John Lugthart is a pillar of Northwest Georgia where he has led conservation efforts and educated people on the importance of the environment for nearly 30 years.

Lugthart, a professor of biology at Dalton State College, assisted in the restoration work at Lakeshore Park, leads the Conasauga Watershed Cleanup each year, builds hiking trails at Dalton State, leads summer camps for children at the college and more.

With the extraordinary integration of community service into his teaching, Lugthart was named the Shaw Industries Chair in STEM at Dalton State. The chair was recently endowed by Shaw Industries, a longstanding partner of the college.

“We knew community service and promoting STEM education in our community were top priorities for this chair position,” said Randall Griffus, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “John was the obvious choice because he is already so immersed in the community. He promotes environmental issues and education of those issues. He’ll be continuing his current efforts while increasing his involvement. We’re excited about having this chair position and expanding the partnership between Dalton State and Shaw.”

Ever since childhood Lugthart has been concerned by the harm humans can cause to the environment. He’s made it his life’s work to reverse the damage.

“I find fulfillment in trying to make improvements, in whatever small way I can,” Lugthart said. “It is satisfying to restore areas that have been degraded. I’ve always had an interest in educating others about this as well and I like helping others appreciate nature more. That’s one of my main motivations for working with projects such as Lakeshore Park and the trails here on campus. It’s a way to combat discouragement. Keeping busy with these projects helps."

“As the Shaw Industries Chair, I’ll be continuing these efforts and will help promote STEM education in the community,” he said. “I would like to make students aware of the opportunities related to STEM and what careers are available locally. Our collaboration with Shaw will help increase the awareness of what you can do in a STEM field. It’s exciting being given this position so I can help inspire more people to go into STEM fields.”

Shaw is optimistic about the opportunities for enhanced community engagement with Lugthart in this new role. The company reports a history of partnering with Lugthart on initiatives like the annual Conasauga Watershed Cleanup, a project Shaw has supported for many years. Lugthart shares the flooring manufacturer’s passion for creating a better future, and Shaw looks forward to further serving the community in partnership with him and Dalton State College.

“As Shaw continues its partnership with Dalton State College in our mission to create a better future, we are looking forward to seeing John Lugthart serve as the new Shaw Industries Chair in STEM,” said Brian Cooksey, director of workforce development for Shaw. “John is a distinguished leader, dedicated to bettering our community. We are excited to see all that he will achieve as he promotes and supports STEM education, and guides students pursuing STEM careers.”

Lugthart’s involvement

When Lugthart accepted a position at Dalton State nearly 30 years ago, he hadn’t intended to stay. His wife Gretchen was working for the forest service in the Chattahoochee National Forest so he took the job initially to be close to her.

“I grew some roots,” Lugthart said. “I enjoyed our students and colleagues. There are many opportunities to make an impact right here on campus and in the community I don’t think I’d necessarily get elsewhere. In a smaller community, you can make a difference. Plus, I love the mountains and rivers here.”

Lugthart’s doctorate is in entomology with a focus on aquatic life. He shares his knowledge not only in the classroom but also with children during Dalton State’s summer camps. His Stream Stomp and Creek Critters camps where elementary-school-aged children explore insects in the stream on campus have been favorites for decades. He has also led a summer camp at Lakeshore Park for middle-school-aged children. The camps were canceled last year and this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but should return next summer.

“I like working with all ages,” he said. “I think I started Stream Stomp and Creek Critters only a couple of years after I got here. I thought since I love streams and bugs, and we have the stream on campus, it would be a fun class for kids.”

Lugthart also worked with the city of Dalton to restore Lakeshore Park to a more natural habitat. The partnership has provided Dalton State, as well as Dalton Public Schools, with an outdoor classroom and an opportunity for students to conduct research in and around a wetland. Dalton State and Brookwood School conduct turtle surveys, which provide students hands-on field research experience and provide officials with data about the habitat.

“Lakeshore has been one of the most rewarding projects to be involved with,” Lugthart said. “It’s great to see the outcome now that the restoration is complete. The community has a great park with a healthy wetland, and area schools have an excellent outdoor classroom. We have formed a collaboration and partnership with Brookwood providing educational outreach activities.”

Lugthart and Gretchen were instrumental in creating the Roadrunner Trail System at Dalton State. There are currently approximately three miles of trails with another two miles under construction.

“Gretchen and I and some faculty members were talking about how beautiful the woods behind campus are,” he said. “I’d wander up there sometimes. We recognized what an asset it is to have the campus on the edge of a mountain. But it was quite inaccessible. There were no trails, and it was steep. None of us had made trails before so it was daunting to begin.”

The group consulted with expert trail builders for the first trail, the College Creek Trail. Lugthart learned how to build and maintain trails from that process. The trail that is under construction will go to the top of the ridge and will make the Roadrunner Trail System approximately five miles long.

The Conasauga Watershed Cleanup began 26 years ago under what was then the Clean and Beautiful Commission and is now Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful. Lugthart knew of the Conasauga River long before moving to Dalton because it is one of the most biodiverse in the world and is home to species that haven’t been found anywhere else. A section of the river was being used to dump garbage, and Lugthart created a workday to clean it.

“We didn’t plan on it to become an annual event, but we thought we’d give it a try,” he said. “We partnered with the Boy Scouts, and we ended up hauling off 12 tons of garbage and had more than 100 volunteers. It was incredible. It was exciting and really rewarding to have that much community effort and see a place like that cleaned up. We decided to continue the effort to pick up trash and combine it with educating our community on what a special area we live in.”

Lugthart has also been involved with other projects such as restoring the Varnell spring, planting American chestnut trees and the annual Ecumenical Earth Day.

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