WHO WE ARE
Finding Inspiration in Our Watershed
Assateague Coastal Trust’s mission is to promote and encourage the protection of the health, productivity, and sustainability of the coastal bays watershed of Delmarva through advocacy, education, and conservation.
HOW IT BEGAN
Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) was first established as The Committee to Preserve Assateague Island. The catalyst for the creation of this all-volunteer, grassroots group was the introduction of legislation that established Assateague Island National Seashore, including a provision that would have allowed a significant portion of the island to be developed as a resort, destroying the unspoiled beauty of the island.
As the founding chairperson of the Committee, Judith Johnson began her campaign with little direct experience in politics or science. In fact, her most recent position had been managing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra where she was the first woman in the country to serve in such a role.
Johnson began her activism at the behest of her young son, Reid, after they took a trip to Assateague together in the 1960s. He remembers her reaction on learning of plans to “improve” the pristine barrier island with a thirty-mile highway, a 14,000-car parking lot, motels, and fast-food restaurants. “This is horrible. This is wrong,” he recalls his mother declaring. “Someone has to stop this.” She did. The Committee fought to eliminate that provision, and the island’s pristine landscape today is a testament to its success and the crucible for ACT’s ongoing commitment to protecting our coastal environment.
Together with Mrs. Johnson, Ilia Fehrer was also a leading figure on the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island. Her tireless efforts, including testimony before Congress, were instrumental in the successful campaign to save the Island. Her legacy includes Assateague Island’s state and national parks, the designation of the Pocomoke as a "wild and scenic river," the Nassawango Creek Preserve, and the Worcester County rural legacy area. She battled offshore waste incineration, the building of an industrial park near Ocean City, and the needless destruction of acres of wetlands and forests. Every New Year's Day, Mrs. Fehrer led a nature walk on Assateague Island, a tradition that ACT honors to this day with our annual Ilia Fehrer & Judith Johnson Memorial Beach Walk.
While our name has changed, Assateague Coastal Trust has stayed true to our founders’ legacy of fighting to protect our coastal landscape and waterscape. Over time, our vision has expanded and our membership has grown. Now we work to protect not only Assateague Island but the entire Atlantic Coastal Bays watershed and the surrounding Lower Shore region.
In 2002, ACT strengthened its capacity to watch over the Coastal Bays watershed of Maryland and Virginia’s Eastern Shore by joining the Waterkeeper Alliance and launching the Assateague Coastkeeper program. The Coastkeeper patrols this geographic area as well as adjacent watersheds on the Lower Eastern Shore not protected by a Waterkeeper program. Now in its 15th year, Coastkeeper is our on-the-water monitor, on-the-ground educator, and in-the-trenches advocate for clean water and healthy communities.
In 2003, ACT enhanced the education component of our mission with the creation of our Coast Kids program to provide environmental education and interactive nature experiences for area youth and their families. Offering monthly membership events and excursions around the region, a “Little Scientists” series for schools and community-based organizations, and most recently a “Nature Explorers” summer camp, Coast Kids allows ACT to educate and engage our next generation of environmental stewards.
In 2009, ACT launched the Grow Berlin Green program to support and facilitate environmentally sustainable policies and practices in our home town of Berlin, Maryland. Working in partnership with the town government, businesses, schools, and citizens, Grow Berlin Green-led projects in the community were instrumental in Berlin being the first municipality in the state of Maryland to be certified as a sustainable community by the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center.
In recent years, ACT has continued to introduce new programs and campaigns responding to emerging challenges and opportunities in our coastal region.
In 2010, the Coastkeeper launched the Swim Guide water quality monitoring program to measure bacteria levels in some of the most heavily recreated areas of the Coastal Bays and report to the public on where and when it was safe to go in the water during the busy summer season.
In 2015-2016, ACT led the local campaign of the successful effort to thwart the federal government’s proposal to open the Atlantic coastal waters to offshore oil exploration and drilling.
Finally, since 2015, ACT has been the driving force in the ongoing campaign to oppose and mitigate the environmental and public health impacts of a dramatic expansion of industrial-scale poultry operations on the Lower Eastern Shore.
We’ve come a long way from our founders’ landmark victory to protect Assateague Island and we’re still going strong!
Board of Directors
Eric Vinson - President & Treasurer
Eric joined the ACT Board in June 2019. A CPA, he is the owner of Vinson and Company, CPA in Berlin, MD and is passionate about the coastal watershed, enjoying sailing, diving and fishing. He brings many years of non-profit financial management expertise to the Board.
Wyatt Harrison - Vice President
Wyatt Harrison resides in Ocean City, MD, and is the owner of Plak That, a local sign & printing business. He graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Urban Sustainability. After graduation, Wyatt lived in Australia for two years working various jobs before moving back to the Eastern Shore. He started Plak That in 2012 and after serving for two years as President of the Ocean City Surf Club (a local 501C3), he joined the board of ACT in December 2019. Wyatt has grown up in and around the water, traveling and competing internationally in surfing, and still finds time to sneak in surfing between jobs. Wyatt is passionate about the intersection of business and environmental causes and contributes a good deal of his business philosophy and environmental knowledge from the teachings of Yvon Chouinard and the 1% For the Planet organization.
Fred Stiehl - Secretary
Fred lives in Ocean Pines, Berlin, MD, and is an Environmental Attorney, retired from the EPA. He currently serves on the Worcester County Water and Wastewater Advisory Board, is a member of the Ocean Pines Association Marine Advisory Committee and is a member of the Ocean City Power Squadron, having served as a past Commander. Fred is an avid recreational boater and fisherman, enjoying the bounty of the coastal watershed.
Monica Brooks - Board Member
California native, Monica Richardson Brooks is an environmental and social activist who organizes against the expansion of mega-poultry complexes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She’s the co-founder of Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, which stopped the siting of what would have been the largest-ever poultry complex in Maryland. Monica has been appointed by the Governor of Maryland to serve on the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities (CEJSC). She has a BA in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara and is fluent in Spanish. Her love of cultures has led her to travel the world. Monica is also a wife, mom, business owner, and part-time teacher. Monica is passionate about empowering and educating others about the importance of civic engagement.
Charlie Brown - Board Member
President and co-owner of Charles Brown Glass Company in Salisbury, MD, graduated from Wicomico High School and Gettysburg College As a lifetime Eastern Shore resident he enjoys boating, biking and frisbee golf. He served as a Boy Scout leader in Snow Hill for many years and is actively involved with his church. “My hope is to preserve the special quality of this area for our grandchildren and future generations” he states.
Jon Bukeley - Board Member
Jon grew up in nearby Selbyville, Delaware. A lifelong waterfowl hunter and offshore fisherman, he realized the importance of preserving and protecting our Coastal Bays and their islands at an early age. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Delaware, Jon went on to attend Vermont Law School where he earned a Juris Doctorate. Throughout his legal career, Jon has assisted environmental organizations in their efforts to protect and preserve land and waterways. Jon returned to the Ocean City area in May 2021 where he continues to practice law, waterfowl hunt and fish.
Susan Emond - Board Member
A lifelong Maryland resident, Susan moved to Ocean City after attending Towson University. In 1994, she opened her business, ‘Raggamuffin Boutique’ in Ocean City and became a dedicated supporter and donator to local environmental groups. Growing up with an appreciation for nature, science and culture led to her becoming a citizen scientist and social activist locally and abroad. A self-described "bird nerd", Susan has worked on bird conservation projects, yearly bird counts, testifying at city, county, and state legislation for conservation. Susan is a volunteer Seal Steward in Ocean City working to protect the seals from harassment while they rest on the beach and to educate the public about their migration and protection. With her deep love of the outdoors and cultures, Susan has traveled the world and spent numerous winters exploring South America with her family. You can often find Susan hiking the back trails of Assateague Island, birding the wildlife refuges, camping in the OBX, snowboarding in Vermont, planning her next trip and spoiling her dogs.
Chris Seymour - Board Member
Chris was involved with Assateague Coastal Trust when he was a member of Assateague Island National Seashore for 25 years of his 33-year park ranger career. He retired in 2012 after leading the Annual News Years Day Walk. Chris interacted and worked with many involved ACT individuals and employees over the years. His time spent with Judy Johnson, Ilia & Joe Fehrer, Joe F Jr., Pat Pilling, Verena Chase, and Kathy Phillips, just to name a few, was most memorable and quite rewarding. With his interest in assisting the ACT organization, he hopes with his long-term affiliation involved with Assateague Park, will potentially gain a new perspective to the original ACT mission statement with the current mission goals.
Lisa Tossey - Board Member
Lisa currently serves as the assistant director of communications and outreach for Maryland Sea Grant. A longtime resident of the Eastern Shore, she has spent over two decades working in environmental education, outreach, and communications in higher education, NGOs, and state agencies, including Salisbury University, the National Marine Educators Association, Delaware State Parks, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She enjoys spending her free time hiking, beachcombing, and kayaking throughout Delmarva as well as helping run her family art gallery, Wooden Octopus, in the heart of Berlin, Maryland.