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Riverkeeper honors top volunteers
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Ann Hartzell, chairwoman of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper board, thanks members, sponsors and volunteers for their contributions. - photo by Photo by Julia Harrison

Heavy rain and lightning didn’t put a damper on the 2013 Ogeechee Riverkeeper awards gala Saturday at Fort McAllister Historic State Park.
Members, sponsors, volunteers and supporters enjoyed a wet, yet festive, evening complete with historical re-enactments, live music, a silent auction and wildlife demonstrations.
Ann Hartzell, chair of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper board, commended guests and awardees for their hard work and efforts to protect the river.
“Together we are going to fix this problem. I am not here to talk about the bad tonight, I am here to talk about the good, which is all of us in this room, all the people getting the awards, all the people who step up and volunteer, all the people who paddle down the river and love it and enjoy it, all the children who have not been born yet, for whom I hope we can offer them a beautiful Ogeechee again.”
The nonprofit organization recognized the efforts of its top supporters and volunteers with a series of awards.
Craig Barrow and David Acoff each took home the award for Volunteer of the Year. Love’s Seafood was named Business of the Year, and Jessica Leigh Lebos and Jim Morekis of Connect Savannah won the Media of the Year award. Event planner Scott West was named honorary lifetime member.
A trolley transported guests from the fort’s visitor center to the event location. Various tents were set up with information on the river, a silent auction and a wildlife exhibit from Georgia Southern University. The main tent featured gourmet foods from local restaurants, an open bar and musical entertainment by bluegrass band City Hotel and steel drum player Melvin Dean.
Civil War re-enactors kicked off the event by firing one of the fort’s cannons. Jessica Kiss from WJCL TV was among the supporters and emceed the gala.
For guests, the gala was an opportunity to learn more about the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and its efforts to protect a great natural resource.  
“We are here for water. All of us are here because we love the river,” said Hartzell. “This is why you are all here, to talk about our beautiful Ogeechee River and our rivers in Georgia. They are so important.”
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Emily Markesteyn explained how the organization works to protect the Ogeechee River.
“We accomplish our mission through education, legislation, policy improvement and water quality monitoring. We cannot take for granted our natural resources that we have. It takes all of us actively working and educating others about pollution and port development.”
All proceeds and donations collection from the awards gala will benefit the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.
 Hartzell expressed appreciation and gratitude to the sponsors, volunteers and supporters.
“With your help, we speak for the river. We advocate for it, we protect it, and, just like you, we love it.”
She said there are many ways to get involved with the Riverkeeper.
“Talk to your friends. You can tell them there is a small feisty grassroots organization fighting to keep this river alive,” she said. “You can consider having a get-together at your house. We call them friendraisers. It is kind of nerdy, but on the other hand you can get 10 people together, and then they get 10 people together, and they get 10 people together. What if all those 10 people gave 10 bucks? That would be awesome.”
To learn more about the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, visit their website at

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