Will Summer has been named as the new director of the N.C. Division of Land and Water Stewardship and executive director of the N.C. Land and Water Fund.
Summer had served as the interim director for the past seven months and as deputy director since 2017. He has also served the state Land and Water Fund, or NCLWF, in other roles since joining the organization in 2008, including field representative and stewardship manager.
“Will Summer is a strong leader whose extensive experience and institutional knowledge make him an ideal fit to guide the Division of Land and Water Stewardship during a crucial period of growth,” said D. Reid Wilson, secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “He has dedicated his career to protecting North Carolina’s water quality, open spaces, and treasured cultural resources, and he understands their importance to our state’s health, economy, and quality of life.”
Since its creation in 1996 by the North Carolina General Assembly, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, formerly known as the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, has conserved well over a half-million acres and protected or restored 3,000 miles of streams and rivers, officials said in a news release. As a result of the recently enacted state budget, the NCLWF in 2021 awarded over $60 million in grants to nonprofit land conservation organizations and local and state government agencies and anticipates awarding $75 million in grants in 2022.
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Division of Land and Water Stewardship also includes the Natural Heritage Program, which serves as an information clearinghouse in support of conservation of the rarest and most outstanding elements of natural diversity in the state.
“Will is perfect for the job, both professionally and personally. He knows every aspect of the Land and Water Fund and the entire division so well, and has the support and admiration of our staff, trustees and partners,” said John Wilson, chair of the NCLWF Board of Trustees. “He’s done an incredible job as interim director over the past several months, putting us in a very strong position despite especially challenging times with COVID and prolonged state budget negotiations.”
Summer explained to Coastal Review that the Division of Land and Water Stewardship consists of two conservation units that work together to protect the state’s natural resources.
“The Natural Heritage Program identifies the rarest, most outstanding elements of natural diversity in the state and the Land and Water Fund uses that data to inform decisions about conservation funding. When I think about the tangible impact we have on the conservation landscape of North Carolina, I can’t imagine a more rewarding place to continue my career,” he said.
He said that priorities for the year ahead include putting to work the funding included in the recently approved state budget.
“This is a very exciting time for us,” he said. “Thanks to Governor Cooper and the General Assembly, we are at near historic funding levels through next year. Our priority is putting these funds to work. Our board awarded over $60 million in grants in December and we anticipate having $75 million available for next year’s grant cycle. We have an additional $15 million appropriated for projects that reduce flood risk. Our board will begin developing funding criteria for those projects soon and we expect to begin accepting proposals later this year.”
Summer said the fund makes a big difference in the lives of North Carolina residents.
“If you’re a hunter, angler, cyclist, birder, boater or hiker, you’ve likely already enjoyed land we’ve helped conserve,” he said. “What has surprised me over the past 20 months is the increased demand for local parks and greenways as people sought safe, outdoor spaces to get fresh air and exercise. I look forward to working with more communities in the future to help provide more of these opportunities. Even without going outside, many citizens still benefit from cleaner drinking water provided in part by the 3,000 miles of streams protected and restored by NCLWF.”
“I appreciate the opportunity to serve the department in this capacity,” Summer said in a statement. “We have great leadership in the department, an excellent and engaged board of trustees, staff that is second to none, and thanks to Governor Cooper and the N.C. General Assembly, we have the resources to make a real impact on the conservation landscape. In my 13 years with the organization, I cannot think of a more exciting time to be in this role.”
Summer holds a Bachelor of Science in forest environmental resources and a Master of Science in forest hydrology, both from the University of Georgia. He lives in Raleigh, his home for the last 16 years, with his wife, Heather, two children, and two beagles.
“I’m confident Will’s experience, institutional knowledge, and leadership skills will ensure the continuation of the division’s outstanding reputation for professionalism,” wrote Deputy Secretary for Natural Resources Jeff Michael in a message Thursday to the Land and Water Fund board of directors. “The respect Will has earned among our governmental and nonprofit partners positions him to be an outstanding ambassador for both the NC Land & Water Fund and the NC Natural Heritage Program.”
Summer began his tenure in 2008 as a field representative for the former N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, moving up from that role to oversee stewardship and community outreach for several years before becoming deputy director of the NC Land and Water Fund in 2017.
Prior to joining NCLWF, he worked for International Paper and subsequently the N.C. Forest Service, studying riparian, or streamside, buffers and their importance in protecting water quality during forest management activities.