Fort Mill Times

New riverkeeper ready to take helm

Based on experience, no one knows exactly what the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation would look like with Donna Lisenby in the captain's seat. The two men in charge of showing everyone, though, expect little to change.

"I think my history there already puts me in step with the issues that impact the river," said David Merryman, 24, who will take over as riverkeeper April 1 after Lisenby moves to a similar position in North Carolina. "Her tenacity and her love for the river is something that I hope isn't lost, and I don't think it will be lost."

Merryman has experience with the Catawba. He served as assistant riverkeeper for about a year prior to his latest work, two years researching agriculturally dominated watershed in the Chesapeake Bay region. Merryman also has experience with water. He graduated summa cum laude from Gardner Webb University with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, and is working now to finish postgraduate studies in applied ecology at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

"David's very talented with a very strong science background, which is critical for explaining issues of water quality and protecting the river basin," said Lake Wylie Lakekeeper Ellen Goff.

Goff knows Merryman well, having been trained as a covekeeper by him, and expects a good working relationship. Foundation board member and fellow Lake Wylie Covekeeper C.D. Collins expects Merryman's direct work with Lisenby to aid him in the transition to the riverkeeper role.

"He knows the mindset," Collins said. "We've been blessed to have had David here for the period of time that we had him."

If experience with the foundation is to be an asset, then the new executive director comes as a gift to the foundation. Rick Gaskins, 49, has been in the Charlotte area since 1984 and has served as foundation chairman and as a board member. An attorney, Gaskins also provided periodic legal advice and representation for the foundation during that time.

"Hopefully I know what I'm getting into," said Gaskins.

His experience with the foundation also illustrates for Gaskins how important it is to separate the positions of riverkeeper and executive director. He hopes to focus on fundraising, membership and business issues that will allow Merryman to become the face of the river.

"He's the young energetic guy, and I don't like think of it this way but I guess I'm the old guy," Gaskins said. "In his position, being young is great because you want to have enthusiasm, you want to take on everything and change the world and you believe you can."

As with Merryman, the foundation is fortunate to have a proven person step into a critical role, Goff said.

Foundation members agree that, though they hate to see Lisenby go, the time was past due for splitting operations.