Sky Lewey River Protection Fund
Tribute to Sky Jones-Lewey
Sky Marshal Jones-Lewey (May 26, 1958 – May 31, 2022) dedicated her life, work, and passion to protecting Texas’s rivers and in doing so, touched the hearts and minds of thousands of Texas landowners, paddlers, and river advocates. Through her two-decade career with the Nueces River Authority, she passed Senate Bill 155 to protect rivers and riparian areas from the devastating degradation of unfettered off-road vehicle abuse and sparked a community of river advocates in the process. She went on to create the Remarkable Riparian Network and field guide, the Pull.Kill.Plant campaign to stop the spread of Arundo donax on rivers, and the Up2U campaign to promote clean rivers and beaches.
Help Continue Sky’s Work
Several important campaigns that Sky championed remain unrealized. One of the most urgent is to protect Texas’ few remaining pristine streams. In partnership with Sky’s incredible family, including her children Jeff and Julie Lewey, the Hill Country Alliance established the Sky Lewey River Protection Fund. This fund will be used to ensure that Sky’s legacy continues and the work to protect her Nueces River – and all the rivers of our state – carries on.
Stories of Sky
In the spirit of Sky’s love of storytelling, we wanted to share a few stories – from Sky herself, folks here on the HCA team, and a few great write-ups on Sky and her work over the years.
I first met Sky in 2008. Before long, I was attending her riparian landowner workshops and sharing Remarkable Riparian booklets with my family. Sky changed my life, expanding my notion of what’s possible in Texas. She demonstrated that we can–and must–build relationships across fence-lines to steward our rivers.
The first time I accompanied Sky down to the Sabinal River, I figured blue jeans and steel-toe boots would be appropriate for bushwhacking through dense vegetation. Then, Sky proceeded to lead us across the river six times to look for invasive Arundo. I never could keep up but learned a lot from her intrepid footsteps.
– Daniel Oppenheimer
Like most people who had the privilege of knowing her, I learned so much from Sky about rivers, about people, and about life. My first time in a kayak was with her on the Nueces. I had met her two days earlier at a luncheon in Austin and after learning that I’d never been to Uvalde, she said “what are you doing this weekend?” The next day, I arrived at the Open V to eat and hang out with her and her family. The following day, we were on the river.
These were the first of many memorable and magical times with Sky that, taken together, have changed the course of my life. She taught me about sharing what we have–including our enthusiasm and our knowledge–with others. She taught me how to spend a good day on a river. She taught me that there’s no time or use in waiting for someone else to show you how to solve a problem — sometimes you’ve got to just get started and learn as you go. Sky was powerful and her spirit continues to flow through all of the people who knew her, and many more who didn’t.
– Cliff Kaplan
Sky taught me that humans have a well-intentioned tendency to want to ‘fix’ things. To roll up their sleeves, get out the tractor or the chainsaw, and clean up that river bank or stream bed. Oftentimes, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to putting nature back together again. A “clean” stream doesn’t have the fallen logs and dense vegetation required to hold sediment in place. It doesn’t have the healthy habitat needed for a diverse and thriving ecosystem. Our first task as conservationists, landowners, and land stewards is to step back and observe, and give the river the room it needs to heal.
Sky had an uncanny ability to read a riparian landscape, like some might read a book. Once, we went out to visit the Open V shortly after the Nueces River had a good rise. Sky was excited to explore a stretch of river that is only accessible when water levels are high. About an hour into our paddle, Sky shouted for us to stop. There, exposed on a bluff just above the water’s edge was a burned rock midden–a thousand-year-old Native American camp site–newly exposed by the flood waters. The average observer would have paddled right by, unaware of this precious thread connecting us back to the earliest roots of the people, land, and water of the Nueces. Sky had such reverence, such joy, and such giddy excitement for that discovery–I still consider it to be one of the most magical days of my life.
– Katherine Romans
Fighting to protect water quality in Texas Hill Country waterways is nothing new. I had the privilege to watch, learn from, and help my parents back in the early 1980s as they raised awareness and organized opposition to keep wastewater out of the Nueces River.
Sky Lewey listens to the lessons of the land.
“Over the years, the land becomes your teacher. If you are listening and if you are paying attention, land is the best teacher you can have. It makes you who you are.”
Meet Sky Lewey, a Nueces River rancher who takes care of her land and protects the wider watershed by reaching out to her neighbors. In her job with the Nueces River Authority, and on the Open V Ranch near Uvalde, this land steward helps keep a precious resource healthy.
“Everything we do on the land is eventually reflected in a river,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to think about the whole landscape, how big and little pieces fit together.”
According to Lewey, the Hill Country is faced with some big resource issues. “The things we value about the Hill Country are produced by the landscape,” she says. “People need to know about the production of these values so they can make better decisions.”
Learn More from Sky
Sky was a proponent of knowledge and she worked across fence lines to inform and engage landowners, residents, and recreationists alike in the importance of protecting and stewarding our native landscapes and riparian habitats. Learn more about several initiatives she championed throughout her lifetime.
Your Remarkable Riparian
Your Remarkable Riparian (3rd edition)
This classic field guide to riparian plants within the Nueces River Basin has been expanded to cover most of Texas with. more plants, photos and descriptions. Instructional content throughout the guide helps readers build a better understanding of riparian areas and a user-friendly riparian “bull’s-eye” evaluation makes it easier than ever to understand what hits the mark.
Up 2 U
This project of the Nueces River Authority works to cultivate a sustainable, behavior-changing, litter prevention program for Gulf of Mexico watersheds within the Coastal Bend of Texas by expanding the Up2U litter prevention program from the headwaters of the Nueces basin to six counties and ten watersheds within the Coastal Bend.
Pull. Kill. Plant.
Pull. Kill. Plant.
Pull. Kill. Plant. refers to a three-pronged multi-year collaborative Project to control an invasive plant (Arundo donax) that was beginning to take over riparian areas within the Nueces Basin, particularly on the upper Nueces and Sabinal Rivers.
Advocacy for Pristine Streams
Advocacy for Pristine Streams
Currently, advocates are working on a strategy to change the rules at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the entity in charge of overseeing environmental regulations. The rule would protect several of the Hill Country’s most iconic streams, including portions of the Blanco, Llano, and Nueces Rivers, as well as smaller streams like Barton, Cypress, and Hondo Creeks. Supported by landowners, community groups, conservationists and local governments, this proposal is a fair, balanced and necessary action to protect the last pristine streams in Texas.
Recognition and Awards
Sky Lewey is a conservation educator with extraordinary leadership and dedication. A key figure in the efforts to restore healthy riparian function to the Nueces River Basin and beyond,
In 2008, the Nueces River Authority received the Texas Environmental Excellence Award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for its work on education in Uvalde.
Her approach to public education is straightforward: Let the river speak for itself through photographs, lectures, and tours that contrast the delicate, natural beauty of the river system with the thoughtless human activities that threaten its integrity.