Board of Directors

Our board is comprised of a group of dedicated volunteers whose interests and passions range across wide arcs.

I joined the LJEA board because I appreciate how much work has been done by the LJEA and others to keep Lake James clean. When guests visit Lake James, they immediately comment on the beautiful water.  I hope to bring my experience in organizational, operational and strategic planning to the board. One of my personal goals is to help lake owners realize what a treasure we have, and involve them financially, and personally, in preserving our clean lake for decades to come. 

Chip Whitfield

A scientist by training, I moved to Lake James from NY State following my retirement as a pharmaceutical facilities & real estate executive. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing in the Lake, and as we all know, the hiking in this area is amazing.

Lake James and the beauty surrounding us are truly a treasure—a treasure that needs protection and care. This will require input and involvement from property owners, the community-at-large, regulatory agencies & government, and businesses & utilities within the watershed. I hope to bring my leadership and strategic experience to LJEA to assist with government and public/private advocacy and LJEA strategy development.

Joanne Deyo

“I grew up on Lake James and learned a great deal about what it means to protect the lake from my father Dr. William L. Bell, who was one of the founding members of the Lake James Environmental Association. I have moved back to the area after a 27 year career in Technology and Finance, retiring from Verizon in 2016. Our family enjoys the lake, hiking, biking and horseback riding the surrounding areas and we want to preserve the natural beauty of the area as much as possible for future generations to enjoy. I served as President of the Lake James Environmental Association from 2018 through 2022 and served on the Board of Directors of the McDowell Trails Association and the McDowell Economic Development Association as well.”

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Marshall is a water resources engineer with over 45 years experience who doesn't know how to retire. He moved to Burke County in 2009 but has family history in the region that reaches back to pre-Revolutionary war.   His interest in LJEA stems from its support of the Kids-in-the-Creek program that integrates science, an appreciation of environmental stewardship, and hands-on learning.  Marshall currently serves as chair of the Citizen Science Committee. 

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"I was first made aware of LJEA through its Kids in the Creek program. From there I discovered LJEA’s many environmental community programs and joined. Later, I  was voted onto the board where I am currently Secretary. I very much enjoy working with Kids in the Creek and Riverfest."

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Bob Brendle has been a resident at Lake James for over 20 years with lake history for 40 years. He has always loved the lake, working around it and spending time on it.  He hopes to help LJEA work to protect it.

Bob has served as a member of the McDowell County Planning Board for a number of years and will try to apply his efforts there to make sure the quality of the lake is not harmed.

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Mike is a North Carolina native. He has more than 45 years of military experience in many capacities for the USAF, including 27 years active duty and 24 years at the 14th Weather Squadron in Asheville, NC—part of a team of national scientists archiving and managing the world’s largest collection of weather and environmental data. “I've been on the lake since 2003 and want everyone to have the same enjoyment it has brought me and my family.”

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"I see my role with LJEA as assisting educators and our board members with educating others about the goals of our organization of protecting and preserving our waterways and environment. To help accomplish this, I help recruit volunteers, acquire needed equipment, and help organize Kids in the Creek type activities for educators in McDowell and Burke Counties. I help LJEA organize and staff our booth at public events like McDowell STEAM Expo and the Catawba Riverfest. I captain a boat with student and adult volunteers during the annual lake cleanup."

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I grew up in Wisconsin and spent most of my childhood outside playing in forests and creeks. Consequently, I knew I wanted to be a biologist for as long as I can remember. After receiving my undergraduate degree in Biology, I chose to specialize in water pollution ecology at the University of Washington where I received my Masters and Ph.D. Today, I actually consider myself a generalist. I have been in the Biology and Environmental Studies departments at WWC for the past 27 years teaching courses such as Ecology, Aquatic Ecology, Field Natural History, Introduction to Environmental Studies, Mycology (Fungi), and a field-based natural history course in Alaska. Outside of academics, I am the leader of the Warren Wilson Archery Club. I love all things wild and have a strong interest in obtaining my own food from gardening, fishing, hunting, and collecting wild mushrooms and berries.

Mark Brenner

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 & 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.


Brittany Watkins is a passionate environmentalist dedicated to connecting people of all ages and abilities with nature. Growing up in Caldwell County she spent most of her time reading about outdoor adventures or creating her own. In 2015 she joined the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) as a trail crew member and helped to restore the Upper Thunderhole trail in Blowing Rock, NC. Two years later, in 2017, she earned her bachelors in Literature with a minor in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina in Asheville. After a year working for a native landscaping company in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Watkins returned to the Appalachian mountains. In 2018 she served as an Americorps member at Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, where she now holds a full-time position as Volunteer & Engagement Coordinator. Watkins is Streambank Repair certified by NC-State University, Wilderness First Aid certified, and currently working towards her North Carolina Environmental Educators certification as well as a Blue Ridge Naturalist certification.

Brittany Watkins

I am a native of Morganton NC. I am a current student at FHS and a future student of NCSSM. For a long time I have always cared for the environment. As a member of the next generation it has always been important to me to take care of the environment. I want my children and my grandchildren to enjoy the beautiful lakes, mountains, and trees of western North Carolina. As climate change rages on it has always been my top priority to take care of the environment in whatever way I can and I hope to be able to do even greater good at LJEA. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity!

Christopher Pedro

My name is Elise Pritchard and I am super excited to work with LJEA. I am currently a junior at McDowell High school, with aspirations to major in biology. I love all things earth science especially water quality. I can’t wait to do amazing things with LJEA!


"After retiring here, I joined LJEA in 2003 to help preserve the cleanliness and beauty of Lake James – the organization’s mission since 1973.  Subsequently, I’ve participated in the long-standing water sampling program, annual lake cleanups, fighting an interbasin transfer (IBT) to keep water from leaving our Catawba River basin (possibly causing lower lake levels in drought), relicensing of Duke Energy, drought rule development, environmentally responsible rezoning of Crescent lake property and relocating a proposed shooting range. I was president of Lake James Environmental Association from 2009 through 2016 and have been fortunate to work with many professional, dedicated volunteers.  Newer programs and projects include: 1) supporting science education in McDowell and Burke county schools to help prepare next generation water stewards, 2) PCB testing of fish tissue from Lake James, and 3) seeking silt sources and mapping silt movement as it fills in the lake. This may be the most important program for the lake’s preservation."

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Judith M. Francis, AICP, has been involved in land management activities in Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina as a landscape designer, planning director, and project manager. She currently serves as the Western Programs Coordinator for the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Office of Land & Water Stewardship. In that capacity, she leads statewide conservation planning efforts, assists local governments and private sector partners in achieving their conservation objectives through ecological and economic analysis, establishes new partnerships, and identifies funding opportunities.

Nora Coffey is the Superintendent of Lake James State Park. She acts as an interface between LJEA and the Park, helping coordinate collaborative activities such as RiverFest, Lake Cleanups, and educational outreach activities like Kids in the Creek.

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Sophie McCarthy joined LJEA as a Director on the Board when she moved to Morganton in 2015, and was hired as LJEA's Executive Director in the beginning of 2020. In 2024, she took a position with Catawba Riverkeeper, but still collaborates extensively with LJEA and serves as an ex officio Director on the board. Sophie has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from UNC-Asheville. Her interest and focus on water quality and protecting our waterways was honed while working in the Chesapeake Bay region, but she has always been passionate about protecting the environment and loves hiking, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors.

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