This strong team of dedicated individuals help to protect and preserve our natural land, water and air resources through education and public participation in policy decisions at all levels of business and government.

Kirby Callaway, AmeriCorps Assistant French Broad Riverkeeper

BackpackingKirby has spent the last few years culminating her love for environmental education, conservation, and justice, and to understanding the grassroots organizations that share her passions. She attended Salem College in Winston-Salem and graduated with a B.A. in Environmental Policy Studies, an Integrative Studies major that focused both on biology and not-for-profit management.

She wanted her studies to be open to the entire student body, so she spent her four years developing and institutionalizing the Environmental Studies major into a department. She also founded Eco Club and was president of Ramblers, Salem’s hiking club, hoping to make environmentalism more academically and recreationally accessible to the campus.

After spending one summer as a raft guide on the French Broad and Pigeon Rivers, she found the Keystone Science School (KSS) in Colorado, where she worked four consecutive summers as an outdoor educator. She interned with the Lockerly Arboretum in Georgia as a community educator and learned about sustainable land management, and also worked on an organic farm in Iquitos, Peru. After graduation in May 2012, she moved to Colorado to continue teaching environmental science and leading extended backpacking trips with KSS. In 2013, she served her first term with AmeriCorps at the Mile High Youth Corps in Denver, working on water conservation and weatherization for low-income residents in the area. She looks forward to using her love for the Appalachian Mountains and rivers to serve the community.

Click here to contact Kirby.

Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper

“The beauty of rivers is that we all own the water and no one has the right to take away our right for clean healthy water.” ~ Hartwell Carson

Hartwell has worked to protect and defend the French Broad River as the Riverkeeper for the last six years. He has played a key role in reducing sediment pollution, starting and expanding bacteria, sediment, and coal ash monitoring programs, implementing over two miles of stream restoration, and ensuring regulations are adequate and enforced to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act to have all waters be fishable and swimmable. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Georgia studying Recreation and Resource Management. While a student there, he worked with the Outdoor Recreation Center as an environmental educator and guide.

After working for the Forest Service in Colorado, Hartwell earned his Master’s of Science from the University of Montana, where he conducted extensive work examining social and ecological impacts on the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Hartwell has also served as a community advocate on the City of Asheville’s Flood Damage Reduction Task Force and Watershed Policy Committee, and currently serves as the president of Tennessee Riverkeeper, board member of the Asheville Affiliates and North Carolina Paddle Trails Association.

Click here to contact Hartwell.


Bob Gale, Ecologist & Public Lands Director

“Not only does my job allow me to use many aspects of my education, I also get to work with creative like-minded folks daily.” ~ Bob Gale

Bob is the ecologist for the Western North Carolina Alliance, where he has worked since 1998 providing scientific input on issues related to environmental protection of Southern Appalachian mountain forest communities.

Bob was educated at the University of South Carolina where he received a B.S. in Geology and Biology. His special interest is botany, and he has spent his life working in fields related to this subject. He spent 15 years in the landscaping industry and remains a certified Arborist. He also spent 3 years as Director of Field Operations in Wetlands Science for Ballantine Environmental Resources, Inc. at Hilton Head Island, SC, where he lived for 17 years.

While at the coast, Bob studied the Maritime Forest community and gave numerous hikes and presentations about that ecosystem. Since 1981, Bob has been a free-lance nature writer and photographer and has been published in local and national magazines. Upon moving to Asheville in 1996, he was one of four contributing authors of the Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains (Longstreet Press), writing the natural history portions for the book.

Bob has worked voluntarily for environmental protection since 1976, having chaired or founded 3 different local Sierra Club groups in Columbia, SC, Hilton Head Island, and Asheville, NC. He also served at the South Carolina Sierra Chapter and Sierra’s Appalachian Regional Conservation Council levels.

Bob’s work with the WNC Alliance involves National Forest and National Parks issues, air and water quality, and rural lands protection. He heads the exotic invasive species program for the organization and is also editor of Accent, WNCA’s quarterly newsletter.

Current Related Activities: Chair – Asheville Tree Commission, Chair – Alternate Compliance Subcommittee of Tree Commission, Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board Member, North Carolina Forest Legacy Applications Review Committee.

Click here to contact Bob.

 Anna Jane Joyner, Campaign Coordinator

Anna Jane is proud to have grown up in the Appalachian Mountains. Her early years climbing apple trees, wading in pristine streams, and witnessing magnificent sunsets over Appalachian peaks rooted in her a deep and abiding love of nature- and in particular, Western North Carolina’s natural treasures. At UNC-Chapel Hill she learned about environmental injustices happening here and around the world, and this love blossomed into anger- and then action. Since then, she has spent her life and career engaged in the art of imagining and working towards a better world- where humans honor our interdependence and all communities, both human and non-human, are able to thrive.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Environmental Studies, Anna Jane worked with the Sierra Club to promote environmental solutions across faith communities, co-authoring “Faith in Action,” a national report, as well as coaching activists on strategic partnership building. In 2008, she co-founded and served as the national coordinator for Renewal, a non-profit that equips college students to lead environmental efforts on faith-based campuses. During this time, she also completed the Midwest Academy’s “Organizing for Social Change” training.

More recently at Restoring Eden, a faith-based environmental advocacy non-profit, Anna Jane led a national campaign to end the tragedy of mountaintop removal coal mining, an issue she remains deeply committed to owing to her love of the Appalachian Mountains and culture.

Combating the climate crisis and moving beyond dirty, destructive coal is her life’s work and greatest passion. These days, she couldn’t be more elated to protect our mountains, rivers, and communities right here in Western North Carolina by serving as WNCA’s campaign coordinator and working with the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign. Anna Jane also continues to work with the faith community; in 2012, she co-founded WNC Green Congregations, a network of faith communities in WNC working together to protect our planet and all who depend on it- an initiative she now leads.

When she’s not trying to save the planet, Anna Jane enjoys reading and writing poetry, live music, yoga, playing with her four-legged children, Pi, Bo and Sid, the art of vegetarian cooking, and spending time with friends, family and the love of her life, Forrest.

Click here to contact Anna Jane.

Josh Kelly, Public Lands Field Biologist

Josh was born in Madison County, N.C., and went to school at UNC Asheville, earning a degree in biology. He then worked for the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, where he focused on identifying remnant old-growth forests on public land, and at WildLaw, where he worked to promote ecological restoration as the new paradigm of National Forest management. Josh has also helped the Forest Service conduct rare plant surveys and save hemlocks from hemlock woolly adelgid.

At the Alliance, Josh will monitor logging and development issues on public land and provide site-specific, scientific information to promote ecological restoration and oppose ecologically damaging management. “We live in a time when the human footprint on the planet is bigger than ever and our need to come together to solve environmental problems is urgent. Public lands comprise the largest and highest quality natural areas in this great country and are truly priceless. The most rewarding work I have done has involved helping to steer Forest Service management towards a paradigm where we as a society give back to the land, rather than just take”, says Josh.

Click here to contact Josh.

Donna Lisenby, Watauga Riverkeeper

Donna’s role represents the expansion of our commitment to protect clean water in the region, and her work will complement that of our long-standing chapter, the Watauga River Partners, who work to protect water quality in the Watauga basin through workshops, trainings and hands-on activities.

By adding a second Riverkeeper program to serve our 23-county region, we are enhancing WNCA’s ability to protect the biologically diverse and incredibly important headwaters streams of Western North Carolina.

Donna brings vast experience and knowledge to our organization, having served as the Catawba Riverkeeper from 1998 to 2008 and as the Watauga Riverkeeper since 2008. She is North Carolina’s most veteran Riverkeeper, with 14 years of experience advocating for the protection, preservation and restoration of our waterways.

She has played a key role in changing the state’s interbasin transfer law to be more protective of water quantity and was the first environmental advocate to report and blow the whistle on leaking coal ash ponds across the state.

Donna is the recipient of 12 awards for her work to engage citizens and reduce industrial, sewage and sediment pollution. In recognition of her leadership, she was elected by her peers — 198 Waterkeepers worldwide — to serve as one of only three Waterkeepers on the Waterkeeper Alliance Board of Directors where she works with well known environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

She has a Bachelor of Science degree from Clemson University and two beautiful grandchildren who motivate her work to ensure a healthy environment for future generations. We are fortunate to add another highly respected Riverkeeper to our staff and look forward to her contributions to further the Alliance’s mission of marshaling grassroots support to keep our water clean and our communities vibrant.

Click here to contact Donna.

Julie Mayfield, Co-Director

“I am so fortunate to be living in Western North Carolina and working to protect one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse regions in our country.” ~ Julie Mayfield

Julie came to the Alliance in June 2008 from Atlanta. Since moving to Asheville, she has been appointed to the City of Asheville’s Multi-Modal Commission and chairs the Transit Committee. In 2011, she was appointed by Governor Bev Perdue to the Mountain Resources Commission, where she served until the legislature dissolved the Commission in 2013. She also chairs the North Carolina Conservation Network board.

From 2003 to early 2008, she was Vice President and General Counsel for the Georgia Conservancy, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. In that role, she worked on policy issues in the areas of air and water quality, land conservation, growth management, and coastal conservation.

Prior to the Conservancy, she directed the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law where she represented environmental groups, civic associations, and individuals in public interest environmental law cases. She has also practiced environmental law with the firm of Kilpatrick Stockton.

Before attending law school, she worked for Amnesty International and other non-profit organizations dedicated to human rights, community service, and social justice. She is a graduate of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership and a graduate of Leadership Atlanta. She received her undergraduate degree in religion from Davidson College in 1989 and her law degree in 1996 from Emory University School of Law, where she was a Woodruff Fellow.

Click here to contact Julie.

Isabelle Rios, AmeriCorps Education and Outings Coordinator

isabelleIsabelle was raised in St. Petersburg, Fla., but her childhood summers were spent traveling to visit family in Ecuador. During these trips she traveled throughout the country hiking, camping, and exploring the Andes Mountains. Back in the states, her family spent time during the year in the Everglades region of South Florida.

In high school, Isabelle began cultivating her love for volunteering with the Red Cross and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She continued her volunteering and service to the community in college when she attended the Florida State University. During her time at FSU, Isabelle founded a chapter of Unite for Sight, a non-profit global health organization and devoted time to the local homeless shelter.

After two major road trips up the East Coast and out West with an emphasis on hiking and camping in National and State parks she realized where her heart was. She shifted gears from a biology major her senior year and graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Studies.

Isabelle’s coursework in the major was a big inspiration for her joining AmeriCorps Project Conserve. Specifically, a course she took on Environmental Planning and Resource Management. Her professor awakened a refreshed outlook on environmental issues. Land conservation and protection of natural resources became more relevant and important than ever when she visited Western North Carolina, shortly after graduation. Captivated by the natural beauty of the region she decided to move to Asheville and pursue her passion for service and environmental protection.

Click here to contact Isabelle.

Bob Wagner, Co-Director

“People may disagree about the role of government, which religion has the truth, and who is going to win March Madness, however, I think we all agree that we want to enjoy clean and spectacular rivers, to hike in healthy forests, and to live in vibrant communities.” ~ Bob Wagner

Quito 21KWith a business degree from Wake Forest University, 12 years overseeing house building programs in Africa with Habitat for Humanity and the last nine years working the Community Foundation to strengthen nonprofits in Western North Carolina, Bob is excited to be part of the Alliance team.

While working with the Community Foundation Bob spearheaded WNC’s Mountain Landscapes Initiative bringing land use planning and decision making tools to government officials, developers and private citizens. He also served as chair of WNC Nonprofit Pathways.

Bob grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay where he enjoyed fishing, crabbing, and developed a deep appreciation for the environment. He joined the Alliance in 2013 and his interests include spending time with his wife and two boys, hiking, most sports, videography, coaching, and travel.

Click here to contact Bob.

Sabrina Wells, Development Associate

pic SabrinaSabrina joined the WNCA team in October 2012. She recently came back to her southern roots after 10 years of living out west and New York and is originally from Wise County, Va., and Charleston.

Sabrina comes to the Alliance with broad experience in the environmental field. She graduated from Prescott College with a B.A. in environmental policy and attended graduate school at SUNY Albany for Latin American Studies and Environmental History.  She was a 2008 fellow for the Women in Public Policy Fellowship during which time she worked at the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation examining climate change and environmental justice. Sabrina has also worked for the Hudson Riverkeeper as watchdog program coordinator, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and the New York State Senate as energy policy analyst where she was lead advisor on the Green Jobs/Green NY Act.

At the Alliance, Sabrina will write grants, help with fundraising events, and continue to build and strengthen relationships with our members and funders. She’s very excited to step into this role and hopes her knowledge of environmental issues and passion for protecting trees and rivers will support her work.

Click here to contact Sabrina.

Rebekah Whilden, NOI Climate Fellow

466WNCA is pleased to welcome Rebekah Whilden to our team this winter. Rebekah is a New Organizing Institute Climate Fellow who is working full-time with us through March:

I am lucky enough to have been able to call Asheville my home since I was 2 years old. Growing up I was very involved in my youth group at Central United Methodist Church and in the YMCA Leaders Club. As a young child, I would follow my parents around to different political events and as a result I would start volunteering for candidates and causes that I truly believed in. I graduated from Appalachian State University in 2012 with my Bachelors degree in Political Science with a concentration in Public Policy. After college I continued to volunteer on other political campaigns and organizations and in May of 2013 I jumped head first into a campaign manager job for Gwen Wisler who ran for City Council. Throughout my time working with her and meeting with various community leaders, I started to see a trend about what the City of Asheville needed to work on, most notably, sustainability. I don’t have much experience focusing on one policy issue, but I started to gain an understanding of what could be done to improve the air and water quality in the city that I call home. Kelly Martin with Beyond Coal introduced me to this opportunity to apply for called New Organizing Institute Climate Fellow. I immediately applied and out of 300 applicants I was chosen to work for WNCA for the next three months. I’m honored to help everyone continue the work that they have started and help to raise awareness of the atrocities that are happening in our backyard.

Click here to contact Rebekah.

Melissa Williams, Communications Manager

Melissa is a native of Central New York State and a graduate of Hamilton College (Clinton, N.Y.) and Miami University of Ohio (Oxford, Ohio), where she earned both her B.A. and M.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry (with an undergraduate minor at Hamilton in Religion/Biblical Studies.)

She joined the Alliance staff in January 2012. Melissa moved to Asheville in 1998 and has worked in media and communications for the majority of that time, including several years as a city and county government reporter and then as First Amendment and Government Editor with the Citizen-Times, where she was also the news editor for the Sunday edition.  She spent the last few years handling website and media communications for the Asheville Police Department and later for the City of Asheville.

Melissa spends her her free time running, gardening, reading biographies and cooking. She takes her WNCA “Do Not Buy Guide” about exotic invasive species on every trip to local garden centers, tailgate markets and nurseries.

Click here to contact Melissa.