The new executive director of the Little River Watershed Association knows what its like to wade through the Little River when it’s at flood stage.
Mark Whited told those gathered at a reception in his honor that he saw the power of the river in 2003 when the river flooded in Walland. He was trying to cross over to his rental house but the Little River was out of its banks.
“It really made me aware of how the river affects our lives. I really wanted to get to my house, and I couldn’t,” he said. “A lot of times people think the river stays in the channel but I’ve seen it go out of the channel.”
Whited, 35, is a Nashville native who graduated from the University of Tennessee with a botany degree and went on to work as a seasonal plantecologist with the University of Georgia, surveying vegetation at National Parks. He mapped vegetation at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Kings Mountain National Battlefield, Cumberland Gap National Park and Mammoth Cave National Park and the tribal lands of the Cherokee nation.
Being involved in the environment isn’t just an occupation for Whited, he also finds out-of-doors activities for his free time. Whited worked with the French Broad River Preservation Association, and he has led conservation/easement workshops for landowners to be able to preserve property from development.
In this job, Whited said he wants to stress the importance of good land management and how that can affect water quality. Whited said he also wants to help educate people about the importance of the Little River as a source of drinking water. Whited said it is also important to preserve the quality of the Little River because it is a recreation destination that spurs the local economy.
Whited said he is excited about being executive director of Little River Watershed Association. The job allows him to use the expertise he gained working as a plantecologist with knowledge of land management he acquired through years of working with property owners to preserve resources.
Ernie Blankenship echoed those sentiments, and said he was impressed with Whited’s technical land management expertise and his knowledge of plant species. “Working here is an opportunity that blends it all together,” Blankenship said. “He’ll be a good fit. I’m anxious to see what he can do. He should make a very positive contribution to what we are all about.”
Bob Eby, chair of the Little River Watershed Association, said what impressed the board was Whited’s cross-section of experience and knowledge. “And, quite frankly, his enthusiasm for the job,” Eby said.
Gaynell Lawson said she was impressed with Whited. “I think he’s got a very good background and obviously a passion for the environment,” she said. “He seems to have a background of technical knowledge that will be very helpful.”
Board member Edward Harper said he is excited to see someone who can take a role in leading stewardship of the river. “The river is vital to the life and welfare of our community,” he said. “We need to use it wisely and look at best practices both for our infrastructure and commercial needs.”