Garrett Artz | Executive Director

828.252.8474 ext 116 |


Garrett is the Executive Director of RiverLink. He is a native of a rural town in Pennsylvania and brings a diverse set of experiences to RiverLink. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Navy Flight Training as a designated Naval Aviator, he served 10 years on active duty and gained valuable experience as a senior manager, instructor pilot, and helicopter aircraft commander.

In 2008 after graduating from N.C. Central University School of Law, he moved with his family to Asheville and began his legal career at Pisgah Legal Services and later worked as corporate counsel for a local military contractor. In 2014 he co-founded a walking and biking advocacy group, Connect Enka, in Enka-Candler working to make the area along Hominy Creek and Enka Commerce Center friendly to people who want to bike or walk safely.

He continues to be active in the community and is a member of Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board. When not working he can often be found outdoors with his wife and three children.

RJ Taylor | Land Protection Manager

828.252.8474 ext 111 |

RJ grew up in northern Indiana but has always considered the South as his true home.  Much of his early years were spent exploring in the woods or playing in the streams and wetlands of his Indiana home and his family lands in Kentucky.   A scientist at heart, he could be found running barefoot through the woods and climbing trees, playing with his chemistry set or dissecting earthworms in the garage.  He has always had a bond to the land and to the natural features in the landscape.

After graduating with a Masters Degree in Geology from the University of South Carolina, RJ spent many years as a geologist in the oil/gas business along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas.  When the cyclic nature of that industry resulting in a layoff on EarthDay, RJ saw it as a sign from the heavens and left that industry for a change in his career path to environmental sciences.  Since then, he has worked for several environmental consultants in Texas and for a county agency that managed the bayous and other waterways in Houston, Texas.

After the experiences of volunteering with a number of non-profit land and water conservation groups,  he was offered the position of Conservation and Stewardship Director of a land trust protecting urban and rural lands in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  He has recently moved here to Asheville area to follow his bliss and be a part of the culture and outdoor attributes of western North Carolina.  His passions include the study of native plants, natural habitats and work on river systems.  With previous certifications in wetland sciences and environmental studies, RJ feels that his role as a steward of the natural ecosystems and the landscape is an important calling in his life.

RJ enjoys hiking, camping, biking, and kayaking, along with travel and the study of nature.  Like when he was a boy, he still enjoys getting outside and exploring our amazing natural world.  Many years of experience in working with land and water have taught him that protection and conservation of our surface and groundwater water resources is an important objective for all landowners and our communities.

Rose Keyes | Database & Communications Coordinator

828.252.8474 ext 110 | 

Rose grew up near the New River in southern West Virginia, and has been interested in environmental issues from an early age. As a teenager she was active in educating and mobilizing her community around the negative impacts on land and water posed by mountaintop removal coal mining. Soon after graduating high school she volunteered with AmeriCorps NCCC and spent a formative year on the West coast working closely with her AmeriCorps team on a variety of environmental and social justice focused projects. From there she went on to serve another year in AmeriCorps Notre Dame, where she worked as an environmental educator on an experiential farm in Dayton, OH. After that year of service she moved to Athens, OH where she graduated from Ohio University with a Specialized Studies Degree in English and Geography. She loved the AmeriCorps program so much that she served a third year with the non-profit Rural Action, where she was instrumental in implementing a Zero Waste Initiative Program within two watersheds in the Athens, OH area. In addition to her time spent working with non-profits she also began to take on freelance writing jobs, and continues to write for a number of web- based and print publications. Since moving to Asheville she has furthered her operations, database and communications skills, and is excited to fill the role of Database and Communications Coordinator at RiverLink. In her free time she enjoys hiking, traveling, practicing yoga, playing on the river, and gardening.

Renee Fortner | Watershed Resources Manager 

828.252.8474 ext 114 |

Renee grew up along the New River in Ashe County, N.C. where she spent most of her childhood exploring the woods and creek near her home. Her childhood experiences instilled an unwavering love of the outdoors and passion for conservation. Renee’s interests eventually led her to Asheville where she pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from UNC-Asheville and later an M.S. in Biology from East Carolina University.
Renee holds professional certificates in Stormwater BMP Inspection & Maintenance and Residential Rain Garden Design from N.C. State University. She is also a Board of Trustee for the Friends of Hominy Creek Greenway.
While living in Asheville, Renee has been drawn to the surrounding rivers, whether it was canoeing the French Broad, swimming in the Swannanoa, or rafting the Nolichucky where she and her husband Dave were married. As the Watershed Resources Manager, Renee is excited to apply her skills to the conservation of the surrounding rivers, which are vital both ecologically and economically to this area in which we live.

Justin Young | Education & Outreach Manager

828.252.8474 ext 112 |

Justin originally served for two years as an AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator at RiverLink. After creating a strong bond with the communities and ecosystems of the French Broad River he was brought on full time to manage RiverLink’s volunteer and education programs. A true native of North Carolina, Justin was born and raised in Raleigh and attended school at Appalachian State University where he studied Sustainable Development. Between college and RiverLink he studied glacial retreat in the Peruvian Andes and served with the Maryland State Park Service.

Justin has a particular expertise in graphic design, outreach, environmental education, event management and invasive control methods. Now that he has settled in Asheville he’s excited to bring his experience and passion for aquatic ecosystems to the people of the watershed. He hopes to inspire, teach and encourage new groups of people to appreciate and protect their natural surroundings. If you need to find Justin he’ll likely be floating down a river, hiking up a mountain, playing with art supplies or enjoying a nice cold beer.

Katy Palombi | Operations Manager

828.252.8474 ext 110 |
Katy is a native South Carolinian, but has been in the Asheville area for over 20 years and certainly calls it home.  After graduating from Clemson University with a Bachelors of Science in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, she moved to Colorado, where she explored the many natural wonders of the west.  She worked in Recreation Resource Management and Outdoor Education for over 10 years.  After the births of her two daughters, she found her way to the world of Finance and Operations.  She spends her free time hiking, backpacking, skiing, and enjoying the river.  She is happiest in the great outdoors and is grateful to work for an organization that strives to improve our watershed and community.

Laila Johnston | Development Manager

828.252.8474 ext 116 |

Laila was born and raised in Austin, Texas and fell in love with water in the creek behind her grandparents’ house. She brings over ten years of experience in water resources and conservation. Laila moved to Asheville in 2019 after spending five years with American Rivers working on riverside land protection and clean drinking water issues primarily on the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers in coastal South Carolina.

She has lived all over the southeast receiving a BA in International Affairs and Economics from Florida State University, a Masters in Public and International Affairs from Virginia Tech, and completing her Public Policy PhD coursework at Clemson University. You can find her hanging out with her three dogs or tracking down the next great craft beer.