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Nonprofit formerly known as ECO names director

The newly merged alliance of environmental organizations has named a director of the Hendersonville office.

Western North Carolina Alliance, Environmental and Conservation Organization and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance—three regional grassroots environmental organizations in the process of merging—announced the hiring of Mark Stierwalt as director of the Southern Regional Office.

Stierwalt assumed the position most recently held by Mary Jo Padgett, the long-time executive director of Environmental and Conservation Organization. Padgett cofounded ECO in 1987 to preserve the natural heritage of Henderson County.

"I'm excited to become an integral part of such a strong team," Stierwalt said in a news release. "ECO's success over the past 27 years has been hard fought and well deserved. The volunteers and supporters have made this organization what it is today, and I'm proud to carry the torch to help protect our heritage, our environment, and most importantly, our quality of life in WNC."

Stierwalt lives with his wife and two children on a tributary of the Green River in southern Henderson County. He's proud to call himself "a true woodsman and river dog," though he spends most of his free time building and maintaining trails, mountain biking and skiing.

Stierwalt joins the organizations at a pivotal time. This past spring, the memberships and boards of directors of Asheville-based WNCA; ECO in Hendersonville, and Highlands-Cashiers based J-MCA voted to merge into a single environmental nonprofit whose staff and members would have greater impact locally, regionally and statewide.

The Asheville office has also recently added Joan Walker as campaign coordinator for the region and Sara Alford as director of development. Walker was most recently the high-risk energy coordinator with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, focusing on coal ash issues in the South.

These three organizations are combining resources and expertise to attract new members and build a larger community of advocates for the protection of Western North Carolina's precious natural resources and quality of life. The merged organization will have offices in Asheville, Hendersonville, Boone and Franklin.