“We have an official mission statement (To protect Georgia’s natural resources for present and future generations by advocating sound environmental policies, advancing sustainable growth practices and facilitating common-ground solutions to environmental challenges), but around the campfire I tell folks we protect Georgia’s land and water,” Schroeder said. “We do this with a robust presence at the state capitol, a coastal program protecting our barrier islands and marshes and encouraging smart growth in our coastal cities.”
Foster, who graduated from the Rome High in 2000, is the organization’s Communications Director.
“In a one sentence statement: We conserve Georgia’s land and water. But how we do this is much more involved,” he said. “We have four main program areas that share this mission, but that often work in very different spheres.
“Our Sustainable Growth program works to foster smart and sustainable growth across the state in communities both urban and rural. Our Land Conservation program is the newest program area. The Land Conservation team works with private landowners across the state to help guide them through the conservation easement process. Our Advocacy team works on some of the hardest issues that affect our state’s natural resources. Our Coastal office, located in Savannah, focuses on Georgia’s coast, one of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the United States.”
The Georgia Conservancy was instrumental in the designation of Cumberland Island as a National Seashore in 1972 and the Okefenokee Swamp as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.
Schroeder, a 1999 Rome High grad, said the organization is exclusively focused on Georgia, without a national affiliation.
“I like to think of us as a home-grown environmental organization with a staff of people who love Georgia and care about our natural resources and our friends and family who live here.”
As Stewardship and Outreach Director for the Conservancy, Schroeder is responsible for hosting stewardship trips, overseeing the volunteerism program and assisting with special events.
One of his duties includes taking Georgia residents paddling, hiking, and canoeing to some of the most beautiful parts of the state on environmental education outings.
“The first year we hosted about 150 people on a handful of outings,” he said. “Over the next 12 months we are going to have over 1,000 people join us for paddles, hikes and camp-outs to places like Cumberland Island, Cloudland Canyon or the Altamaha, Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee River. Since 2008, our trip participants have performed 3,010 hours of service worked, cleaned 60 miles of beach, cleared 44 miles of trail and picked up trash along 50 miles of river.”
Although his job takes him across the state, Schroeder’s Rome roots influenced the work he does now. He said growing up in Rome and spending time camping near John’s Mountain or Lance’s Farm sparked his love of the outdoors.
“And anyone who attended Rome High School and had Mr. Peace as a teacher is going to have a little ‘tree hugger’ in them,” he joked.
“The part about growing up in Rome that has had the biggest impact is the diversity of our community,” he added. “Rome is a melting pot. There is a familiarity and comfort with different cultures and communities that growing up in Rome provides. It is incredibly useful when working for an organization that represents all Georgians. One of my personal goals is to help create a diverse community of outdoor enthusiasts in Georgia.”
Foster, who writes, edits and designs the Conservancy’s tri-yearly magazine “Panorama,” as well as monthly e-newsletters, press releases and brochures and maintains the group’s website, agreed with Schroeder about his Rome upbringing and its impact on his work with the Conservancy.
“People from communities the size of Rome and smaller still have a connection to the land, whether they still work the land for a living, enjoy forests both private and public or have memories of growing up in a much more rural environment,” he said. “There is also a balance that people have to strike between conserving the natural resources that we have with their use in economic development and growth.”
The two Rome boys said working for the Conservancy has been rewarding in many ways — from outdoor adventures and experiencing the natural beauty of Georgia to the opportunity to educate others and make a difference in their environment.
“Getting the chance to get outdoors with people from various backgrounds to explore Georgia is an amazing part of the job,” Foster said. “The trips that Bryan leads are the best in the state. Getting to explore the Okefenokee, paddle down the beautiful middle Flint or the Altamaha rivers, perform service work and relax on the pristine, deserted beaches of Cumberland and Sapelo Islands — every month — is amazing.
“The more I see and experience in Georgia, the more I understand how fragile our environment is and that motivates me to work hard to help protect it.”
Schroeder said the most rewarding part of his job is being able to represent Rome while helping to educate people about the natural works and providing the opportunity to become an environmental advocate.
“I have two amazing parents,” he said of John and Tracy Schroeder. “One is an incredible teacher and the other is an incredible entrepreneur. I do everything I can to learn from their lives to make an impact every day at work. When you come on a Georgia Conservancy stewardship trip, I try my best to bring the service and care my dad shows to all of his customers while at the same time creating an environment where people can learn about our natural world like my mom in the classroom. It also helps to have a brother who is incredibly talented and creative to inspire and challenge me to do better.”