It was a dream job that Jeff Holland didn't even realize was his dream: patrolling the water and advocating for the environment as the West/Rhode Riverkeeper.
Holland was still settling into his other new gig, running the Captain Avery Museum, a small facility in Shady Side, when he learned that the existing riverkeeper in that area was moving on. Holland was running an oyster roast for the museum this fall when he heard the rumor, and asked the chairman of the riverkeeper board — who was attending the fundraiser — if it was true.
"He said, 'Yeah, are you interested?' " Holland recalled. "I realized then, wow, wouldn't that be cool?"
After an official application and an interview process, Holland was named the new riverkeeper. He starts Jan. 1.
"It's a dream come true," said Holland, who has not only run the Captain Avery Museum, but also the Annapolis Maritime Museum.
The job of riverkeeper is a challenging one, mixing elements of education, outreach, science, advocacy, fundraising and administration. In addition to serving as the face of the riverkeeper organization, Holland will also be its executive director.
"I've always been passionate about the environment, and now I have a chance to do something about it," he said.
The nonprofit West/Rhode Riverkeeper organization is part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, which was founded in the early 1980s on the Hudson River in New York. The Waterkeeper Alliance, led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., now counts more than 200 waterkeeper organizations worldwide, including 19 focused on waterways in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Delmarva's coastal bays.
In Anne Arundel County, there are riverkeeper programs on the South, Severn, Patuxent and West/Rhode rivers. Local riverkeepers run education programs, monitor water quality, execute environmental restoration projects and frequently testify before the Anne Arundel County Council and state lawmakers on environmental issues.
As West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Holland follows in the footsteps of Chris Trumbauer, who recently moved to the Annapolis office of the Hatcher Group, a communications firm that counts many environmental groups among its clients.
"I hope to be continuing Chris' good work," Holland said.
Bob Gallagher, chairman of the board and the group's first riverkeeper, said Holland was the unanimous choice of the board.
"Chris was wonderful. I think Jeff is going to take it to the next level," Gallagher said.
Gallagher was a lawyer before becoming riverkeeper, while Trumbauer's background is in science. Holland brings skills in outreach and education.
"He's demonstrated a terrific ability to connect with a community and build an organization," Gallagher said.
Holland spent a dozen years with the Annapolis Maritime Museum, helping create it from scratch on the waterfront site of the former McNasby's oyster-packing plant in Eastport — including overcoming extensive damage from Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. The storm flooded the building and knocked a gaping hole in one wall.
Today, the Annapolis Maritime Museum is a regular stop for schoolchildren on environmental field trips, and it hosts several popular events that draw the surrounding Eastport community together.
Most recently, Holland has been working to build the Captain Avery House Museum, located in the 1800s home of a waterman in Shady Side. Though it is only a part-time job, he has been working to bolster education programs, create a series of fine-art exhibits and install new lighting for displays.
Holland will stay on with the museum through the end of December. He hopes the museum and the riverkeeper group can collaborate on educational and community projects. They're located less than two miles apart by land, even less than that by water.
"With my riverkeeper hat on, I'll go back to the museum and say, 'Let's keep it going,' " he said.
Though he's not officially riverkeeper yet, Holland is brimming with ideas for the organization: creating a water trail, improving public access to the water, adding educational programs for kids.
"It's a thrill. It's a dream come true," Holland said. "I can't wait to get started."
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