The Arkansas Chapter’s volunteer-extraordinaire and Legacy Club member Margaret Bartelt established the Gordon Bartelt Water Quality Fund in memory of her late husband in 2006. Inspired by their shared love of the outdoors and rivers in particular, Margaret is on a quest to paddle her solo canoe in all 50 states, with only Arizona and Hawaii still to go.
“In 1983 Gordon and I went paddling on the Buffalo River with some friends. We lived in Nebraska at the time, but we fell in love with Arkansas. Riverbanks full of redbud, dogwood—we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to live in Arkansas?’ So the next year we moved to Little Rock.
We were married almost 32 years. We met as undergrads in Wisconsin [Eau Claire]. After college, he became a civil engineer, working for the Corps of Engineers on water quality and river navigation issues—a ‘wet civil’. And I had gotten a Ph.D. and become a clinical microbiologist—a ‘germ farmer’.
We did lots of great stuff together. We did a lot of white water paddling and got interested in flatwater paddling too. We just did a lot of exploring. Gordon was always exploring water, and I’d tag along. He really loved water. I did too!
Gordon was the one who got us into The Nature Conservancy. He was the activist type, and he was real impressed with the Conservancy. I remember him talking about what a great organization it was. We didn’t believe in micro-managing—it was better to find a good organization, give them the money, and then let them do what they feel is best with it.
After Gordon died, I had a hard time accepting it, even though we had known it was coming for a long time. About six months later, I said, “why should I wait to start Gordon’s legacy?” So I contacted the Arkansas Nature Conservancy office. I knew I wanted to do something in Gordon’s honor, but wasn’t sure what. All of a sudden a light came on. Gordon loved water, and water was a recurring theme in so many of the projects that [state director] Scott Simon talked about. I became pretty sure that I wanted to do a Water Quality Fund. So I donated our Wal-Mart stock to start the fund, and at the same time started an endowment fund at our alma mater.
The Water Quality Fund can be used for any project that has to do with water. Water is affected by everything, and everything affects water. They used some of the funds for stream restoration work on the Saline River. Gordon was very interested in the Saline River. It’s not far from Little Rock, and we’ve paddled much of its North Fork. For the restoration project, I even got to help with replanting trees along the stream banks. It worked out so well that his money is being used to protect a river that he really loved.”