The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is led by a dedicated group of full time staff, part time staff, volunteer board members, and community volunteers. We’re proud to call these people family and appreciate the efforts they put in on a daily basis to preserve and protect the Catawba-Wateree River Basin.

John Searby

Executive Director

As Executive Director, John is responsible for the overall leadership of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and serves as its primary fundraiser, visionary, and relationship developer. John brings a diverse background in coaching, athletic administration, fundraising, design, marketing, sponsorship planning, and sales management to the Catawba Riverkeeper. He leverages these experiences to build an organization that uses engagement with the water to fund protection of the water.

John grew up in Central Illinois where his passion for the outdoors began while bird hunting with his grandfather. John attended Milligan College in Johnson City, TN, where he was a 3-year starter and captain of the basketball team. John fell in love with the mountains of East Tennessee while earning a Bachelor’s Degree in History and English from Milligan College and a Master’s Degree in English from Tennessee Tech University. After college, John embarked on a ten-year basketball coaching journey at Gardner-Webb University, Tennessee Tech University, Lincoln Christian University, and Auburn University before working in athletic administration at Bradley University. Following his time in athletics, John worked in the business world for XOS Digital, Downstream Design, and Adams Outdoor Advertising.

John currently resides on Lake Wylie in Belmont, NC with his wife, Jessi, and two children, Jack (16) and Josie (13). During his free time, he enjoys all things outdoors – kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, trail running, camping, bird hunting, and fishing as well as consuming as much American History as possible. John also serves the Charlotte region and Catawba-Wateree River Basin as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Carolina Raptor Center, a member of the Board of Directors of the Catawba-Wateree Relicensing Coalition, a member of the Gaston County Travel & Tourism Board of Advisors, and as Chairman of the the South Fork River Health Committee.

Brandon Jones


Protecting the Catawba-Wateree River basin is more than a job to Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones. As Riverkeeper, he focuses on threats to clean water, including monitoring and addressing coal ash issues and permitted pollution discharges, stormwater runoff, concentrated animal feeding operations, and preventing waterborne diseases.

Jones received his M.S. in Earth Science from UNC Charlotte; his studies focused on hydrology, specifically water chemistry. He completed his undergraduate education at UNC Chapel Hill, graduating with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Environmental Science. That’s where he found his calling in environmental protection. “I took an environmental law course as an undergraduate at Chapel Hill, which was my first introduction to environmental protection. After that class, I knew I wanted to work protecting water.”

Jones joined the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in 2017 as its director of technical programs before being promoted to Riverkeeper in November 2018. As Riverkeeper, Brandon is CRF’s chief scientist and advocate and is responsible for coordinating the organization’s testing, sampling, research, and legislative initiatives. He is also the primary contact for all citizen concerns. Jones is a Gaston County native who’s committed to the environment both inside and outside the office. He spends his free time on the water as an avid whitewater paddler and river guide, and on the trails playing disc golf.

Diana Daniels Knudsen

Director of Development and Marketing

Diana works to raise funds and awareness for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.

She focuses her fundraising efforts on major gifts from private individuals, corporations, and foundations and leads the organization’s membership program. She also leads the organization’s marketing efforts which includes websites, newsletters, social media, and events.  

Diana began working at the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in 2012 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her B.S. in Business Administration from Kenan-Flagler Business School where she concentrated in Marketing. 

Diana is a native of Charlotte where she lives with her husband. Her love for the River and desire to protect it comes from spending time at her grandparents’ home on Lake Wylie.

Vanessa Covington

Program Director

As the Program Director, Vanessa is responsible for leading the community facing programs for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation including recreation and volunteer programs, education, and retail. Vanessa has over 15 years in outdoor recreation community engagement and environmental conservation. Before Catawba Riverkeeper, she was with Carolina Thread Trail and Catawba Lands Conservancy as the Engagement and Volunteer Manager and before that the Charlotte Market Outreach Specialist for REI and Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

Vanessa graduated from Bradley University with a degree in communications. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and two young children and enjoys kayaking, hiking, camping and hopes to rock climb again with her children as they get older.

Grant Buckner

Watershed Manager – Northern Basin

As the Watershed Manager of the Northern Basin, Grant works to advance the goals of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation. Grant collaborates with Lake James Environmental Association, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, and a variety of other stakeholders to create, plan and prioritize a list of projects that will improve water quality in the Northern Basin. Additionally, he helps the Catawba Riverkeeper coordinate and implement current projects, such as the Swim Guide Program.

Grant is a native of Western North Carolina. He received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and his Masters of Science in Biology at the Appalachian State University. For his master’s thesis, he focused on biomonitoring using aquatic insects in Central America. Before joining the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Grant worked as an Adjunct Lab Instructor in the Biology Department at Appalachian State University. Grant’s passion for protecting rivers stems from fly fishing while growing up in Western North Carolina. In his free time, Grant enjoys birding, wildlife photography, and fly fishing.

Rachael Rosenstein

Watershed Manager – Southern Basin

As the Watershed Manager for the Southern Basin, Rachael works to advance the goals of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation. Rachael collaborates with local groups and a variety of other stakeholders to create, plan, and prioritize projects that will improve water quality and surrounding habitats in the Southern Basin. Additionally, she helps the Catawba Riverkeeper coordinate and implement current projects, such as the Swim Guide Program.

Rachael grew up in Connecticut and western Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from the University of Delaware and her Master of Sustainability Solutions from Arizona State University. For her Master’s thesis, she explored the linkages between sustainability solutions, community, and happiness, and the ways these could be communicated through photojournalism. Before joining the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Rachael worked as a NEPA Analyst at the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Rachael’s love of nature and commitment to conservation has grown in each place she lived, from the forests of Pennsylvania to the vast Arizona desert landscapes to the biodiversity of Georgia – and soon to be the waters of North and South Carolina. In her free time, Rachael is an avid hiker, nature photographer, and birder.

Morgan Long

Education Manager

In this role, Morgan refines and advances our environmental education programming for people of all ages to learn more about the Catawba River Basin and the ecosystems it encompasses. She also works to develop new educational programming to serve all areas of the basin.

A Charlotte native that was raised just across the river, in Mount Holly, Morgan earned a B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has worked throughout New England as an Environmental Educator with the nonprofit Nature’s Classroom. From Maine to Connecticut she has taught in a variety of ecosystems. She is happy to be back to her roots here, in North Carolina, with opportunities to explore and teach in the Catawba-Wateree River Basin. Morgan is currently working to complete her North Carolina Environmental Educator (NCEE) Certification.

In her free time she enjoys hiking, camping, and crafting throughout the state. While her hobbies are continuously growing she’s always more than happy to strike up conversations on wildlife and mushroom hunting within the Basin.

Greg Nance

Engagement Manager

As Engagement Manager, Greg is responsible for many of the activities that connect the general public with the work of Catawba Riverkeeper and its mission. Greg oversees and manages the organization’s kayak rental operationsecotours, paddling instruction program, and other on-the-water activities. Greg also works closely with the Education team to provide on-the-water activities for educational programs. Additionally, Greg is responsible for management of Catawba Riverkeeper’s clean-up programs including leading the annual basin-wide Riversweep, coordinating tactical and corporate clean-ups, and supporting the Litter Gitter crew.

Greg grew up in Asheboro, NC close to the Uwharrie River where he developed his passion for the water. He moved to the Charlotte area in 2008 to pursue a career in the whitewater industry. He now has over a decade of experience working on and exploring rivers and creeks in the southeastern United States and as far west as the Grand Canyon.

Over the years, Greg has participated and organized river cleanups in various basins. He started with the Catawba Riverkeeper as a volunteer and eventually became an Ambassador, Water Watcher, and then employee of the Litter Gitter project. In 2020, Greg took over leadership of the Litter Gitter program and was promoted to Engagement Manager in 2021. When he is not working Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and son in the outdoors and planning his next big adventure.

Ryan Carter

Policy Manager

As Policy Manager, Ryan is responsible for developing and executing efforts to address legislative barriers to the wellbeing of our basin at the local, state, and federal levels. Ryan works with members of the public, civic leaders, and elected officials to create systems change to protect and enhance our waters. 

Ryan is a Charlotte native and 10th-generation Carolinian. Ryan graduated from Wofford College with a BA in Government and double minors in Business and History. His passion for community advocacy started with his time at United Way in South Carolina and has led him through the Congressional Financial Services Committee and locally with Habitat for Humanity.  

Ryan is an avid kayaker and enjoys exploring waterways across the basin. In his free time, Ryan can also be found digging in his garden, reading a good non-fiction book, or diving into a philosophical conversation about his hero, Theodore Roosevelt.  

Harry Warren

Policy Coordinator, Davidson Impact Fellow

As Policy Coordinator, Harry is responsible for advancing Catawba Riverkeeper’s Policy goals through engagement with state and local officials. Harry works directly with Ryan, the Policy Manager, in establishing goals and engagement that will further enhance and protect the basin. 

Harry grew up in Washington, DC close to the banks of the Anacostia river where he first engaged with river clean-ups and protection. Harry attended Davidson College, graduating in 2022. Harry majored in Political Science, focusing his studies on public policy, environmental science, international relations, and German. Harry spent much of his free time at Davidson exploring the mountains and rivers of Western North Carolina.

Harry loves to spend time in far off wildernesses. He was a camper and councilor at Camp Widjiwagan in Ely, Minnesota. There he has led many multi-week wilderness trips in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, Wind River Range, and Willmore Wilderness. 

Haley Michelle Brown

Marketing Manager

As the Marketing Manager, Haley Michelle works to build Catawba Riverkeeper’s sub-brands (Blue Heron Adventures, the River Room, the Boathouse) through digital content creation, print materials, and organizing special events. 

Haley Michelle graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications – Public Relations and minors in both journalism and psychology. 

Growing up, she participated in both competitive cheer and gymnastics. When Haley was not at practice she could be found outdoors or enjoying trips to the North Carolina Zoo with her family.  After college, Haley continues to live in Charlotte, NC. She enjoys dancing, swimming, paddleboarding, surfing and spending her weekends with family and friends.

Lauren Huffstetler

Volunteer and Citizen Science Coordinator

As the Volunteer Coordinator, Lauren aims to merge community and service to protect the most important natural resource we have— our water! Lauren coordinates stream cleanups, community science initiatives, and other volunteer projects that promote the health and sustainability of our river basin. Building lasting relationships with individuals in the community and connecting residents to take ownership of their natural resources is at the heart of every volunteer project. 

Born and raised in Gastonia, Lauren grew up exploring the Catawba River and fishing on Lake Wylie with her Grandfather. She knew early on that she loved wildlife and being outdoors and wanted a career that gave back to the community and the land. With a B.S. in Environmental Science from N.C. State University, she was an Environmental Educator for 3 years with Mecklenburg County and has worked in a variety of outdoor settings, including Montana’s Glacier National Park and the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, N.C.  

When she’s not on the water, Lauren enjoys shooting landscape and wildlife photography, hiking local nature trails, and playing with her 2 dogs.  

Hank Talmadge

Marketing Coordinator

Serving as the Marketing Coordinator, Hank works to showcase the main Catawba Riverkeeper brand through digital and print content while covering the seasonal functions of the organization throughout the year.

Hank graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double major in Strategic Communications and Psychology.

Born and raised in Charlotte, Hank has a deep love for the state of North Carolina and a lifelong passion for nature. Outside of Catawba Riverkeeper, he spends his time practicing yoga, trying new foods, and exploring the outdoors. 

Steph Newman

Confluence Coordinator

As the coordinator for Confluence in Cramerton, Steph is in charge of managing, coordinating, and marketing the multiple events and activities that will take place at Confluence including workshops, art shows, concerts, classes, and clubs. 

Having been a resident of Cramerton for the last decade, she has a deep love of the town and insight into the town’s identity, as well as a passion for seeing the growth of the town and for expanding its arts and recreation dynamic. With a background in everything from arts and music, event planning, space management, marketing, and customer service, Steph brings the wide base of knowledge that is needed to coordinate this new hub of creativity and activity in Cramerton.

Steph herself is a musician and artist who enjoys teaching others and bringing awareness to the mental health benefits of practicing creativity. She loves living along the South Fork of the Catawba River and knows first-hand the importance of the Catawba Riverkeeper’s mission to keep our waterways clean and protected.

Michael Lindsey

Major Gifts Director

As Major Gifts Director, Michael works closely with families, individuals, and foundations who are interested in financially supporting the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.

Michael has lived on Lake Norman for 30 years and is an avid paddler.  He became an environmentalist at the age of 12 when he helped organize his hometown’s first recycling event.  Fast forward a few years and Michael has now been a Catawba Riverkeeper volunteer and supporter for almost 20 years, including three terms on Catawba Riverkeeper’s Board.

After finishing a successful career in technology sales and marketing, Michael has joined the CRF team to lead the major gifts program.  Michael believes education will be critical to developing strong and sustained protection for the Catawba River and looks forward to adding his passion for education and the river to CRF’s development and growth as CRF heads towards its 25th anniversary in 2023.

Catawba Riverkeeper recognizes that the river belongs to and should be enjoyed by everyone equitably. We are committed to reflecting the community’s diversity by being an accessible resource inclusive to all regardless of race, sex, gender identity and expression, age, ethnicity, religion, disability status, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Catawba Riverkeeper strives for a community where everyone works in partnership to preserve and protect the waters of the Catawba-Wateree River Basin.