River Fan Takes Up Campaign; He's Stumping in Hopes of Winning $50,000 for the Altamaha Riverkeeper Group

Article excerpt

Byline: TERRY DICKSON

When people want votes, they hit the campaign trail.

Wendell Berryhill is on the campaign stream.

The Cochran man is in the running for the 2006 Budweiser Conservationist of the Year title, an award that will bring $50,000 to the winner's chosen conservation group. In Berryhill's case that would be the Altamaha Riverkeeper, an organization headed by Glynn County resident James Holland, a boyhood friend of Berryhill.

A retired carpenter, the 68-year-old Berryhill said about all he does now is hunt and fish in the Ocmulgee River and the creeks and swamps around Cochran. That's where Holland and Berryhill grew up. The Ocmulgee and the Oconee to the east flow together near Lumber City to form the Altamaha.

When the Riverkeeper was formed in 1999, Berryhill was its first member.

Asked if he was surprised that his old friend had joined, Holland said, "It stunned me."

In the past six years, Berryhill has done far more than hunt and fish. He collects water samples for Holland and reports contamination and sedimentation problems, Holland said.

Berryhill may minimize his work as "collecting a few water samples," but his efforts have helped bring to light contamination from the sewage treatment plant in his hometown and leaking sewers in Eastman, Holland said. Both have been corrected. Berryhill also has reported some sedimentation problems along the Altamaha's tributaries, Holland said.

Holland said there was nothing in Berryhill's past, aside from his love of the outdoors, to indicate he would take such an active role.

"He had lived a redneck life and he ain't changed all that much. He just decided it's time to start protecting instead of ignoring," Holland said.

The two old friends had that much in common. They had enjoyed the Altamaha and its tributaries, the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers, all their lives and, when they had time to look around, didn't like what was happening to them.

"Now he knows the damage runoff can do and what the loss of swamps mean," Holland said of Berryhill.

When Berryhill's 44-year-old son took a couple of weeks vacation recently, they spent a lot of it fishing as they always had. …