, yet always felt called back to Wild and Wonderful Mountain State. Madison began her time with FOC as the Monitoring Coordinator in 2018, and was promoted to Restoration Program Manager in 2019, where the program has expanded to include ecological restoration activities such as riparian reforestation and aquatic organism passage improvements.

During her free time, Madison can be found backpacking one of the Monongahela National Forest’s many trails, enjoying one of many local festivals, or snorkeling one of West Virginia’s rivers.

Monitoring Technician: Garrett Richardson

Garrett Richardson was born and raised in Morgantown and went to University High School. He attended WVU and graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife & Fisheries Resources and a minor in Conservation Ecology. He has been a Raft Guide on the Cheat River since 2014 working for Cheat River Outfitters. 

After graduating from WVU, Garrett spent two field seasons working as a Fisheries Technician on a National Rivers and Streams Assessment for an EPA project. The team lived on the road and conducted fish/ecological surveys on over 100 rivers across 6 western states. He was on the boat crew and rowed the electroshocking raft down to the sampling sites. 

In November of 2019, Garrett moved back to Morgantown to be closer to his family, friends, and the places he missed. His biggest passion in life besides boating is fishing. He spends much of his free time both fly-fishing for trout and spin-fishing for bass, catfish, muskie, and walleye. If you catch any fish on the Cheat – he would love to see pictures!  Send them to Garrett at grichardson@cheat.org.

Media and Outreach Specialist: Beth Warnick

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photo by Hanan Shafir – Bethsaida, Israel

Born and raised in Preston County, Beth spent her childhood playing in the dirt and swimming in ponds and rivers. Her father took her on the Cheat Narrows for the first time at age 14.  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.

Throughout 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 travel, ceramics, archaeology, history, 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 and Outreach Specialist! She can’t imagine being part of a more dedicated and progressive group of people making a difference, right in her hometown.

Accounting and Office Associate: Valorie Dixonvaloriecheatpic

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.

Program Assistant & Events Producer:  Lisa Maraffa

Lisa grew up outside of Cleveland, OH, and despite living in the city, her parents made sure to expose her to the outdoors as often as possible.  She would go on family camping trips and explore the Metroparks close to her childhood home. 

She moved to southern Ohio where she attended Hocking College and eventually met her husband, Andy. They moved to Morgantown to attend WVU and they both graduated with a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management. She started working as a reptile specialist for a pet store while in Morgantown and went on to manage an open cage doggie daycare where she fulfilled her passion for working with animals. Lisa loves all animals, but has a special place in her heart for bats and all things batty. 

She currently lives in the mountains outside Morgantown and loves to explore West Virginia with her husband and 2 dogs. You can often find her rafting the local rivers, XC skiing, mushroom hunting, hiking, and volunteering for local environmental and food security groups.

Lisa started volunteering at Cheat Fest several years ago which led to being the lead volunteer for the Silent Auction.  Lisa recently transitioned from being the FOC Board Chair to fulfilling a position at Friends of the Cheat as the new Program Assistant/Events Producer.  She will be assisting with a multitude of different projects and producing Cheat Fest as well as any other FOC events. She is very excited to have the opportunity to help heal our local rivers and streams for many years to come!

 

Board of Directors:  

Charlie Walbridge, Interim 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 worked 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 www.charliewalbridge.com.

Photo by Gabe DeWitt

 

Richard Dennis, Secretary, has lived in Morgantown, WV, since 1979.  Together Rich and his wife, Bettina, have raised three children and now have a grandson, all of whom live in Morgantown. Rich attended West Virginia University from 1980 to 1983, where he completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering.  Since 1983, Rich has worked at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Morgantown, where he is currently a Technology Manager for Advanced Gas Turbines and Power Cycles based on Supercritical Carbon Dioxide as the working fluid.  Rich is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Rich has kayaked in WV, surrounding states, and out west. He loves the Cheat for its perfect beginner boating opportunities on the Narrows, and classic whitewater through the canyon.  Rich’s favorite moments these days are on those hot, end-of-summer-low-flow-days on the Narrows with family and friends.  

Rich served on the board of Friends of Decker’s Creek (FODC) from 2009 – 2015, serving as  Board Chair in 2015.  Like FOC, FODC is a high-performing, community-based watershed advocacy and restoration group. For Rich, working for these groups has been incredibly valuable and rewarding; their accomplishments have real impact on restoring watersheds and communities.  Rich has been on the FOC Board of Directors since 2017; he says it is an honor, and a pleasure, to serve FOC.

Miranda Peddicord, Treasurer, was born and raised in Preston County, West Virginia. The Cheat River and outdoors have always been a big part of her life. She currently lives in the Cheat Lake area.

Miranda graduated Magna Cum Laude from West Virginia University in 2013 with a bachelor’s in accounting. After interning at a Bridgeport accounting firm, she accepted a full-time position there after graduation. She later became the Financial Director at the United Way MPC from 2016-2018. Currently, she is the Financial Accountant at AllStar Ecology – a local environmental consulting firm. When approached to join the FOC Board as Treasurer, Miranda was honored to become more involved in an organization that is near and dear to her local roots.

Miranda has attended and/or volunteered at nearly ALL Cheat River Festivals throughout her upbringing. She enjoys an array of outdoor recreation such as rafting, skiing, hiking, and camping – most of the time these activities take place along the Cheat River. She tries to take advantage of all that wonderful West Virginia has to offer with her hobbies.

Miranda hopes to support the organization with her financial background and local understanding of the community. She is enthusiastic to be joining the other dedicated members of the organization.

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.

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.

 

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 Martinpic1 often 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.

Zach Fowler lives in Morgantown, WV, and works for West Virginia University as WVU Core Arboretum Director and Service Assistant Professor in WVU Department of Biology. He spends much of his time helping connect people to nature at the Arboretum, maintaining the Arboretum, or teaching at WVU. He also likes to spend time with his family, bike, ski, go on adventures, and look at plants, birds, mushrooms, etc. He grew up near Middlebourne, WV, in Tyler County. Zach attributes his love for nature and the outdoors to living near a creek and forest as a child and spending most of his youth outside observing nature. He feels very lucky to have been able to stay in WV and pursue an education and career studying nature and sharing knowledge with others.

Zach went to West Virginia Wesleyan College for a B.S. in Biology and Physics, and then to WVU for a Ph.D. in Biology (Forest Ecology and Biogeochemistry). Between college and graduate school, he lived for a few years in Oakland, MD, and served as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Garrett County Cooperative Extension Office and the Western Maryland 4H Center.

Zach loves rivers as an integral part of a healthy ecosystem. Zach first made it into the Cheat River watershed in the late 90’s while he was in college at WVWC, and since then, he has explored most of its reaches for recreation or nature study. Growing up near a creek in WV teaches important lessons about pollution, and seeing the destruction of WV’s natural environments has unfortunately been part of living in this state. Zach has always wanted to help fix the destruction in some way, and he is happy to serve Friends of the Cheat and be part an organization that has been successful in its mission to restore, preserve, and promote.

Chris Wade, a native of Fairmont, WV, grew up exploring the natural environment of the West Virginia Highlands by camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and fly fishing throughout the Monongahela National Forest. After graduating from WVU in 2007, Chris left the state to live in other parts of the US and the UK, working in government contracting and global investment banking. After moving back to West Virginia, he started his own practice as a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual in Morgantown in 2014, and now lives in Morgantown with his wife, Jamie, and 2 dogs, Tony and Jerry. 

Chris continues to spend most of his free time in the mountains of West Virginia, and in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina.  He frequently backpacks in Dolly Sods and Spruce Knob, and travels to Thomas, Davis, and Canaan Valley for outdoor activities year-round.  He also actively fly fishes in the Cheat River watershed, including Shavers Fork, the Blackwater River, Dry Fork, Glady Fork and Laurel Fork, along with numerous tributary streams.   

Chris joined the board of Friends of Cheat to help the continued preservation and promotion of the Cheat River watershed. 

 

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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 Lisa Maraffa at lightbutter_@hotmail.com .

 

 

 

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