This Women’s History Month, we asked our staff to share a woman who has been an inspiration to them and why. Family members, local heroes, or world renowned environmental celebrities, below is a list of women who have made a difference in our lives. We would love to hear about the women who have inspired you!

A few years back, I had the opportunity to further my on-the-water training and go after my ACA Canoeing Instructor Certification. When I signed up for the course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but once I got there everything changed for the better. The reason? I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Beth Wiegandt.

According to Beth, her first canoe trip took place on the James River when she was a summer camp counselor in the 1980s. The experience of being on the water was joyful; the lack of knowledge about rivers and paddling was not so great . . . however, that one trip led to a lifetime of Beth learning to dance with the water. Since then, she has spent more than 30 years leading extended river canoe trips for a program she envied back when she was a summer camp counselor. She has turned this program into an outdoor education business, Your Outdoor Classroom, that works with adults and youth on land as well as on the water. She particularly enjoys watching people build skills and confidence as they discover their own gifts and talents on the water.

As an instructor trainer for whitewater canoe and river kayak, and an instructor for stand up paddle board and river rescue with the American Canoe Association, Beth has created a network of safe paddlers nationwide. While teaching through the ACA, Beth has also chaired multiple committees and helped write curriculum to make paddling safe, fun and accessible for everyone.

As part of her work through Your Outdoor Classroom, Beth has taken the opportunity to travel and visit other camps and organizations to see what others are doing to connect people to their environment. Her goal is to foster these connections, as people are motivated to take care of the things they know and love.

Although Beth did not grow up paddling, she and her husband, Steve, were able to start their daughters young. Family paddle trips have changed from their daughters’ infancy to adulthood, but being together on the water is still one of the best ways the family stays connected. Water is how Beth fills her soul, and no water holds more meaning and memories than the James.

As an instructor, an educator, and (fortunately) my friend, Beth has not only made an impact by fostering my passion for protecting and recreating on the water, she has also fostered thousands of other river lovers throughout her career.

- Mike Lyden

Senior Operations Manager

During Women’s History Month, I would like to highlight someone who has inspired me in my work—my sister, Laura-Gray Street.

We grew up spending lots of time on the Chesapeake Bay, but neither of us was particularly outdoorsy. However, our parents had a deep love of nature, which planted a seed that blossomed throughout both of our careers, though we arrived at our environmental focus from opposite directions. While I came at it from a science and management side, Laura-Gray took the literary route. She is now an English professor at Randolph College in Lynchburg, located along the James River just after it punches through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Through her passion for the environment, Laura-Gray has produced a remarkable collection of award-winning literature, including The Ecopoetry Anthology. This work spans the classic writings of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to her own contributions and those of her colleagues. She also co-edited A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia. Additionally, she has dedicated significant time to environmental efforts through Greater Lynchburg Environmental Network and is currently a fellow at the Black Earth Institute.

Over my career, I have found that one’s stewardship of the environment is proportional to one’s connection to it.  Poetry is a powerful way for people to connect to nature and discover its deeper meanings.  Keep making history, Sis!

- Bill Street

President and CEO

My inspiration is my mom. My mom was a National Park Service Ranger for 38 years. Her love for history and the great outdoors instilled in me a passion to protect the environment at an early age. I remember in the summers wanting to go to work with her any chance I could get to help with educational programs. She was an excellent educator and even won a National Award from the Park Service. This gave me the drive to get into the environmental field. Fast forward many years and I am leading education programs for JRA and working closely with the National Park Service. My education team and I even received a National Award from the Park Service in August. I have my mom to thank for showing me that hard work and dedication pay off.  Thank you, mom, for also showing me at a young age that we need to protect the environment and the best way to do that is by educating our youth.

- Katie Ferrell

Lower James Education Manager

From environmentalist to entrepreneur, Rue Mapp is a woman I deeply respect for her commitment to creating awareness and opportunities to make nature and natural connections more inclusive. Mapp founded Outdoor Afro, a non-profit that “celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.”

The beginnings of Outdoor Afro have been fondly documented as Mapp blogging at her kitchen table, and fourteen years later the organization has grown into a national movement connecting Black people with nature through recreation, conservation, outdoor education, and leadership opportunities in 60 cities across the country.

Mapp has gone on to become an internationally-known leader in the environmental community, a speaker, and author of the book “Nature Swagger”, while still growing Outdoor Afro’s efforts as CEO of an all-woman staff. In addition to her work advancing racial equity through natural spaces, I love how it fosters the enjoyment, exhilaration, and education nature provides.

- Erin Hillert

Asst. Director of Communications

 Sylvia Earle is an inspiration. I recommend watching her documentary, Mission Blue, highlighting her incredible career and pioneering work for our Oceans.

- Catherine Buchanan

Vice President, Development

I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring while studying at the University of Mary Washington. It was an enlightening read and one of a few books I read around that time in my life that inspired me to pursue a career in conservation.

- Justin Doyle

Director of Community Conservation

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist and policy expert, who co-edited the climate anthology All We Can Save, and co-created and hosted the podcast How to Save a Planet, in addition to other inspiring and powerful projects centered around Climate Resilience, and Climate Justice.
I was first introduced to Johnson’s work through the podcast How to Save a Planet. In the podcast, she reports about work that people around the world are doing to combat climate change, and her stories and interviews are realistic, and optimistic. Her Climate Action Venn Diagram helped me think about how I can best fit my talents, skills, and passions into the fight against climate change, and ultimately led me to my current position at JRA!
- Maruen Campbell

Senior Environmental Educator