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Board of Directors

Duties and Responsibilities

American Whitewater is governed by a 12 member Board of Directors. Directors are elected by the general membership and serve three year terms.

American Whitewater’s Directors are the trustees of organization and act as fiduciaries for the members we serve. The Directors are responsible for all policy outcomes of the organization including:

  • Strategic direction and initiatives
  • Organizational governance
  • Monitoring operational performance including the fiscal health of the organization and mission fulfillment
  • Performance review and salary administration for the Executive Director
  • Working with the Executive Director to make sure the organization has the necessary resources to fulfill its mission.

American Whitewater’s Bylaws and Constitution empowers the organization’s Board of Directors to provide this governance and leadership:


Serving as an American Whitewater Director is an exceptional opportunity to help foster the continued growth and development of a highly respected nonprofit organization. While serving as a Board Director requires both commitment and energy, it is a rewarding and fulfilling opportunity and a great way to give something back to the paddling and environmental community.

If you have an interest in serving on American Whitewater’s Board of Directors you can download the current nomination packet. This will describe the roles and responsibilities of an American Whitewater Director as well as the nomination and election process.

Board Directors and Officers

The Board of Directors elects American Whitewater’s Officers including President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and two “at large” executive committee members. Officers are current Directors.

Position Name Current Term First Year Elected
President Chris Bell 2014 – 2016 2005
Vice President Courtney Wilton 2013 – 2015 2011
Treasurer Trey Coleman 2014 – 2016 2014
Secretary Susan Hollingsworth Elliott 2013 – 2015 2013
At – Large Brian Jacobson 2013 – 2015 2013
At – Large Christopher Hest 2014 - 2016 2011
Director Kent Ford 2015 - 2017 2011
Director Chris Neuenschwander 2015 – 2017 2015
Director Melissa Pennscott 2015 – 2017 2015
Director Ed Clark 2013 – 2015 2013
Director Brent Austin 2014 – 2016 2014
Director Megi Morishita 2015 - 2017 2013
Director Charlie Walbridge Honorary 1992

Chris Bell

In 1969 Chris participated in a YMCA rafting trip on Oregon's Rogue River and has been a paddler ever since. Though the early years were dominated by army surplus rafts and inner tubes, today he's more likely to be creeking in a canoe or kayak, squirt boating, or rowing a raft on a multi-day river trip with his two daughters. Chris began his significant contributions to AW in 2000 with his work on the Cheoah dam relicensing project where by happy not-quite-coincidence he was fortunate to combine his love of paddling with his professional skills as an economist. In October 2002 Rod Baird and Chris shared honors as AW Volunteers of the Month in recognition of their Cheoah work. Chris joined the AW board in 2005, served as AW's Treasurer from 2006-2011, as Vice-President from 2011-2013, and currently serves as the board President. Chris' non-AW volunteer activities include originating and coordinating the Western Carolina Rescue Rodeo (1992-1997), serving on the Pigeon River Fund board (1997-2004), serving as President, Newsletter Editor and Webmaster of the Western Carolina Paddlers (1990-1998, 2004-), coordinating registration and maintaining the results records for the Green River Race http://boatingbeta.com/races (2006-), and creating and maintaining the http://boatingbeta.com/ regional website (2000-).

Courtney Wilton

I started kayaking at an older age and fit the definition of “average recreational kayaker” pretty closely. While impressed with the skill and courage of those who boat Class 5 water, I mostly stick to class 3 runs. I envy those who paddle 100+ days a year and try to boat every weekend, but don’t always due to work and family responsibilities. I’m amazed at those who can surf well, but still struggle with the feeling of being upside down / underwater - and don’t always hit my roll. In short, I’m a pretty average boater. Despite my mediocrity I’m also pretty passionate about kayaking. For one, I’m continually amazed at the jaw-dropping beauty of the sport. Last weekend while kayaking the upper Klickitat in Washington our group rounded a corner and came upon an elk standing in the middle of the river. What an amazing sight! Who else has the opportunity to see such things! Two, I love the excitement and still get pleasure out of playing back various runs – such as escaping disaster on Grand Canyon’s Lava Falls. What a rush! Three, I’m continually impressed with the people who are drawn to the sport. Kayaking isn’t easy. It requires perseverance, humility, decisiveness and a certain level of intrepidness. I’m inspired not so much by the feats of kayak superstars, but what I see as the wonderful attitudes / combination of skills shared by so many “average Joe’s and Janes” who embrace the sport. I think AW captures these values as well. With a limited staff and tight budget they continually do great things to preserve our rivers and our heritage. I’m happy to contribute to them in any way I can.

Trey Coleman

When I first began whitewater kayaking in the late nineties what really struck me was how critical the issue of access was to our sport. Our put-ins and take-outs are often controlled by a mix of federal and state agencies or private industry. The first couple rivers I paddled I was amazed there wasnʼt a fee to put on or paperwork involved with being able to have so much fun and wondered who kept all of this going. I joined AW shortly thereafter as it was clear someone had to be vigilant in keeping access to existing rivers and opening up access for new rivers. Simply, the issue of access will always be a vital issue for our sport and as boaters AW is our voice. Another issue that impacts our sport is that of water quality. In the southeast, where I live, this is a constant issue due to constant development and terrain. Thankfully there are many great organizations working hard on this issue and AW has forged some great partnerships. While serving as President of Chota Canoe Club in Knoxville, TN, our club got a grant from AW through Cliff Bars for raising water quality on Crooked Fork Creek. These are two issues that would be my focus while serving as an AW board member. What I offer personally is almost 25 years of experience in the field of banking/finance and a comparable amount of experience as a non profit board member. I am the current Board President for the Joy of Music School, which offers free musical instruction and instruments for at-risk youth. I also serve on a number of other boards in Knoxville and have always been active with non profits in the communities where I have lived. My undergraduate degree is in finance from Georgia Southern University and I have a masters degree from the University of Tennessee in city planning. While at UT, my thesis was on best practices for managing storm water runoff into streams. I also worked as a graduate assistant studying zoning and water quality issues in the counties surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When Iʼm not boating, I really enjoy mountain biking and fly fishing. For me, paddling has made a huge impact on my life and I feel the need to always be giving back. It has taken me around the world and United States, allowed me to meet some awesome people (including my wife Christy, who is also a boater) and let me see some great scenery from the seat of a boat.

Susan Hollingsworth

Kayaking and rafting form the bridge between me and the world.  It began during my first year as a raft guide on Pennsylvania's Lehigh River when I learned that a vast network of boaters spanned the continent.  I soon ventured into other communities, traveling to experience new rivers in parts of the world I never thought I would visit.  Every time, the boating community made me feel at home. The thrill of kayaking and my love for our rivers evolved into my vehicle for developing other skills.  I learned how to guide and teach as a whitewater instructor, I began writing for whitewater publications and blogs to better communicate ideas and issues within the boating community, and I taught high school science and history for the World Class Kayak Academy. Most recently my relationship with rivers has turned toward conservation and stewardship.  I took interest in the removal of Condit Dam immediately upon moving to the Columbia River Gorge, and quickly began representing the boating community at local stakeholder meetings and events.  Through this experience I've begun working with Riverkeeper Alliance partners on water quality monitoring, writing more on conservation issues and looking toward a Masters degree in natural resource management. It all began with the obsession to kayak as much as I possibly could and take in everything the river had to teach me.  With each new river community I visited across the country, I grew more passionate about paddling new whitewater and connecting with the people who valued the river as much as I did. 

Brian Jacobson

My paddling career began at 15 as a result of an ill-fated trip in a Styrofoam sailboat, an unknown river, and a blown out dam. I was instantly hooked. I went to an outfitter and bought a boat, never having sat in a kayak before. Boating quickly became a key part of my life both from the river experience and the fellowship that developed with my paddling friends. I joined AW in 1976 mainly to get the Journal to read about exciting rivers around the country and the world. Over time my perspective expanded to appreciate the stewardship work by AW to protect river access and improve river management. After a well spent youth as a raft guide and photographer on the Ocoee, Chattooga, and Gauley, I eventually completed college and began a career as an environmental engineer. My work is generally cleaning up soil, groundwater, and preventing surface water impacts from the industrial practices of the 60s and 70s. My perspective is always guided by would I float the receiving stream after the work is complete. Success often involves complex decisions involving the client, the regulator, project cost, and practical considerations. This work experience translates well to the challenges AW faces with stewardship projects. I became involved with AW as a volunteer in the 1990s on the Chattooga effort as AW started petitioning for access and study. My involvement grew with time and by 2005 I was immersed in the project and came to fully appreciate the AW volunteer/professional model. The progress that has been made on the Chattooga helped me appreciate the successes AW is having on similar projects across the country. Within two hours of my house I can, or shortly will, be able to paddle the Cheoah, Tallulah, Upper Nantahala, and Tuckasegee as a result of AW’s work. Stewardship involves more than changing the operation of a dam or regulations of an agency. It involves changing local opinions, often on a person by person basis, and keeping the local paddling community involved in the process. I hope my service on the board will help AW to continue to achieve the successes we are currently seeing on our rivers.

Christopher Hest

Christopher Hest has nearly 30 years of leadership in the nonprofit sector. He is Chief Executive Officer of Friends Without A Border/Angkor Hospital for Children, where he leads the 501(C)(3) organization that supports Cambodia’s internationally recognized teaching pediatric hospital, community programs, and satellite clinics. Chris previously directed the resource and partnership development activities of Living Goods, a social business using micro-franchising to reinvent the sustainable delivery of pro-poor goods in Africa. Prior posts include Chief Philanthropy Officer of the William J. Clinton Foundation and Vice President for External Affairs at Freedom from Hunger. Between 1996 and 2005 he led philanthropy activities at The Nature Conservancy California and San Francisco Symphony and was Deputy Director of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. As a direct result of his domestic and international travel in search of whitewater kayaking adventures, since 2002 Chris has served institutions with a social justice mission—preserving natural resources, delivering healthcare in the developing world, and providing opportunity and empowerment for poor women and their families through access to microfinance, education, and health protection. In 2001 he co-established a whitewater kayaking and rafting business with a local paddler in the Indian Himalaya, thereby providing self-sufficiency to one family and seasonal employment for local villagers. Chris ranks the success of that undertaking among his biggest accomplishments. Rivers are fundamental to Chris’s life. He has kayaked on six continents, supports a variety of river protection and conservation organizations, and earned his whitewater kayaking instructor certification from Mary and Phil DeRiemer in May 2006. While career and family do their best to minimize his time on the water, Chris’s commitment to young people in developing countries seeking whitewater careers gives him substantial vicarious reward. For many years Chris was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Healing Waters, an outdoor adventure social services agency. He earned a degree in Political Science and Canadian Studies from Duke University.

Melissa Pennscott

I first joined AW to support their efforts of providing conservation and access to the rivers that I have learned to love and all of the many others I have yet to experience. I hope that many generations after me will have the same opportunities to enjoy them and without AW this wouldn’t be possible. Being an AW Board Member is my way of giving back to this dedicated organization and fellow whitewater enthusiasts. As a board member I would focus on membership growth through membership engagement, outreach, and communication. I will bring with me prior experiences from my educational background, career, and service on boards and committees. I have a BS in Marketing, an MBA and prior outdoor industry experience as the Marketing Manager of Recreation Programs at Nantahala Outdoor Center. I am currently the Marketing Director at Johnson Price Sprinkle, a CPA firm in Asheville, NC. I also have experience serving on numerous boards and committees providing guidance and support focused on membership development, communications and PR, and fundraising.

Ed Clark

Picture of Ed Clark My passion for whitewater hit late but hard in 1997, since then I’ve been fortunate enough to make many friends on the river and spend time in some of the most amazing places on the planet because of paddling. I originally joined AW to get a discount on my first boat but since then I’ve been consistently impressed by their efforts and accomplishments in river preservation. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen some fabulous places either threatened or destroyed by development or misguided “river restoration” work. Locally in Vermont I got involved trying to keep the bulldozers from channelizing everything in sight after Hurricane Irene last year and also worked with AW to add a Northeast stewardship position in memory of my friend Boyce Greer. As a mostly retired Family Practice doc with grown children and lots of energy I look forward to trying to do my part as a board member to help AW succeed in their mission.

Kent Ford

My wife thinks 17 boats is too many to keep around the house. So I have narrowed the fleet down to 15, simply by purging those without annual use and yet keeping the ones she enjoys. The wooden dory and the Stand-up board are currently my favorite craft. From any boat, I feel lucky to enjoy the incredible diversity of rivers around the world (330 in 27 countries at last back of the napkin count). Our sport has an incredible history that I have enjoyed documenting in my recent film, “The Call of the River”. From that project, I learned to appreciate the timeless work that has been done to preserve opportunities for future paddlers to enjoy the river. In DC, paddlers took then Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall exploring the Potomac. In Georgia, they took President Carter on the river. Walt Blackadar helped advocate for Salmon Wilderness. The level of AW members involvement in important access and flow issues around the country is truly outstanding. AW staff is highly regarded as pre-eminent experts in establishing recreational opportunities, and carefully advocating for those with other environmental and flow constituents. With more support, we can accomplish more to protect and enhance the outstanding rivers we enjoy. I look forward to doing my part.

Megi Morishita

Megi Morishita lives in Newport, Oregon where she spends her time off the river as an Obstetrician/Gynecologist at her hospital.  When not working, she can be found enjoying anything from a class I to the occasional class V river.  Twelve years ago, she made a promise to an AW volunteer, “If I swim today, I owe you a trip to Ecuador.”  That promise was fulfilled this year.  Her other promise when she joined AW twelve years ago was that she would do whatever she can to support their mission. So it is time to up the ante as she hopes to contribute more to AW's successes in protecting rivers. She believes in our Executive Director's words:  ”Paddlers understand that you cannot love what you don't know. It's our love of whitewater that makes us fierce defenders of rivers and their flows.”  She would like to help AW continue to grow and connect with like-minded partner nonprofits, industry, and the membership and fellow paddlers toward this end.  She brings with her experience as Chief of Staff of the medical staff at her hospital as well as involvement in various nonprofit organizations including Doctors for Global Health and Centro de Ayuda.  She was Volunteer of the Month in 2007 when she worked with our Board to help organize a combined fundraiser/dinner meeting in Portland as well as to make sure the Board had an opportunity to visit some rivers in the Pacific Northwest that AW has been involved with including the White Salmon and Sandy Rivers. Since learning to kayak, she has moved from Madison to Baltimore to Tucson to Eugene, and has met many kayaking friends along the way.  She has also kayaked in Canada, Japan, Chile, China, New Zealand, Greece, and Ecuador.  Having discussed river conservation issues with those around the world makes her that much more motivated to support the efforts of the AW staff and volunteers to accomplish so much, especially in the area of river conservation.  Favorite kayaking moments include the awe of paddling down a rapid as salmon swim upstream, watching elk run across a river, and seeing river otter poke their heads up with curiosity. The strong friendships developed in a sport in which one trusts  another with his/her own life is priceless, and she hopes to help AW protect these river experiences for future generations. 

Brent Austin

Brent Austin is an attorney, a longtime paddler from Central Kentucky, former President of the Bluegrass Wildwater Association and has been involved for decades raising money for AW River stewardship goals, particularly related to the Russell Fork River. An active paddler on the Gauley, Russell Fork, the rivers around the Smoky Mountains and all the Southeast, Mr. Austin has a unique perspective grounded in being an active member of the paddling community. Mr. Austin currently serves on the John Flannagan Dam Whitewater Advisory Board and has been an instrumental voice and force for the Russell Fork River since the mid 90s. A founder and organizer of the Russell Fork River Rendezvous, Mr. Austin also organized and raced in the predecessor event to what is now known as the Lord of the Fork Race. He also raced in the Gore Canyon Race in the mid-90s. Today, Mr. Austin practices law in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky and frequently paddles around the Smoky Mountains where he and his family have a second home.

Chris Neuenschwander

I guess I have always been a little different and that fact is still obviously true. Generally accounting and whitewater kayaking exist in different worlds, but for me, both are my passion. I began kayaking over seven years ago when a friend invited me on a whim. I call the Coosa River in Wetumpka, Alabama my home river. However, spending time on Alabama’s natural flow whitewater offerings is a thrill I look forward to every year; like a child anticipates Christmas day or a football fan waits for the season’s kickoff. While class IV boating is my skill level, I do enjoy a good tube, raft, or sit-on-top kayak experience. I serve as a member of the Coosa River Paddling Club, and two Montgomery, Alabama based charities as Treasurer. My professional experience includes serving not-for-profit charities, membership organizations, and incorporated governmental municipalities/agencies as a CPA in public practice. I have been blessed to be the recipient of some of AW’s conservation and stewardship efforts. I believe it is my calling to give back to AW what I can, to ensure that whitewater experiences are preserved for generations to come. I want to ensure that the gift given to me by a friend on a whim, will be a gift I can give to others, ten-fold.

Charlie Walbridge

Charlie Walbridge started canoeing at summer camp in the early 60's and started paddling whitewater seriously in college. He was an active C-1 slalom and wildwater racer and worked as part-time as a river guide in the 70's. He has paddled rivers throughout the US and Canada, including several first descents, but he now spends most of his time in West Virginia. He ran a mail order company, Wildwater Designs, for 22 years. There he developed the HiFloat life vest and adapted the throw-line rescue bag for whitewater use. He's been the Safety Chair for both the American Canoe Association (ACA) and American Whitewater (AW) and is well known for articles in American Whitewater that reporting on U.S. whitewater fatalities. He helped develop the ACA programs in both canoeing and swiftwater rescue, and continues to serve as an instructor-trainer. He's written many magazine articles and produced or contributed to numerous books, including The Boat Builder's Manual, Wildwater West Virginia, Appalachian Wildwater Volumes I and II, The Whitewater Rescue Manual, Knots for Paddlers, and several editions of the River Safety Report. He is on the board of Friends of the Cheat River, a watershed group, and Camp Mowglis, where he first learned to paddle. He currently works an independent sales rep and does consultations on canoeing safety for outfitters, organizations and attorneys. Charlie lives with his wife Sandy in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia and is active in Cheat and Upper Yough river issues. His web site is www.charliewalbridge.com.