Award-winning journalist and outdoors advocate John Zaktansky has been named the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper and executive director of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, according to board president Kathy Snavely.
“We were pleased to receive applications from across the eastern United States, conducting initial interviews over Skype and second interviews in Sunbury at our office. John emerged as the leading candidate because of his knowledge of our watershed, outdoor recreational background, leadership and passion,” she said. “Our board is thrilled to collaborate with John in pursuing our goal of a healthy Susquehanna, because that translates to stronger communities that depend on her.”
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association -- a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization -- is dedicated to protecting, improving and preserving the health of the Middle Susquehanna River Watershed, which is an 11,000-square-mile area defined by the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River, its tributaries and drainage area.
"I consider myself the Lorax of the greater watershed ... I speak for the Susquehanna and the people, wildlife and natural resources she represents which may not always have a voice when it comes to pollution and environmental issues." -- John Zaktansky
“In this role, I am committed to engaging our communities and working together as a unified front to preserve one of our most valuable commodities,” said Zaktansky
Zaktansky grew up on a small family dairy farm and hunting preserve in upper Northumberland County and was active in 4H, numerous school-related sports and Boy Scouts, earning his the rank of Eagle Scout and then giving back via outdoors-centric leadership training programs. Zaktansky joins the Riverkeeper movement after nearly 14 years of working at The Daily Item newspaper in Sunbury, winning numerous state-wide journalism awards for his writing, design work and special projects. He worked previously as a counselor for troubled adolescents at a residential group home and, with his family, helps oversee the youth ministry at the Port Ann Wesleyan Church in Snyder County.
“In an age dominated by immediate access to technology, social media and the various conveniences they provide, many younger people have lost connection with the power and majesty of the outdoor treasures God has provided right here in our back yard,” said Zaktansky. “As Riverkeeper, I look forward to helping reconnect people with our natural resources and kindling a passion that helps protect those resources moving forward.”
Part of the position will involve investigating claims of pollution and misuse of water resources within the Suquehanna River watershed from where the Penns Creek empties into the Susquehanna River northward along each of the West and North branches. Zaktansky will also work closely with various environmental groups and agencies, along with the state’s politicians and other people of influence, to protect the resources within the watershed.
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association was formed in 2015 under the tutelage of Carol Parenzan, who filled the role of Riverkeeper and executive director of the association through late 2019 and was an instrumental figure in the selection of the Susquehanna River’s North branch being named the Pennsylvania River of the Year in 2016 and the Loyalsock Creek earning River of the Year designation in 2018.
“Carol has been a fixture within the Susquehanna River watershed and leaves behind a solid foundation and some pretty big shoes to fill,” said Zaktansky. “I am thankful she worked so tirelessly to advocate for the Susquehanna and has inspired a new generation of appreciation and understanding for the watershed and its issues.”
The new Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper is collecting information via the 2020 Susquehanna Survey to help enhance the efforts to improve the watershed. A few minutes of time and some thoughtful answers would be appreciated at https://forms.gle/v8q1YdAH3EQ8jqS17
Those who would be interested in volunteering their time, donating to the cause or reporting a pollution concern are encouraged to connect with Zaktansky at 570-768-6300, visiting the website www.middlesusquehannariverkeeper.org or through the group’s presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The association is headquartered at 112 Market Street, Sunbury.