Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition merges with larger group MountainTrue
Murphy – After a quarter-century of environmental success in Cherokee and surrounding counties, the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition is becoming part of a larger operation.
The non-profit corporation MountainTrue out of Asheville merged with the watershed coalition starting July 1. According to a release, “Both organizations share a commitment to protecting our waters and forests. The merger is an important step toward building one organization that can effectively advance the interests of our mountain region through a combination of grassroots organizing, community-driven planning and strategic advocacy.”
The Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition will maintain its Murphy office, and Executive Director Callie Moore will become MountainTrue’s western regional director. There will be two people on the MountainTrue Board of Directors representing the coalition’s former membership.
The mission statements of the two organizations are similar. MountainTrue expressed a desire to have an “on-the-ground presence” in the far-west counties of North Carolina – Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain.
The merger, which has been discussed for the last nine months, started when Moore inquired about a MountainTrue job posting for a regional director.
“When Callie suggested working together in the western region, we immediately put our hiring process on hold in order to start exploring a merger,” co-director Bob Wagner said.
According to MountainTrue’s release, the coalition has built up a “local grassroots constituency of volunteers and supporters to improve water quality in the Hiwassee watershed in Georgia and North Carolina through water quality monitoring and education, controlling sediment pollution by restoring stream banks and stream-side native habitats, and reducing bacterial pollution from septic systems and agricultural operations.”
MountainTrue has a nearly identical set of programs through their Broad, French Broad, Green and Watauga Riverkeeper programs, the release says.
“It makes a lot more sense to join forces with an organization that already has an impressive list of accomplishments and a strong base of support than to build all that from scratch.” said Julie Mayfield, MountainTrue’s other co-director.
The Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition was formed in September 1995, starting from local residents’ concerns about a decline in fishing, particularly in Brasstown Creek, according to the coalition’s website. Brasstown Creek flows through four counties in North Carolina and Georgia, marking the need for an independent entity to help local governments make improvements to the streams.
The articles of incorporation included this text explaining the mission of the organization:
“This memorandum of agreement forms the basis for cooperation and coordination between the three soil and water conservation districts and the four county commissions which have responsibilities for areas within the Upper Hiawassee River Watershed. While the public powers granted to these SWCDs and county commissions are limited to within their own individual boundaries, the common interest to address overall water quality concerns for the entire basin calls for certain joint endeavors … Through this agreement, these local units of government unite efforts to improve water quality by forming the Upper Hiawassee Watershed Water Quality Coalition.”
In the last 25 years, the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition has brought more than $7 million in grant funds to the area. They have restored more than 14 miles of streams, dramatically improved the ecological health rating in Lake Chatuge and educated youth and adults through hands-on programs that have continued to build on this region’s environmental treasures.
As an additional benefit, students and other volunteers have removed more than 11 tons of trash in cleanups since 2011.
While the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition is financially stable, according to MountainTrue’s release, it’s a small operation with an annual budget of only around $140,000. This merger offered the group a chance to grow and branch out that it would not otherwise have.
“Many larger foundations and funders are hesitant to provide big grants if it means that they would make up a significant portion of an organization’s annual budget. With 37 years of experience and a $1.7 million budget, MountainTrue is a better fit for larger institutional funders,” the release says.
“Our organizations are stronger together,” said Jason Chambers, chairperson of the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition Board of Directors. “The merger means that HRWC’s longstanding mission of sustaining good water quality will continue, but with better resources for our programs, services and on-the-ground projects.”
MountainTrue officials stressed that being a larger group will not diminish the hands-on attention to detail in our area.
“The merger is an important step toward building one organization that can effectively advance the interests of the mountain region of western North Carolina and north Georgia.” Wagner said. “At MountainTrue, we know that the people of western North Carolina and the people of Towns and Union counties have a shared love of our forests, rivers and natural environment that crosses county, state and partisan lines.”
Moore said members and supporters of the coalition will have their interests served well by MountainTrue.
“There’s going to be a transition period where both organizations will maintain their websites, but the long-term goal is that HRWC’s volunteers and supporters will be just as proud to be members of MountainTrue,” Moore said.