Board of Directors
Duties and Responsibilities
American Whitewater is governed by a 12 member Board of Directors. Directors are elected by the general membership and serve three year terms.
American Whitewater’s Directors are the trustees of organization and act as fiduciaries for the members we serve. The Directors are responsible for all policy outcomes of the organization including:
- Strategic direction and initiatives
- Organizational governance
- Monitoring operational performance including the fiscal health of the organization and mission fulfillment
- Performance review and salary administration for the Executive Director
- Working with the Executive Director to make sure the organization has the necessary resources to fulfill its mission.
American Whitewater’s Bylaws and Constitution empowers the organization’s Board of Directors to provide this governance and leadership:
Joining The AW Board
Serving as an American Whitewater Director is an exceptional opportunity to help foster the continued growth and development of a highly respected nonprofit organization. While serving as a Board Director requires both commitment and energy, it is a rewarding and fulfilling opportunity and a great way to give something back to the paddling and environmental community.
If you have an interest in serving on American Whitewater’s Board of Directors you can download the current Nomination Packet. This will describe the roles and responsibilities of an American Whitewater Director as well as the nomination and election process.
Diversity and Inclusion
Long-term stewardship of river resources requires inclusion. At American Whitewater, we believe that in order to shape the future of river stewardship, we must serve a constituency that is representative of that future. By bringing together people with a wide range of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences - plus, encouraging a community of openness and inclusion - we can shape creative solutions for river conservation and stewardship.
American Whitewater strives to be a model of diversity and inclusion. Our directors, staff, volunteers and members reflect a diverse group, inclusive of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and many other characteristics. Our human capital, including all the stakeholders listed above, is the most valuable asset we have. The collective sum of the individual differences, life experiences, knowledge, inventiveness, innovation, self-expression, unique capabilities and talent that we possess is a significant part of not only our culture, but our reputation and stewardship success.
We respect, value and celebrate the unique attributes, characteristics and perspectives that make us each individuals. We also believe that bringing diverse individuals together allows us to collectively and more effectively address the river stewardship issues we face. It is our aim, therefore, that our partners, strategies and investments reflect these core beliefs.
American Whitewater takes the broadest possible view of diversity, going beyond visible differences to affirm the essence of all individuals including the realities, background, experiences, skills and perspectives that make each person who they are. Engaging the power of diverse talent and partners results in innovative solutions and the community ownership necessary to address complex issues. How we do this:
- Seek Directors that represent diverse talents, skills, regions, backgrounds and innovative solutions.
- Reach out beyond the core paddlesports community at AW river festivals.
- Reinforce a culture of inclusion within staff ranks and membership communications.
- Respectful communication and cooperation between staff, volunteers and partners.
- Teamwork and participation, permitting the representation of all groups and perspectives.
- Work/life balance through flexible schedules to accommodate* staff and volunteer needs.
- Represent the diverse views of broad coalitions and spirit of compromise in our stewardship activities.
Board Directors and Officers
The Board of Directors elects American Whitewater’s Officers including President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and two “at large” executive committee members.
|Position||Name||Current Term||First Year Elected|
|President||Chris Neuenschwander||2021 – 2023||2015|
|Vice President||Brent Austin||2020 – 2022||2014|
|Treasurer||Brian Jacobson||2022 – 2024||2013|
|Secretary||Erin Savage||2020 – 2022||2017|
|At – Large||Melissa Driver||2021 - 2023||2015|
|At – Large||Chris Tulley||2020 – 2022||2017|
|Director||Susan Hollingsworth Elliott||2022 – 2024||2013|
|Director||April Montgomery||2021 - 2023||2018|
|Director||Greg Lee||2022 – 2023||2019|
|Director||Megi Morishita||2021 - 2023||2013|
|Director||Bruce Lessels||2022 – 2024||2022|
|Director||Christopher Hest||2020 – 2022||2011|
I guess I have always been a little different and that fact is still obviously true. Generally accounting and whitewater kayaking exist in different worlds, but for me, both are my passion. I began kayaking over seven years ago when a friend invited me on a whim. I call the Coosa River in Wetumpka, Alabama my home river. However, spending time on Alabama’s natural flow whitewater offerings is a thrill I look forward to every year; like a child anticipates Christmas day or a football fan waits for the season’s kickoff. While class III boating is my skill level, I do enjoy a good tube, raft, or sit-on-top kayak experience. I am a member of the Coosa River Paddling Club, and also serve on the board of my civic club. My professional experience includes serving not-for-profit charities, membership organizations, and incorporated governmental municipalities/agencies as a CPA in public practice. I have been blessed to be the recipient of some of AW’s conservation and stewardship efforts. I believe it is my calling to give back to AW what I can, to ensure that whitewater experiences are preserved for generations to come. I want to ensure that the gift given to me by a friend on a whim, will be a gift I can give to others, ten-fold.
Brent Austin is an attorney, a longtime paddler from Central Kentucky, former President of the Bluegrass Wildwater Association and has been involved for decades raising money for AW River stewardship goals, particularly related to the Russell Fork River. An active paddler on the Gauley, Russell Fork, the rivers around the Smoky Mountains and all the Southeast, Mr. Austin has a unique perspective grounded in being an active member of the paddling community. Mr. Austin currently serves on the John Flannagan Dam Whitewater Advisory Board and has been an instrumental voice and force for the Russell Fork River since the mid 90s. A founder and organizer of the Russell Fork River Rendezvous, Mr. Austin also organized and raced in the predecessor event to what is now known as the Lord of the Fork Race. He also raced in the Gore Canyon Race in the mid-90s. Today, Mr. Austin practices law in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky and frequently paddles around the Smoky Mountains where he and his family have a second home.
My paddling career began at 15 as a result of an ill-fated trip in a Styrofoam sailboat, an unknown river, and a blown out dam. I was instantly hooked. Boating quickly became a key part of my life both from the river experience and the fellowship that developed with my paddling friends. After a well spent youth as a raft guide and photographer on the Ocoee, Chattooga, and Gauley, I eventually completed college and began a career as an environmental engineer. My perspective was always guided by would I float the receiving stream after the work was complete. Success often involves complex decisions involving the client, the regulator, community acceptance, and cost. This work experience translates well to the challenges AW faces with stewardship projects. I became involved with AW as a volunteer in the 1990s on the Chattooga effort as AW started petitioning for access and study. My involvement grew with time and by 2005 I was immersed in the project and came to fully appreciate the AW volunteer/professional model. The eventual success on the Chattooga helped me appreciate the work AW is performing on similar projects across the country. Within two hours of my house I can now paddle the Cheoah, Tallulah, Upper Nantahala, and West Fork of the Tuckasegee as a result of AW’s work. Stewardship involves more than changing the operation of a dam or the regulations of an agency. It involves changing local opinions, often on a person by person basis, and keeping the local paddling community involved in the process. I hope my service on the board will help AW to continue to achieve the successes we are currently seeing on our rivers.
For me, conservation efforts, community outreach, and whitewater have always been linked. I began kayaking while traveling through East Africa, exploring the links between environmental conservation and local communities. I first became an AW member at Moose Fest, while living in the Northeast pursuing a Master of Environmental Science and completing my first full year of kayaking. Graduating in the middle of the recession did not do great things for my employment opportunities, but did prove quite helpful for furthering my kayaking skills. I decided to move to the Southeast, where there was a need for more conservation work and plenty of opportunities for kayaking. AW provided me my first “real” job, helping to evaluate ecology research around the relicensing of the North Fork Feather River. This opportunity gave me a tremendous amount of insight into the complex management of relationships between stakeholders in a hydropower relicensing process. Currently, I work as a program manager for Appalachian Voices, a regional nonprofit that works to protect Central Appalachia from the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. Through that work, I focus on coal mining's impact on surface and groundwater. I believe AW plays a very important role in river access and river stewardship. I respect the way that AW balances recreational needs, ecological considerations, and interactions with other stakeholder groups in relicensing and access projects. I look forward to contributing my knowledge of water quality, natural resource law, government agencies, and community outreach to further AW’s mission.
I first joined AW to support the efforts of providing conservation and access to the rivers that I have learned to love and all of the many others I have yet to experience. I hope that many generations after me will have the same opportunities to enjoy them and without AW this wouldn’t be possible. Being an AW Board Member is my way of giving back to this dedicated organization and fellow whitewater enthusiasts. As a board member and through my service leading the Development Committee I am focused on increasing membership engagement, donor commitments, outreach, and communication.
I want to improve access and flows to the rivers that have made such a difference in my life. My 20+ years of paddling has been nearly evenly split between the east coast and west coast. There is such a huge difference in how AW is perceived and valued in these regions. I believe I can help grow both membership and river stewardship projects on the west coast and nationally. To help accomplish this, I will bring my optimistic and collaborative 20+ years of experience in big technology companies getting results as: 1. Project Manager – getting things done on time and under budget 2. Technical Sales – Getting people to say yes while not over-promising 3. Product Marketing – simplifying ideas so they are highly valued by the target market 4. Product Manager – defining and bringing the right product to market. 5. Account Executive – getting stakeholders who have different objectives to collaborate. While I definitely have a serious side… mainly I like to go paddling. Hope to see you on the river!
My love for rivers started on the New River in Virginia with my families dented and banged up metal tank of a canoe. My exposure expanded with road trips to West Virginia to raft the New and Gauley Rivers. After college and law school at the University of Virginia, I moved to Colorado and immediately started kayaking, but after one too many shoulder injuries, decided that I was happier in an inflatable or raft, which have been great vehicles for me to explore western rivers. Having made southwest Colorado my home for the past 26 years, specifically Telluride and Norwood, I am constantly aware of snowpack, drought, and the importance of our western rivers to communities, economies, the environment, as well as to recreation. I currently work as the Vice President of Programs at the Telluride Foundation (a nonprofit community foundation). For the past 10 years, I have helped to manage their nonprofit training efforts, grant programs and initiatives, giving me a unique perspective as a funder of nonprofits. I served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) from 2009 to 2017, and as Chair during the drafting of the Colorado Water Plan. It was while serving on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, working on state water policy and the Colorado Water Plan, that I came to really appreciate AW and its dedicated staff, the resources they provide, their participation in water policy, and their involvement in collaborative efforts. Now that my terms on the CWCB have ended, I am excited to continue my journey in water issues on a national level and to be part of an organization that reflects my own passion for protecting rivers.
Susan Hollingsworth Elliott
Whitewater kayaking and rafting have provided me direction in both my personal and professional lives. It began during my first year as a raft guide on Pennsylvania's Lehigh River where I learned that a vast network of boaters spanned the continent, each waiting to show off their home river. Traveling to experience new rivers in my country and internationally, my understanding of our globalized world deepened - including the complicated relationship humans have with their rivers. I've guided and instructed to bring more people to the river; I've written for whitewater publications to share river stories and issues; I've taught high school for World Class Kayak Academy to link science and history to the state or rivers worldwide. Living in White Salmon, WA, I took interest in the removal of Condit Dam and quickly began representing the boating community at local events and stakeholder meetings, and created a blog series covering the decommission and deconstruction process for the public. The restoration process captivated me, leading to my return to graduate school to study River Engineering at Oregon State University. It began with simply wanting to use my kayak to experience the world. With each new river community and watershed I visited, I deepened my knowledge and commitment to protecting the rivers that have given me so much. American Whitewater embodies this concept. I am proud and honored to be a part of the organization that is dedicated to maintaining free-flowing rivers and our access to them.
I still remember my first encounter with American Whitewater. It was about ten years ago, when I was a grad student and a novice paddler at my first Feather Fest. I didn't know how rivers or releases worked, or really even how to hold a paddle. But then someone described to me how the dam was required to release water for recreation, and how American Whitewater had negotiated that agreement. I looked at them incredulously, “A non-profit made a power company do what??” Ever since, I've been fascinated by how such a small organization representing a niche community manages to take on entrenched interests consistently and successfully. These days, I work as a software engineer at a startup in SF, and you can find me paddling rivers in the PNW, CA, and New England. I love exploring new rivers regardless of difficulty, with bonus points if they are overnight or longer. I have also recently acquired a taste for long boat racing. As a contribution to the whitewater community, I led the development of the mobile apps for AW on iOS and Android, and built an app for the Dreamflows webpage in California. I'm passionate about data, and the benefits that quality data with convenient access can bring to AW's advocacy work and the paddling community as a whole. I'm looking forward to applying my knowledge to help AW build and improve a technical base that will serve the whitewater community for years to come. See you on the river!
Megi Morishita lives in Bend, Oregon where she spends her time off the river as an Obstetrician/Gynecologist and volunteering with Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue. Twelve years ago, she made a promise to an AW volunteer, “If I swim today, I owe you a trip to Ecuador.” Her other promise when she joined AW was that she would do whatever she can to support their mission. So it is time to up the ante as she hopes to contribute more to AW's successes in protecting rivers. She believes in our Executive Director's words: “Paddlers understand that you cannot love what you don't know. It's our love of whitewater that makes us fierce defenders of rivers and their flows.” Since learning to kayak, she has moved from Madison to Baltimore to Tucson to Bend, and has met many kayaking friends along the way. She has also kayaked in Canada, Japan, Chile, China, New Zealand, Greece, and Ecuador. Favorite kayaking moments include the awe of paddling down a rapid as salmon swim upstream, watching elk run across a river, and seeing river otter poke their heads up with curiosity. She loves teaching new paddlers as well as the challenges of wilderness expeditions. The strong friendships developed in a sport in which one trusts another with his/her own life is priceless, and she hopes to help AW protect these river experiences for future generations.
Over the past 45 years, whitewater has been for me a social scene, a sport, a business and a recreation. I retired in 2020 after selling Zoar Outdoor, the outfitting business I ran for 31 years, and I now have time that I want to spend, in part, on giving back to the whitewater world. I've been very involved in a few FERC relicensing in the northeast and have developed relationships with utility companies and state and federal agency representatives that give me an understanding of how these processes work and of the enormous impact they can have on rivers, the recreational community and the local areas surrounding those rivers. I'm not as active a paddler as I used to be, but I do get out and I still enjoy running a new river in kayak, canoe or raft. I'm interested in racial equity issues in the outdoors and specifically around river access. I recently helped start a program at our local community college that will offer a certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors. I'm grateful to be able to contribute to the work of AW at a time when the health of our rivers is so closely tied to the health of our environment, our economy and our society in general.
Christopher Hest has 35 years of leadership in the nonprofit sector. For the last 15 years Chris has focused his philanthropy career on social justice objectives—combating climate change and preserving natural resources, protecting democracy and a free press, and improving economic opportunity for the extreme poor in low- and middle-income countries. In 2001 he co-established a whitewater kayaking and rafting business with a local paddler in the Indian Himalaya, providing self-sufficiency to one family and seasonal employment for local villagers. He supports a variety of river protection and conservation organizations, has kayaked on six continents, and earned his whitewater kayaking instructor certification from Mary and Phil DeRiemer. Chris is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Himalayan Foundation and served for many years on the Board of Directors of Healing Waters, an outdoor adventure social services agency. He earned a degree in Political Science and Canadian Studies from Duke University. He gets to take out at his home after paddling Butte Creek outside Chico, California.
Charlie Walbridge started canoeing at summer camp in the early 60's and started paddling whitewater seriously in college. He was an active C-1 slalom and wildwater racer and worked as part-time as a river guide in the 70's. He has paddled rivers throughout the US and Canada, including several first descents, but he now spends most of his time in West Virginia. He ran a mail order company, Wildwater Designs, for 22 years. There he developed the HiFloat life vest and adapted the throw-line rescue bag for whitewater use. He's been the Safety Chair for both the American Canoe Association (ACA) and American Whitewater (AW) and is well known for articles in American Whitewater that reporting on U.S. whitewater fatalities. He helped develop the ACA programs in both canoeing and swiftwater rescue, and continues to serve as an instructor-trainer. He's written many magazine articles and produced or contributed to numerous books, including The Boat Builder's Manual, Wildwater West Virginia, Appalachian Wildwater Volumes I and II, The Whitewater Rescue Manual, Knots for Paddlers, and several editions of the River Safety Report. He is on the board of Friends of the Cheat River, a watershed group, and Camp Mowglis, where he first learned to paddle. Now retired, he does consultations on canoeing safety for outfitters, organizations and attorneys. Charlie lives with his wife Sandy in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia and is active in Cheat and Upper Yough river issues. His web site is www.charliewalbridge.com.