Heather Jacobs DeckExecutive Director
Heather joined the staff of Sound Rivers in July 2003, and over the years has led our advocacy, volunteer and educational programs. With nearly 20 years of experience, as the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper and Executive Director, she is a sought-after expert on river environmental issues. She has been appointed to numerous commissions and working groups related to North Carolina’s water policies and management of the watershed, including the state’s Sedimentation Control Commission for six years. Heather has a master’s degree in environmental management from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where her concentration was in water and air resources, with an emphasis on water quality and wetland ecosystems.
Her undergraduate degree from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is in biology with a minor in economics. From 2000 to 2002, Heather served as a Peace Corps volunteer for agro-forestry and environmental education in El Salvador. She resides in Washington with her husband and daughters.
Jillian HowellPamlico-Tar Riverkeeper/Advocacy Program Manager
Jill grew up in Saugus, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. She received a B.A. in environmental studies and global studies from Colby College in 2012 before returning to Boston to work for an environmental consulting firm, ATC Group Services. She spent five years as a project scientist for ATC, performing site assessments and environmental due diligence, overseeing hazardous material remediation and conducting environmental sampling programs at properties throughout New England.
Jill spent the last two years in New Haven, Connecticut, at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She graduated in May 2019 with a Master of Environmental Management, with her coursework focused on environmental justice. In summer 2018, she interned with the Spokane Riverkeeper, working mostly on salmon-related issues in the upper Columbia River Basin.
Jill has enjoyed leaving behind New England winters, taking on the role of the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper and Sound Rivers’ advocacy program manager, and exploring the rivers and coast of eastern North Carolina.
Samantha KropNeuse Riverkeeper
Samantha Krop is the Neuse Riverkeeper, Sound Rivers’ advocate for the health of the Neuse and its many tributaries, from Durham to Havelock. Sam came to Sound Rivers from Oregon, where she served as the coalitions coordinator for the Forest Waters Coalition, a network of conservationists and community members working together to create stronger protections for Oregon’s forested watersheds. Prior to her full-time role as a coalitions builder, she taught undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in environmental justice and pedagogy at the University of Oregon. A native of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sam is no stranger to North Carolina rivers: she spent summers at Camp Celo on the shores of the South Toe River in the Black Mountains, a place where her love of nature and future career as an environmental advocate — guided by the central tenets of equity and inclusivity — was forged.
Katy Langley HuntStaff Scientist
Katy is Sound Rivers’ staff scientist, a position created in April 2022 to reinforce our science-based advocacy in both the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico watersheds. Katy joined Sound Rivers as the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper in June 2017, and remains based in New Bern. As staff scientist, Katy works closely with Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell and Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop to provide technical support, both in the field and behind a computer screen, crunching data.
Before her tenure with Sound Rivers, Katy worked as an Environmental Science Technician for Kleinschmidt Associates in Lexington, South Carolina, for 18 months prior to moving to New Bern in 2016. Katy graduated with a B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science from University of New Orleans in August 2015. She was a Natural Resource Management intern at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, leading citizen science projects that helped educate diverse groups on science and nature, and was a student ambassador for the U.S. Department of the Interior at the University of New Orleans.
Katy lives in New Bern’s historic Riverside neighborhood with her husband, about two blocks from the Neuse River. She has a long-time passion for the water and the environment, is a dog lover, an avid kayaker and a U.S. Department of Interior Certified Motorboat Operator.
Clay BarberProgram Director
Clay joined the Sound Rivers team in August 2019 as our environmental projects coordinator and now serves as Sound Rivers’ program director. Having spent most of his life along the rivers and coasts of eastern North Carolina, like much of his family, he developed great respect for the precious wetlands, waterways and estuaries that are the lifeblood of this state. Clay oversees Sound Rivers’ restoration and stormwater programs, our Swim Guide program and the Tar-Pamlico Water Trail.
Clay has earned two degrees from East Carolina University: a B.S. in Recreation and Park Management and a M.S. in Sustainable Tourism, and holds a certificate in stormwater management from N.C. State University. During his college years, he helped launch a nonprofit eco-tourism center on the southern end of the Outer Banks called the Hatteras Island Ocean Center. He formed an internship program where students create recreational and educational programs that teach visitors about the natural environments, culture and history of the Outer Banks. During graduate school, he assisted multiple departments with research projects ranging from reports on the importance of public recreation to sustainability, to an economic-impact study of boaters using the North Carolina section of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) for transportation and leisure.
After college, he pursued his passion for outdoor recreation and tourism as a River Guide and Assistant Manager for Knee Deep Adventures, a mobile paddle-sport rental company in Greenville, North Carolina, that specializes in providing safe, memorable paddle experiences to people of all skill levels. He is also a BSA Eagle Scout and credits his love for the outdoors to being engaged with nature and adventure at a young age.
Vail Stewart RumleyCommunications Director
Vail joined the Sound Rivers’ team in November 2020 as Sound Rivers’ communications director.
Vail came to Sound Rivers after a nine-year career as a reporter and editor at the Washington Daily News. Over the years, Vail has written numerous stories about issues affecting our waterways, including our years-long battle with Martin Marietta Materials over the potential destruction of the Blounts Creek ecosystem through the limestone mining process.
Vail’s passion for Sound Rivers’ mission started at a young age when she spent many childhood summers on the Pamlico River at Hawkins Beach with her family. Now she can be seen leading a paddleboard yoga class on the river each week during the summer.
Vail lives in Washington Park with her partner, Liane, and their three rescue dogs, who love the river just as much as they do.
Grace LeksonOffice Administrator
Grace Lekson is Sound Rivers’ office administrator. Her history with us started in 1985, when she first became a member of Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, but her love of the river began much earlier, spending childhood swimming, boating and skiing on the Pamlico. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Grace worked in the East Carolina University Central Environmental Lab doing water-quality monitoring of the Pamlico River, South Creek and its tributaries in the early 1980s. Since 1996, Grace has worked on the organizational side of Sound Rivers, doing everything from coordinating volunteers and fundraising to building membership databases and managing the office full-time.
Madelyn GarrisonWater-quality intern
Madelyn Garrison is a junior at East Carolina University, majoring in biology. She refers to herself as an “Army brat,” and is originally from Fort Stewart, Georgia. Maddie says she applied for the job of intern with Sound Rivers because it would be “a great opportunity for me to get some experience working in environmental science, while also being able to give back to the community.”
Maddie will be working out of the Washington office.
Megan LongWater-quality intern
Megan Long is a senior at East Carolina University, majoring in public health with a concentration in community health. Born and raised in Greenville (home of ECU), Megan sought out an internship with Sound Rivers in order to see a different side of public health — environmental health. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn and grow as a public health student,” Megan said.
Megan will be working out of the New Bern office.
Maia SchweikertWater-quality intern
Maia Schweikert is from Elkin, a small town in Western North Carolina, which is where her love for the environment first blossomed. She loves being outdoors, whether hiking, swimming or climbing, especially at Stone Mountain State Park. Maia is focusing on environmental studies, and social and economic justice at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Passionate about environmental justice, Maia hopes to pursue her passion by engaging in environmental advocacy or law in the future. For now, she says she’s excited to help protect our watershed and all of the people who rely on these waterways.
Maia will be working out of the Raleigh office.
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