When Charlie Martin became involved earlier this year in a community protest against a proposed landfill site in his neighborhood, he never dreamed it would lead to something more.
The community group won the battle and the proposed Bulloch Bay development was denied, but Martin realized the real fight had only just begun. More — “much more” — needed to be done to protect natural resources, he said.
After meeting former Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markestyne through the protest, which came about after a landowning company proposed an industrial site that possibly would have housed a landfill or something similar, Martin learned a great deal about what the Ogeechee Riverkeeper does, and he began volunteering with the organization.
In fact, he dedicated so much time and effort that he was named the group’s Volunteer of the Year during the group’s annual meeting and awards ceremony recently, said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Membership and Communications Coordinator Jennifer West.
“He has been an invaluable volunteer this year,” she said.
Martin led efforts to organize advisory groups and orchestrated meetings with civic clubs including the Statesboro Kiwanis Club and Bulloch County Wildlife Club, speaking to members about ORK and ways to help its mission to keep rivers and streams safe, she said. He also logged more than 354 miles in a trip to photograph Ogeechee River landings for a project the ORK is doing, she said.
“He is also a sounding board for a brochure about farming techniques that help keep rivers and streams clean,” West said. “Any time we have needed him, he has always said yes.”
Martin said he saw a need and wanted to do what he could to help fill it. However, he admitted that he is just one “ordinary man” and hopes others will come forward to help, too.
Helping fight to preserve the natural beauty of the Bulloch Bay area opened Martin’s eyes to how natural resources are threatened. Being a seventh-generation farmer whose family owns Martin Turf Farms (formerly Old Happy Turf Farm), he wanted to do something to keep the land safe.
“After that battle, I realized a lot of money and a lot of people are dedicated to development and progress,” he said. “That is great, we need that, but there are far less money and people dedicated to preserving natural resources.”
Seeing how the community pulled together over the development proposal inspired him, he said.
“This was an incident in one little South Georgia county, but look what happened,” he said. “There is so much to be done (with preserving natural resources and protecting the Ogeechee River basin) and so few doing it. I asked if I could help.”
His energy and passion have been a boon to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper group, which is currently seeking a new riverkeeper to replace Markestyne, West said.
Martin said he hopes to help spread the word about what the organization does and encourage others to volunteer.
“I’m not some tree-hugging liberal hippie, but we need to look after our natural resources,” he said. “The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization is not just some watchdog group. Whatever they need, I am here to help.”
During the ORK annual meeting, held on the Ogeechee River at Love’s Seafood, “attendees received an update on the progress and development of the river basin and the organization,” West said.
In addition to Martin, others honored included Mark Dallas as Monitor of the Year, Moon River Brewing Company as Business of the Year, and Cami Sockow of the Georgia Southern University Sustainability Center as Education Partner of the Year.
“The organization was also honored to name Francis Allen and Keith Seibert as this year’s Legacy Award winners,” West said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.