2019 Harpeth River Steward Awards

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Laura Louis is the director of a nature camp in Metro Parks called P.E.N. Pals or People Exploring Nature, which takes disadvantaged youth on overnight camping trips! Every week thirty campers arrive from community centers throughout Davidson Country for the two day camp. Throughout the summer a total of two hundred people will hike the trails, learn about nature, and camp overnight in Warner Park. The program is free to campers and is funded through public grants and corporate donations. The camp is celebrating its 31st year, and Laura has been the director of the program for 8 years. 

Most of the campers Laura and her staff share these experiences with, have never been camping before. Many of them have never played in a creek and only a few can answer the question, “Where does your drinking water come from?” When they play outside it’s a manicured field or a fenced off playground, which doesn’t even have real dirt. Many youth are disconnected from the environment due to a lack of access to nature and the ubiquity of technology. The camp programming emphasizes learning about local plants and animals and includes a rotation on macro-invertebrates. Campers learn about the ecosystem of the Little Harpeth river as they explore the river, collect specimens, and play interactive games. P.E.N. Pals teaches the youth of Nashville how to appreciate nature, so they can become good stewards of our parks and our planet.  As an organization, we are thankful to be a part of this wonderful opportunity! We want thank Laura with her leadership and for providing a positive, educational experience for the young minds of Nashville.  


Glenn grew up in Summertown, TN at the head waters of Swan Creek where he was raised and educated on the importance of protecting and preserving our land and waterways. These principles have lead Glenn to being a member of the Swan Conservation Trust since 1994 and an extremely active community member in Kingston Springs when he moved there in 2002. Glenn experienced the devasting 2010 flood and wanting to make a difference for all, he joined the Harpeth River Watershed Association on numerous river cleanups. His dedication and efforts back then lead to him receiving the 2012 Volunteer Extraordinaire Award, but today we want to recognize him with our Community Leader Award. Glenn, ran for office in 2012 and is currently serving his second term as City Commissioner in Kingston Springs. In February of this year, Glenn truly stepped up at a leader when a semi-tractor trailer hauling 80k pounds of household garbage rolled over dumping its entire load into a small tributary in Pegram which feeds right into the Harpeth River. 60k pound of this household garbage flowed away from the crash scene and was out of sight and out of mind. Glenn was instrumental in tracking it down, holding the parties responsible, and getting the area cleaned up. For the next 20 days, Glenn oversaw the clean up daily and followed through to make sure the job was complete.  It took over 2,000 people hours and $150k, which was paid for by the insurance company of the accident. As a Board member of the Town’s Commission he is proud of what the town of Kingston Springs is doing in protecting the Scenic Harpeth River.  He is also proud of the fact the Town’s new slogan: Kingston Springs, the Heart of the Harpeth.  


Rus was born and raised in Northern California and moved to Nashville about 7 years ago.  He always had a love for the outdoors, may it be camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, or his main passion, fishing. Rus spent a number of years as a fishing guide in CA and just recently started a guide service called Kick Fishing here in Middle Tennessee.  Upon moving to Tennessee, Rus has been blown away by how beautiful many of the rivers are throughout the state. He says, that it’s been so wonderful to live in a place where there is a strong community of people who work hard to protect and preserve the rivers, as well as create projects such as building new access points, to encourage people use and enjoy such a wonderful resource. Despite all the positives there are still companies as well as individuals that do not respect the environment and think it’s their trash can. Thankfully, we have Rus and others like him who are true river advocates that support us through their volunteerism, generous gifts, and set a positive example for other recreators.  

“Thankfully we have organizations like the Harpeth Conservancy who stand up against those people, and fight to keep our water clean!” -Rus  


Virginia Waddey is an amazing behind the scenes volunteer.  She is a Master Gardener, so she has been an integral part of the River Swing centerpieces (along with Sue Snyder and other helpers!) the past 2 years hacking bamboo (removing invasives is healthy for our rivers you know?!), cutting grasses and helping to arrange them all beautifully.  She tirelessly runs all over town to pick up things on tight deadlines throughout the year (and with Nashville traffic these days, that’s not easy!).  You probably see her smiling face at registration for almost any event that Harpeth Conservancy hosts (along with Wray Estes, Jeni Housley and a slew of other regulars!) and the handwriting on any invitations is probably hers or Mercedes’.  If a task needs to be done behind the scenes, she is one of our first calls, although we are so thankful that so many others like Dee Plunkett, Heidi Hartman and so many others are also willing to help on a minutes notice with no recognition…we are SO thankful!  


This summer, Damon and a group of his co-workers from HCA Healthcare joined us for a canoe cleanup which resulted in 600lbs of trash being removed from the Harpeth. When we asked him why he wanted to take part in a cleanup he explained that for many years he has enjoyed kayaking the Harpeth but has always wished that there was less trash and debris present. Damon always try to carry out more than he takes in because he thinks natural areas are special places that act as an escape from everyday life as they give us a place where we can relax and get in touch with the world around us a little more. Damon tries to instill a love for the outdoors and nature in his children because he thinks it will improve their perspective and help them appreciate life more thoroughly. Contributing to improving and maintaining a pristine environment is therefore a very important and worthwhile activity that rewards the participant as much as it does the environment. We are thankful for individuals like Damon who demonstrate we can all enjoy our waterways responsibly and how a little bit of competitive spirit can really drive a small group of people to make a difference.  


Ross, also an HCA Healthcare employee, is a passionate kayaker who wants our waterways to be a cleaner place for all! He and his co-workers joined us for a canoe float this season and it was clear to the Harpeth staff team, that he had a true love for rivers and was an experienced paddler who was up for any challenge the float encountered.


Brian, a Brentwood local, came to us in the winter months with a desire to get involved and make a difference. At that time, we were in our restoration season and Brian jumped right in! He attended Weed Wrangle, here at picnic shelter 11 and gave it his all. Even after those 450 seedlings were planted, Brian wanted to continue improving river banks and give native species a chance. He and his son joined us in Kingston Springs at Burns Park where we planted another 450 seedlings. We appreciate Brian’s eagerness for involvement and confidence to try something new!   


Wray found Harpeth Conservancy through Fifty Forward and has volunteered at least day a week since 2015. Wray is extremely helpful with database development, running errands, and assisting with mailings. We are thankful to have such a wonderful, dedicated office volunteer and look forward to celebrating her 1,000 hours of service this year!