From Trout Unlimited:
A trailblazing champion streamer from New Jersey and a longtime local trout advocate from Arizona have been honored with the highest honor by Trout Unlimited.
Trout Unlimited presented Marsha Benevengo of New Jersey and Jim Walker of Arizona with the Ray Mortensen Award, the organization’s highest volunteer coldwater conservation honor, at the TU annual meeting July 20-24 in Portland, Maine.
Benevengo retired to fly fishing after 9/11, finding solace in the water. A resident of Manalapan, NJ, she has been a longtime volunteer for Casting for Recovery, an organization that helps breast cancer survivors experience the healing power of fly fishing. A former director of diversity for her chapter, Benevengo was elected president of the New Jersey Council in April 2020, becoming the first black woman to chair a state TU council.
“As the daughter of a social worker and police officer, giving back is definitely a part of her DNA,” said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood. “Of all the jobs of volunteer leaders at TU, it is definitely the most involved. It requires management of all chapters in the state, state-level advocacy, communications, youth and veteran engagement, diversity and inclusion work, and much more.
“Marsha took office at a time of need for her council. She has brought rigor, direction, vision and good humor to each of these activities.”
Benevengo brings her leadership beyond New Jersey, participating in TU’s national strategic planning process and for many years she has been contributing to the NLC’s Diversity and Inclusion task force.
“My role with TU and the work I’ve been involved in, along with some amazing women conservationists and fishermen, defeats the silly notion that women ‘can’t’ and people of color ‘can’t,'” she said. “We we are taking steps now and for future generations.”
Walker, of Scottsdale, Ariz., has been an active TU volunteer since 1989 and has held a number of senior national leadership positions since 2009. A member of the Board of Trustees since 2013, Walker has served as end as chairman of the National Leadership Council of TU since 2018.
“In 2010 Jim co-founded and has since co-chaired the Arizona Native and Wild Trout Conference,” Wood said. “He has made more than 30 visits to Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional offices and as many to meet with representatives in his home states to protect trout and cool, clean water .”
Walker, who was previously recognized as TU’s 2012 National Stream Champion, took the Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area from three schools to over 60, and personally oversees 47 tanks.
“As we know, though, Jim’s greatest strengths lie in making sure he doesn’t do anything completely on his own,” Wood said. “He perpetuates TU in his engagement with others.
“And he might just be one of the nicest people on earth.”
Walker said he was honored to receive the award.
“Like past recipients, I served whenever I could to help and encouraged others to do the same,” he said. “I am grateful for the recognition and when I see this award, I will remember the contributions of all volunteers at TU.”
Ray Mortensen was a founding member of the Chattooga River Chapter of TU in Clemson, SC He held numerous leadership positions with the chapter and the South Carolina State Council, including council chairman. As a member of the National TU Resources Board, he helped shape the National TU Conservation Agenda until his death in 1998.
The meeting in Portland attracted more than 300 participants, including Trout Unlimited volunteer leaders from 37 states and leaders of partner organizations.
Corporate sponsors included LL Bean, Costa, Yeti, The Nature Conservancy, Allagash Brewing Company, EA Engineering and Orvis.
Other award winners were:
Golden Trout: Mianus (Conn.)
Mianus Chapter has always been a strong chapter, but when the pandemic hit, it seized the opportunity instead of letting the challenges defeat it, and found that digital technology allowed member and supporter engagement to a whole new level. Last year alone, the chapter held 23 virtual events, attracting 718 attendees, and 39 in-person events, attracting 553 attendees.
Silver Trout: University of Georgia 5 Rivers Club
The 5 Rivers Club at UGA has been a staple in the TU college community for several years. This club represents the key values of the 5 Rivers program: education, conservation, community, engagement and leadership.
Council of the Year: Massachusetts
The Massachusetts council has a long history of silence on challenging conservation issues affecting the commonwealth’s trout and salmon habitat. Volunteers work continuously and diligently until they have achieved their goal, demonstrating unparalleled perseverance.
Outstanding Service – Leadership: Phil Dopson, Texas
Phil Dopson has been instrumental in the growth and success of the largest chapter in TU – Chapter 066 – Guadalupe River in Texas, now with over 6,000 members and many more supporters.
Outstanding Service – Conservation: Kim McDonald, Washington
Kim McDonald has been a fish advocate for over a decade and is an example of how one person’s passion and activism can inspire real change. In addition to working and volunteering with Trout Unlimited, she founded Fish Not Gold to address the threat that motorized suction dredge mining poses to Washington’s rivers and streams to preserve salmon and their habitat.
Youth Education Award: Linn Beck, Wisconsin
In 2014, Linn Beck was a driving force behind the creation of the Wisconsin TU Youth Fishing Camp, committing to building an inclusive camp experience. According to campers and camp staff, the Wisconsin camp has provided a very welcoming atmosphere since its first day of operation.
Conservation Professional Award: Paul Christman, Maine Department of Marine Resources
Paul Christman’s work for many decades has been grounded IN science, carefully managed, practical and creative. As a marine scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, he has played an important role in restoring endangered sea-run Atlantic salmon to the Kennebec River watershed, fulfilling the promise of removing Edwards Dam and significantly increasing the likelihood that Atlantic salmon will avoid extinction.
Jack Williams Award for Applied Conservation Science: Holly Bamford, Ph.D., NFWF Chief Conservation Officer
Dr. Holly Bamford is responsible for advancing the mission of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the creation and implementation of a comprehensive conservation vision, strategy, and a metrics-based evaluation system for NFWF’s grant programs. She plays an important role in creating and leading NFWF’s conservation strategy by setting cross-sectoral national and regional strategies, and leading the design, development and planning of conservation strategy fundraising, as well as guiding conservation policies and practices. of the Foundation.
Corporate Conservation Partner: LL Bean
For decades, LLBean has provided unwavering support to TU’s efforts, primarily through sponsoring youth programs and camps and contributing product to TU chapters to use in engaged local communities. Each year, LLBean distributes approximately $30,000 in rods, reels and/or bundles to TU chapters. Because of the company’s generosity, tens of thousands of LLBean rods have been used by TU chapter leaders to teach the next generation to fish, to help veterans and first responders find healing over time on the water or at casting clinics in the community.