James River Association Staff
I was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up camping at the mountain headwaters of the James River and spending summers on the Chesapeake Bay. As a child, I remember following my father as he waded in lush underwater grass beds dipping for soft shell crabs. But by the time I came of age to dip for crabs myself, those vital grass beds were gone because pollution wiped them out. Now with two sons of my own, my personal mission is to ensure that my sons are able to enjoy healthy Virginia waters that are closer to what my father experienced growing up than the degraded ones of my own childhood.
I have been with the James River Association since 2005. It is thrilling to see the progress we have made over that time, not only in the programs we are implementing but also in the river itself. Every time I see a sturgeon breach, an eagle soar or see people swimming in the river right downtown, it fuels my fire to keep the James River comeback coming.
Prior to serving as CEO of the James River Association, I worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, as well as an environmental consulting firm, Malcolm Pirnie, in Newport News, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Duke University Wetland Center, and the Institute for Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia. I am a double Hoo and a Dukie too with degrees in Commerce and Urban and Environmental Planning from Virginia and Environmental Management from Duke. I’m a James Changer!
Lower James Senior Environmental Educator
I’m James Abbott and growing up in the Tidewater of Virginia, the James River was an incredible natural backdrop to grow up with. Many of my first outdoor experiences and actives were in the marshes along its banks or on the trails in its western mountains. I left for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington were I earned a BS in Biology and Environmental Science becoming a researcher and conservation biologist. I went on to protect and study the habitats of southeastern river systems through the research of birds. This culminated in graduate school at UNC Wilmington studying the food webs of the upper Bladen River in Belize. All of these research projects taught me that science doesn’t elicit change without dedicated education. My MS in Environmental Science concentrated in education. I joined the JRA team in Williamsburg in 2017 and I work to conserve America’s Founding River by fostering an understand and care for the natural world in students across the Lower James Watershed. I’m a James Changer!
Lower James Environmental Educator
I’m Maya Anderson, I’m from Southern Louisiana and the rivers and lake where I grew up built a lifelong love of the outdoors and the water. My first outdoor experiences happened on and along the Tchefuncte River and in Lake Pontchartrain – tubing, swimming, and fishing. I left Louisiana to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies B.S., with a minor in Environmental Education. I went on to work at Outdoor and Environmental Education organizations in Texas and on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. I joined JRA in Williamsburg in early 2022 to educate students across the watershed about issues facing the James River and to facilitate new outdoor experiences.I’m a James Changer!
Hi, I’m Jordan Bennett, from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. My love for the outdoors grew in the Shenandoah River at a young age doing numerous outdoor adventure summer camps. My family and I often took trips to the Shenandoah National Park to go on hikes. In high school I got a job as a raft guide where my passion for the outdoors only continued to expand. I graduated from Bridgewater College with a degree in Environmental Science. I moved into the James River watershed when I took an internship with the James River Association in their Stewardship Program. I am thrilled to continue growing my passion and knowledge for the outdoors while working to restore and protect the James River. I’m a James Changer!
I grew up in Bumpass, Virginia, and come from a mixed indigenous(Lakota) and white household. Being raised in rural Virginia by my parents and grandparents both, I was instilled with a strong connection to the natural world around me and how we are all a part of the same whole. The importance of justice and giving back was also a pillar of my upbringing, which has led me to pursue a career in Nonprofit. Throughout my 13 year career, I’ve had the privilege of serving in several types of causes, including voter engagement, animal welfare, and housing. I’m excited to be a part of a team that is telling the story of the James and help to build and enrich our connection to it, and one another. Since starting with JRA, I’ve learned how to kayak, about invasive species, the importance of mussels, and everyday I am learning so much more! I’m a James Changer!
Senior Environmental Educator
I grew up on Richmond’s southside, just a short walk away from the banks of the James River. As I grew up and became more independent, I began to use the James River as the backdrop for adventurous activities–running on trails, climbing at Manchester Wall and, eventually, floating and paddling on the river itself. After graduating from the University of Virginia, I returned to Richmond to begin my teaching career as an elementary school teacher. My goal as a teacher was to get outside as much as possible,in an attempt to help students love the natural spots right outside of their classroom, before asking them to advocate for it. In 2016, I left Richmond for a few years to pursue a Master’s Degree, earning an M.Ed with a concentration in Science and Environmental Education from Antioch University New England. I moved to Brooklyn, New York where I taught third grade at a Title 1 Public School for 3 years, and grew passionate about creating a more just and equitable public education system. My love for nature education, and a desire to be closer to family, pulled me back to Richmond. Now that I am back home, I have a greater perspective on my role in advocating for the river that I grew up loving. I’m so pleased to be able to share that love for the river with each and every student that experiences our education program. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Rob Campbell and I joined the James River Association in October 2013 as the Upper James Community Conservationist in the Lynchburg office. I consider myself lucky to be a native of the Lynchburg area, growing up in close proximity to the James River and have spent a considerable amount of time boating the river and its tributaries. Prior to joining the James River Association, I spent five years with the James River Float Company where I served as a head raft guide and manager. I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from Randolph College in 2013. I currently reside in Amherst County on my family farm adjoining the banks of the Piney River. In my free time I spend as much time as I can outdoors, canoeing or rafting many Central and Western Virginia rivers, as well as hiking, climbing and camping in the one-of-a-kind Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m a James Changer!
Coastal Restoration Coordinator
My name is Lucy Deignan and I am the Coastal Restoration Coordinator for JRA. I grew up in Richmond, VA, with the James River as the center of much of my freetime. Some of my earliest memories are of going on walks with my Dad and our yellow lab along the trails of Pony Pasture, mostly in the middle of winter, with an obligatory hot chocolate break. Since then I have enjoyed kayaking and canoeing down the river, as well as discovering more trails, mountain biking and walking. My love for the outdoors began not only on the James but also on the Chesapeake Bay, where I’ve spent countless hours on the water with family and friends. This experience, both on the James and the Bay, not only deepened my appreciation for the water and the environment but also revealed the many ways in which we need to protect it. I took my passion to help our environment, to the University of Virginia where I studied Biology and Environmental Science, focusing on conservation. I am now thrilled to be in a position where I can work towards restoring the shorelines of coastal communities in the James Watershed, and make a meaningful impact on my community. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Sarah Dovel, and I grew up in Chesterfield County within close proximity to the James River. Whether canoeing with my parents on the Shenandoah River, or whitewater rafting on the James, I have always been an outdoor enthusiast! I received a degree in Environmental Studies from VCU and currently reside on the Southside of Richmond. After graduating, I spent three months living in Peru, participating in a work/host sustainable farming program. This work involved restoring habitats and improving soil health and water quality, and allowed me to explore the vastly different ecological systems of the country. I have worked in nonprofits for the past 10+ years, focusing on relationship-building and community development. As the Database Specialist, I harness the power of data to facilitate change, advance the mission of JRA and ensure the James River is protected for generations to come. I’m a James Changer!
Hey there! My name is Justin Doyle and I’m the James River Association’s Community Conservation Manager. I pursued a career in conservation to protect precious natural resources like the James River and have been a James River Association staff member since 2013. I promote conservation and responsible stewardship of our natural resources and help communities realize the benefits of a healthy James River. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from the University of Mary Washington in 2008, a Master of Urban & Regional Planning degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, and completed the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute in 2016. My family and I reside in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, which overlooks the James River. In my spare time I enjoy gardening, traveling, hiking, bicycling, snow skiing, and exploring the James River by canoe, kayak, and stand up paddleboard. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Nat Draper, and I joined the James River Association in April 2015. Before that, I was a public school science teacher in Henrico County for 16 years, serving both JR Tucker and Deep Run High Schools and teaching Earth Science and AP Environmental Science. I am always excited to see students grow in their knowledge of environmental students and immerse themselves in hands-on learning. My interest in science sent me to Randolph Macon College where I received my degree in Environmental Studies. I then went to Virginia Commonwealth University for a Masters in Education. As the Senior Education Manager at the James River Association, I have the opportunity to present environmental education at the James River Ecology School on Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. I also work with many science specialists throughout the watershed to create Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences for their students. It is my passion to teach our next generation how to become advocates for the James River. I’m a James Changer!
Hey there, I’m Tom Dunlap and I joined the James River Association as the James RIVERKEEPER™ in 2022. While I came of age running through the woods and playing in creeks and streams in the mountains of Colorado, I have had the pleasure of spending over half my life in Virginia. During my second stint in the Old Dominion state, I received my bachelor’s in environmental studies and my master’s in biology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Before joining the JRA, I worked for six years in agricultural conservation on the lower Peninsula with the Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District. With the Colonial District, I assisted farm operators, landowners, and many conservation partners with the implementation of on-the-ground conservation work that helped reduce non-point-source pollution in the James and York River watersheds. In 2021 I concluded a multi-year regional project spanning nine localities in the Lower James River watershed focused on promoting precision farm management techniques to improve efficiency and reduce nutrient loading to the river. I am a huge fan of people enjoying the James River, and I hope to see you out there. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Amber Ellis and I grew up in Powhatan County, Virginia with the woods, creeks, and James River as my playground. Throughout my life the James has continued to bring me joy, healing, and inspiration. Outside is where I feel most at home and is why I have grown a passion for protecting it. Building diverse partnerships to restore streamside forests and tidal shorelines is at the heart of my work across the James River watershed. I serve as the convener for the Upper and Middle James Riparian Consortium and manage the James River Buffer Program. My strengths in relationship building, finding community based solutions to watershed wide challenges, and my love of the flora and fauna of the James watershed guide my work. I earned a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Virginia Tech, where I learned how to create landscapes that enrich both our human and natural communities. I am a Professional Landscape Architect in Virginia, a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional, and have a certificate in Ecotherapy through the EarthBody Institute. I am grateful that I get to lead Watershed Restoration efforts across the James River watershed and connect people to each other and the James through volunteering and James River Rx gatherings. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Katie Ferrell, a Richmond, Virginia native, whose love for the great outdoors started from an early age. With a park ranger mother, I spent endless days exploring National Parks along the East Coast and frequently fished on the James River with my father. I noticed early on that the health of the James was important as I saw first-hand how the water quality and pollution that infected our water was damaging our local ecosystem. My dedication to conserving our environment, especially our water systems, lead me to a BA in Environment Studies from Ashford University and a MS in Natural Resource Management from the University of Denver. From researching sea turtles in North Carolina to spearheading environmental education programs in Florida, I became cognizant of the impact water qualities have on communities. I’m excited to return to my Virginia roots with the charge of educating our youth on the importance of protecting our watershed, the significance of clean water, and how they can revive the environment. I’m a James Changer!
I’ve been fortunate to spend my entire life in towns and cities that feature beautiful areas of water. Growing up in Wisconsin, my summers and winters (let’s be honest, there are only two seasons in Wisconsin) revolved around the neighborhood pond where I spent countless days swimming, picking wild raspberries, and conquering my fear of bees. My early love of the outdoors ignited a lifelong passion for conserving and respecting natural resources, which only grew every place I moved, whether receiving my Communications Arts degree at UW-Madison’s lake-sandwiched campus, living close to Lake Michigan in Chicago, or immersing myself near the Puget Sound in Seattle. When I moved to Richmond in 2018, I was immediately struck by the city’s fierce love for our beautiful James River. After my first visit to Belle Isle, I felt immense gratitude that such a unique and special resource was so accessible to the public. I am thrilled to be working for an organization that holds such a pivotal role in protecting and improving our streams, creeks, rivers, and the surrounding ecosystems. I’m a James Changer!
Hi everyone! I am Casey Johnson, born and raised in Morris County, New Jersey. I had a late start with developing my love for the environment. This love did not develop until my senior year of high school when I took my first environmental science class. From then on, I knew I wanted to spend my life educating others about the importance of protecting the environment. I went to James Madison University for my undergraduate degree, where I majored in Integrated Science and Technology with a concentration in the environment. I then moved to Richmond to attend graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University. I immediately fell in love with Richmond and the James River. At VCU I received a graduate degree in Environmental Studies and a certification in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I have worked at environmental nonprofit organizations throughout undergraduate and graduate school, and I am very excited to continue with my passion for this work at JRA. I’m a James Changer!
Acting Vice President of Development
The James River has always been a part of my life. I grew up in the Tri-Cities, where my grandparents operated a fish market that was ultimately closed due to Kepone, the pesticide that contaminated the river in the 1970’s. As a child, who loved trips to the James, this was my first exposure to the devastating consequences of an unprotected river. As an adult, I enjoy canoeing, kayaking, camping, hiking, and spending time on the river with my foxhound, Daphne, who has come to love the river as well.
I have worked in development of more than 20 years in Central Virginia; serving as the Director of Development for Prevent Blindness Virginia (now Conexus), Salvation Army, Alzheimer’s Association, and most recently, Friends of Barnabas, an international Non-Governmental Organization providing health care programs and services in Honduras. I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and spent a great deal of time on the river as a college student. In 2008, I received a Certified Fund-Raising Executive designation (CFRE) and have served on the Board of Directors for the Virginia Association of Fund-Raising Executives and the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
It is an honor to work with our amazing team at JRA, and our supporters, to protect our beloved river for future generations to cherish and enjoy as much as I do. I’m a James Changer!
Accounting and Operations Manager
Allegheny, Anacostia, Corsica, East, Hudson, James, Monongahela, Ohio, Potomac, Patapsco, Tred Avon. Rivers have defined every place I’ve lived and my life has been enriched by my interaction with each. Whether a sunrise walk to orient my day, an afternoon spent exploring with my family, or a peaceful cruise to dockside ice cream, my water experiences are the ones I treasure and rely on for relaxation and renewal. Through my work with education and non-profit organizations, my life has intersected with protecting and supporting the environment around us, all leading back to the watersheds and waterways that are so special to us. I am delighted to be part of the JRA team protecting the James River and connecting people to it. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Shawn Ralston and I grew up in both the piedmont and coast of North Carolina. As a child, I lived on the banks of a lake that provided drinking water for our town, and from there became interested at a very young age with how my daily actions affected the water that my family depended on. During my childhood and into college, I was an avid swimmer who spent hours a day immersed in water. After graduating from UNC-Wilmington, I worked for the Department of Environmental Protection in Charlotte, NC conducting water quality monitoring on streams, lakes and rivers. From there, I returned to school and received my Master of Marine Affairs and Juris Doctor from the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams School of Law respectively. After spending 8 years in Wilmington, NC leading environmental programs and managing planning for New Hanover County, I relocated to Richmond. My hope is that my children are able to experience and interact with the James as so many others have for generations. I’m a James Changer!
Anne Marie Roberts
I grew up in Michigan surrounded by the Great Lakes and swimming in them as a child began my love of water. I have called Virginia home since 2003 when I graduated from Sweet Briar College with a degree in Environmental Science. Prior to joining JRA I worked for the Robert E. Lee Soil & Water Conservation District coordinating the Amherst Watershed Protection Program since 2004. I developed and managed the Amherst Tree Buffer Program for over 10 years, earning the Chesapeake Bay’s Forest Champion Award in 2016. I enjoy connecting with a wide range of landowners across the Middle James River Watershed and assisting them with improving their land and water, mainly through the installation of forested riparian buffers. I assist landowners with finding natural resource protection solutions and encourage stewardship of their land. I’m a James Changer!
Gail Richmond Robinson, CPA
VP of Finance & Operations
Among my favorite childhood memories are those of going out on my grandfather’s pontoon boat and fishing off the dock behind his Florida home. More recently, when travelling I always make it a priority to hop on a river or lake cruise when I arrive in a new city to orient myself to it and help me understand how that city finds its center and its heart in the body of water it proudly calls its own. Like most people I am drawn to water and find tranquility by connecting with it. Before joining the James River Association in January 2020 I had no idea the James was the source of water for nearly 3 million Virginians. I moved to the Richmond area 30 years ago and have loved calling RVA home. I grew up in New York and Florida and graduated from Lafayette College with a BA in Economics and Business. After working at a “big eight” accounting firm I lead the accounting and HR functions at a small Virginia state authority, then served as Director of Finance & Administration at the Richmond Symphony for ten years, where I learned of the true passion with which nonprofits operate as they strive to do good work and better their communities. I am deeply concerned about the climate and recognize the great importance of our natural resources. I am thrilled to be a member of the JRA staff and do my part to help protect the health of our beautiful river. I’m a James changer!
Senior Education Manager
As the child of a Navy officer, I grew up traveling the world. My perspective on outdoor experiences changed with a school hiking expedition to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in 9th grade. Since then, I take every chance I get to be outdoors, exploring our world! My early outdoor experience led me to rowing on high school, college, and local teams on the James River and its tributaries. I studied Geology at the College of William and Mary to learn even more about this amazing planet. I love living in Richmond, where I can be in an urban wilderness on the river in just a 5-minute walk from my house. To share my love of the outdoors, I earned a Master of Arts in Secondary Education and taught Earth Science and Oceanography at Freeman High School for 7 years. Armed with cameras, drones, and field sampling tools, I brought pieces of my field expeditions back to my classroom! Using innovative educational technologies like GIS and Augmented Reality, I recreated my trips as in-classroom experiences. Now with the James River Association, I can take education back outside and encourage young people to explore their environments like I did in school. I’m a James Changer.
Restoration Field Manager
I was born in Richmond and grew up In Chesterfield County. I spent my weekends camping, fishing, and paddling the James River with Boy Scouts, and as a teen spent many summer days at Pony Pasture and Belle Isle. I graduated from Longwood University with a degree in History, and spent five years working for Virginia State Parks. During my time working for parks, I had the opportunity to work with many excellent volunteers on enhancing the health and quality of the James River. I am excited to be a part of the James River Association and continuing my career of working to better the environment and teaching others how to do the same. I’m a James Changer!
Director of Grants
I’m Caron Sterling, as a child growing-up in Gloucester County I was fortunate to have many opportunities to appreciate and connect with the Chesapeake Bay, and its vast tributaries. Most weekends were spent on the water sailing, crabbing, fishing and swimming. After college I spent a year helping with a private aquaculture-based oyster growing project in Mathews County, which hit home for me the importance of a healthy ecosystem and how our actions have a negative or positive affect on water quality. Having lived in Richmond for over 25 years, the James River is now the source of many on the water recreation opportunities for my family from jumping rocks at Brown’s Island to tubing through the beautiful rural countryside in the Scottsville area. Working with the James River Association I recognize how the James River is key to improving and enhancing our community, and how every action on land, on water or in the air affects the quality of the James River. I’m a James Changer
Lead Policy Advocate
I’m Nathan Thomson and I grew up in Short Pump, Henrico County. Throughout my childhood I attended Westview on the James Summer Camp in Goochland and I spent time on the Rappahannock River with my family. Following high school, I enrolled at Radford University in Southwest Virginia where my love for the outdoors bloomed. Through the Highlander community, I was introduced to fly fishing and hunting, and during the summers I had the opportunity to give back at Westview as a counselor. A turning point came for me when I had the opportunity to complete an AmeriCorps internship in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in breathtaking Lemhi County Idaho. This 6-month experience which featured trail work, salmon spawning surveys, historic restoration, and a plethora of other projects set me in motion toward a career in conservation.
After returning from Idaho I was fortunate enough to attend (and against all odds) graduate from the Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies at Appalachian State in Boone, NC. There, I I received an MA in Political Science with a focus on Environmental Policy. In addition to my initial Idaho experience, I completed additional internships with the Bureau of Land Management on the Iditarod National Historic Trail and with the Forest Service in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Post academia, I lived briefly in Charlotte NC before returning to Richmond, where I have pursued Government Relations work with a local healthcare non-profit and communications and policy with a Washington DC based conservation organization. When I’m not advocating on behalf of the James River, I enjoy fishing for trout, bass, and catfish, hunting for all manner of game, cycling, and spending time with my fiancé Kirsten and our Australian Shepherd Maple. If I could vacation anywhere I would go to Patagonia, and if I had one final meal it would be pizza from 8 ½. I’m a James Changer!
I grew up in Chesterfield county. The James River was always present in my life but not always front and center. I camped with friends along its banks on weekends, or lounged on the rocks near the rapids in Richmond but it wasn’t until my adult life that I fully appreciated what the river had to offer. I left Virginia for college and travelled far north to Ashland, WI on Lake Superior. There, while studying and enjoying Superior’s immense natural beauty, my relationship with water began to shift. I developed a strong sense of place and value tied to watersheds. I realized the power and shared connection that water provides communities. After graduating from Northland College with a degree in Outdoor Education I moved back to Virginia and to the James. I wanted to convey this new found sense of wonder and place to students growing up within the watershed today. I joined the JRA in 2022 as an educator. I am thrilled to share my love for paddling canoes, exploring natural systems and connecting students every day to their home watershed. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Ryan Walsh and I grew up in Southern Pines, North Carolina. I’ve spent much of my life exploring the outdoors, and have long been passionate about vital riverine and marine habitats. I cultivated my enthusiasm by exploring barrier islands and salt marshes, becoming intimately familiar with the plants and animals that call them home. I went to school in Wilmington, North Carolina, earning a BS in Marine Biology from UNC Wilmington and an AAS in Marine Technology from Cape Fear Community College. Since coming to Virginia, I have simply fallen in love with the James River, and want to see it returned to a healthy natural state, and am thrilled about the Great Return of breeding Atlantic sturgeon. To this end, I work to conserve tidewater habitats by actively fighting sea level rise and protecting the tidal communities of the Lower James. I’m a James Changer.I’m a James Changer.
Senior Digital Marketing Manager
I’m Angie Williams and growing up in Mechanicsville, VA, I spent the majority of my time outdoors; chasing chickens, riding horses and building forts in the woods. My love of horses took me to Virginia Intermont College, where I received a degree in Equine Studies and Business. I began working with the James River Association in 2007 and despite all my time spent outside, I had never been to the James River. I was unaware of the river’s degraded health history or importance the river has to recreation and drinking water. Honestly, I was afraid to even get in! Working alongside the James River Association staff has provided me with a new found love of the James. I now keep my friends up-to-date on river issues and encourage them to volunteer and make their own behavior changes to improve the health of the river. The best part of my position here at JRA, is my work to connect others to the James through social media and our website, and to see how others come to love and appreciate the river as I have! I’m a James Changer.
It takes a team approach
We protect what we love!
Staff holiday clean-up, December 2021
Like our mission? Join our team!
If you are interested in working at the James River Association, check the employment page for job openings or send us a note. We are always looking for passionate river advocates!