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Rick Campbell hammers away at the decripit dam. Photo by Mark Cantrell, USFWS>

Cecil, Campbell, and the Southeast Region’s vision

A day after the Fit for the Future of Conservation training workshop wrapped up, Ricky Campbell, project leader for Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery, headed northeast from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to just outside Brookford, North Carolina, where he and a team of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees would begin to take down the Shuford Mills Dam.

This team was getting ready to put this new vision to work. During the four-hour drive to Brookford, Campbell couldn’t quit thinking about the discussions triggered by the training around the vision, aligning our work for the future, and setting ourselves up to execute the work needed to make the vision real.

“I was sitting on a big machine tearing up huge things and you have a lot of time to think,” he said. “For every stone we removed I thought about how we were getting one step closer to connecting populations of critters and opening aquatic corridors.”

Then Campbell had a conversation with Cecil, an elderly gentleman, who lives within walking distance of the dam. He visited Campbell and the team every morning and every afternoon. Cecil grew up on property within walking distance of the dam. He and his family had lived there longer than the dam had been there.

“He wanted to see it removed,” Campbell said, “not so much from a liability or safety standpoint, but from a standpoint of the health of the river. His life experience told him the same thing we as biologists knew.”

“Cecil understood the value of a healthy river and he talked about with unmistakable simplicity and connection.He talked about how he had hunted squirrels and rabbits up and down the river as a child and how he fished and swam in the river all of his life. He valued the river and the lands joining the river and he had a great appreciation for the clean water that would occur once the dam and upstream trash and sediment was removed. But Cecil’s appreciation went much deeper than that.

“The visits wouldn’t last long – maybe 15 or 20 minutes. During the last conversation he told me something that stuck with me: ‘As we could take care of the rivers and creeks, the fish and wildlife would always have a home too.’ ”

Cecil understood the impact of connecting lands and waters to sustain fish, wildlife and plants with great clarity.

“He also reminded me of the importance of investing in trusted partnerships big and small,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it’s just a 15-minute conversation over two or three days. Other times, it takes many conversations and lots of give and take. In both cases, the value is huge.”

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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