Next Generation of Aquatic Restoration Leaders: Holden Foley

Operated by Trout Headwaters, Inc.Waders in the Water (WitW) is an interactive, webinar-delivered training that instructs students in common restoration industry tools, techniques, and processes, workplace safety, and proven, practical, & innovative habitat enhancement. WitW graduates have a path to projects, jobs, and careers in the $10B/Yr restoration economy. Corps that offer the WitW training are better positioned to participate in the growing number of public-private restoration partnerships with for-profit, non-profit and government entities.

This summer, The Corps Network and THI are partnering on a blog series to highlight young adults who have benefited from the WitW experience.


When ten-year-old Holden Foley was helping his oysterman dad and grandpa on their boat in Franklin County, Florida, he didn’t know what other options he had. He never imagined that, 13 years later, he’d be helping to restore and protect the waters he grew up on, while mentoring young men and women looking for something better: just like he was.

Oystering is hard work for a young boy. Holden started by culling the oysters, or sorting and grading each one by shape and size. As he got older, he started tonging for them with a long rake, scouring the Apalachicola Bay floor for shellfish gold. Holden spent every summer on the boat until he entered high school and discovered a way out of summer oystering. High School football in Florida meant practicing all summer and Holden was happy to trade his tong for some shoulder pads.

After graduating high school, Holden took a job in construction, but, after a few years, he felt stuck at a dead-end. During his time in construction, Holden worked on projects for Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Inc. (FPC) in Apalachicola. That’s when he met Joe Taylor, Executive Director for FPC.  Joe offered Holden another path. He said if Holden joined the newly-formed Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast (CCFC), he would have career opportunities working outdoors to improve the environment. Holden was particularly excited because he loves the outdoors and previously thought having a career meant being stuck inside at a desk all day.

Holden joined the Corps in June 2015 and soon found himself busy with a variety of outdoor projects. He built and repaired nature trails and used his construction background to help build a playground and renovate recreation centers and parks for the City of Apalachicola.

After eight short weeks in the program, Holden was promoted to crew leader. Just six months later, he was promoted to his current position of field manager/instructor. Along the way, Holden has completed many training classes and earned multiple certifications.

Holden participated in the Waders in the Water (WitW) Level I program in 2016 and found it helpful for many of the projects he worked on. It gave him a much better understanding of the terminology used in aquatic restoration, and greatly expanded his understanding of hydrology and the interdependency of aquatic systems. He now better understands how the precipitation falling on local forests makes its way to the bay. When Holden underwent the WitW training, he and his crew members had just started work on a living shoreline; he was able to use his newfound aquatic knowledge on that project to help protect vanishing shorelines and vulnerable species.

Before the WitW class, Holden had no idea there were so many restoration jobs available. Earning the WitW certification inspired him to seek out more environmental training; he’s currently completing a construction course entitled Your Role in the Green Environment to add to the Corps certification offerings.

Now 23 and married to his wife, Tristen, Holden plans to stay with CCFC and hopes to build affordable housing for the City of Apalachicola while continuing to lead CCFC corps members on restoration projects. Holden wants to stay a member of the FCP management team and reflected “I’ve been there, so I want to return the favor granted to me and offer these young people some better opportunities.”

Pictured above: Holden (red hat) and his corpsmembers bag oyster shells for one of their living shoreline projects.