Wow, what a party!

By Georgia Ackerman

A crowd of 100+ members and supporters of Apalachicola Riverkeeper packed the Robert Lindsley Gallery on April 7, for our Annual Meeting paired with a send-off dinner party for retiring Riverkeeper, Dan Tonsmeire.

Harley Means, Assistant State Geologist at the Florida Geological Survey, was our guest educational speaker. He presented a stellar slide show and spoke on key features of the Apalachicola River region. These include barriers islands, steephead ravines and places like Alum Bluff, located near Bristol. Alum Bluff is Florida’s largest exposed geologic feature towering 125 feet over Apalachicola River.

Related, did you know that Riverkeeper volunteers lead kayaking and hiking trips year-round, so folks can explore and learn more about our river, bay and basin?  We recently kayaked from Donar Landing to Bristol, passing Alum Bluff. In fact, Harley and the Means’ family were boating near the Bristol bluffs that same day, likely looking for fossils and amphibians.

ARk’s Volunteer Corps members provide excellent leadership on these eco-educational outings.  I was delighted to see many of them at the dinner.  Thank you, Doug Alderson, Cameron Barton, Patrick Madden, David Morse, Tom Herzog, Katie McCormick, Mike Mendez, Mike Shepherd, Rick Zelznak and others, who enthusiastically lead groups through the woods and water! Nearly 200 people spent time eco-educational adventuring with us in 2017.

Dan also addressed the group expressing appreciation for the “overwhelming as well as an unfathomable privilege” of serving as Apalachicola Riverkeeper from 2004 until recently. Dan has spent the past few months serving in a consulting role, training and mentoring the new Riverkeeper– me.  There were a few hankies needed by the end of Dan’s thoughtful talk. Just ask Fundraising Chair, Kim Sash. Thank you, Dan, for sharing your warmth and humor. You are one-of-a-kind and your leadership is both authentic and boundless.

Board members Charley Kienzle and Katie McCormick congratulated Dan on his upcoming retirement while presenting him with a framed print from scientist Helen Light.  He also received a gift from the board of directors, a Yeti cooler packed with cash from the guests and “survival food and beverages for Dan’s future sailing trip to Iceland,” according to Charley. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the sardines, cookies, dried fruit, Fritos, peanut butter and good whiskey on his future adventures.  There were even gourmet dog treats for Dan’s beloved dog, Sage. I hope to see Dan and Sage snacking on some of that stuff out on the Apalachicola Bay, prior to a departure across the Atlantic.

Following Dan’s talk, I echoed his thanks to members for their support while sharing organizational highlights of the past year, including the Apalachicola River Project. 2017 was indeed a full year, exampled by the launch of the multidisciplinary partnership with Florida State and other conservation partners, resulting in recreational field trips and a film project with 125 undergraduates participating. A documentary, produced by FSU Digital Media students, will be released later this year.  Engaging young adults (and all ages) in conservation learning is essential for the long-term protection of the Apalachicola River and Bay and we’ll continue growing ARk’s education and outreach efforts. People protect what they love. Spend time on the Apalachicola River and indeed you’ll fall in love.

Additionally, I want to acknowledge our many dedicated Volunteer Corps members who contributed over $30,000 in services supporting Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s essential collaborative research, outreach, education and advocacy efforts in 2017.  Volunteers provide consulting services; run outings; lead coastal and river clean ups; drive shuttles; pilot boat trips; staff special events and the list goes on. We are grateful for their generosity of time and talents.

Special thanks to musicians Chris Matechik and Roy Ogles who provided foot-stomping, down home music during the catered dinner and silent auction, along with a big shout out to auction donors, bidders and the amazing C.J. Weinman who organized our best-ever silent auction that generated $4,000.

On behalf of the entire staff and board of Apalachicola Riverkeeper, thank you all for a wonderful, memorable annual meeting. Let’s keep up the great work, together!

Georgia Ackerman is Riverkeeper and Executive Director of Apalachicola Riverkeeper

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