Mike Shelton works as Coastal Training Program Coordinator at the beautiful Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve near Fairhope, Alabama. He has introduced thousands of folks, youth and adults, to the wonders of coastal Alabama, and in the process has instilled in them a great appreciation for our state’s precious and abundant biodiversity.
In his spare time, Mike has been serving as a Trainer-Extraordinaire with Alabama Water Watch. In the past 15 years, he as conducted 91 AWW workshops (Water Chemistry Monitoring workshops, Bacteriological Monitoring workshops, Stream Biomonitoring workshops, Water Monitor Recertification workshops, and AWW Train-the-Trainer workshops), certifying or recertifying 595 folks in the process – WOW!
Let’s get to know Mike a bit better:
1. Where do you call home?
I reside on the coast in Fairhope, and here for most of the past 28 years. Grew up in a Virginia mill town split in half by the Dan River. Crossed the river going to school or work almost every day. Had a creek running the length of my street and spent many hours in the ankle deep water. Saw the best and worst of an urban stream. Caught salamanders and crawfish but sometimes after a heavy rain, that same creek wanted to come in the house with us. It was a very friendly creek.
2. What stream, river, lake, bay, bayou is your favorite water-spot?
Well, I waxed nostalgic about the waters of my youth. As for right now, I have two favorites. The upper reaches of Fish River remain a little “wild” for a slow moving coastal river. There are no homes, bulkheads or boats. There are green trees, yellow golden clubs, fish and a variety of reptiles – some you do not want to pick up. Another favorite is the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Put in at Rice Creek near Stockton and go backwards in time. You can see big trees and the remnants of even bigger trees. Away from the main channels are shaded creeks and sloughs that offer my kind of paddling, slow, relaxing and away from the powerboats.
3. What water recreation/sports do you enjoy most?
See previous answer. I want more time to paddle and fish. When my two sons were younger, we would paddle in tandem kayaks. They spent most of the time arguing and splashing each other, but we had some great times. Paddling has to be my favorite activity that I want to do more often.
4. What got you interested in Alabama Water Watch?
After graduate school, I entered into the environmental work on the heels of the Exxon Valdez oil spill doing research on bacterial removal of crude and toxicity of what is left after the microbes munch on it. Following those efforts, I helped municipal and industrial clients more effectively treat their process waters and reduce potential toxicity. Coming to Weeks Bay Reserve and state government was a real change of direction but still kept me connected to the health of local waters. I spent time with motivated volunteers in Weeks Bay Water Watch and Wolf Bay Watershed Watch. Experiencing their commitment and enthusiasm, drew me into testing and becoming a certified trainer. Now, I like the challenge of getting and keeping volunteers involved.
5. What are your biggest challenges/issues in your favorite watershed?
The watersheds of Fish River and Weeks Bay are experiencing a lot of change as part of the fastest growing county in Alabama. Folks like to live on the coast. Who can blame them? The challenge to the health of all coastal watersheds is intense development. Since there exists a constant influx of new people, the education curve never flattens. Both professionally and personally, the successes I have in reaching out to citizens and decision-makers to address the challenges keeps me motivated.
6. Do you have some ‘lessons learned’ that you could pass on to the rest of us relative to watershed stewardship?
I really like (and try to live) the goals of AWW: educate, train and inspire. The rubber hits the road with the “inspire” part. I encourage all volunteers to get involved in the water issues facing their communities in our water-rich state. AWW inspires so many citizens already. My lessons-learned are keep it up and motivate others.