He only wanted to take a semester off from college to clear his head and set some goals. He just wanted a job where he could work outdoors, commune with nature and talk to people. That semester and that job set him on a career path to the top job at Hartwell Dam and Lake that still keeps him connected to the outdoors.
The Savannah District recently named Aaron Wahus the new Operations Project Manager for the Hartwell Project. There he leads teams overseeing outdoor recreation, hydropower and dam operations, natural resources, shoreline permitting and other programs at the 2,088 square mile reservoir and surrounding land.
As a forestry student at Virginia Tech, Wahus just wanted to work out in the woods. Classes, though informative, didn’t seem to point him toward his outdoor quest.
“So I visited [the university’s] career services office where they suggested I take a semester off and pointed me toward a program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at John H. Kerr Reservoir as a cooperative education student as a forestry student trainee,” Wahus said. He took the job and returned to classes the next semester with renewed outlook on his future.
He still wanted to be a forester but his new-found experience with park rangers at Kerr Lake provided Wahus the opportunity to expand his vision. Then, in 1996, just as he completed his degree in Forestry and Wildlife Resources, cutbacks at Kerr Lake forced him to move in another direction – toward Georgia.
“I interviewed at Lake Lanier [outside Atlanta] and got hired during the interview,” he said. “This was during the 1996 summer Olympics and 10 additional rangers from around the country assisted with the expected record crowds for the canoe and kayaking events at Lanier.” He spent more than seven more years there as a park ranger performing a variety of tasks. He moved on to the Savannah District at J. Strom Thurmond Project as the recreation chief ranger.
In the meantime, he heeded some sage advice to expand beyond ranger duties into the business and management areas. “I served as a contracting officer representative over Thurmond’s large operations and maintenance contract and took temporary assignments as operations project manager at multiple reservoirs,” he said. This gave him the experience he needed to move up to park operations manager at Thurmond Project and ultimately to the top job at Lake Hartwell.
Though he wears a tie more than a ranger uniform, Wahus still manages to get out from his desk and find his way outdoors. He said he still likes to meet with campers and boaters and get their insight into how “things are going” at the reservoir. Ensuring the hydropower plant continues to generate clean, renewable energy, meeting budget requirements and managing a multi-disciplinary team of 45 employees, keeps him busy, he said.
Still Wahus and his family get away whenever practical to, of course, commune with nature. “Camping in our travel trailer is still our favorite time together,” he said.
Would he take back that semester off from forestry classes? Somehow that just doesn’t seem like the kind of wish he would make now that he can see where that decision has taken him.