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Monday, July 31, 2017

COMING HOME TO CADDO LAKE

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Overdyke’s plans to preserve one of our last wild places

It’s always nice to see one of Shreveport- Bossier’s own come back to enhance our community in a way that truly impacts others. Such is the case for Laura-Ashley Overdyke, who has just been named the executive director of the new Shreveport office of the Caddo Lake Institute.

Overdyke brings to Caddo Lake Institute (CLI) a rare combination of first-hand knowledge of the area itself, with nearly 20 years’ experience in programmatic leadership, communication and coalition building among non-profits, foundations and the media. She recently oversaw $12 million in grants for The Community Foundation of North Louisiana while also working with donors and grantees.

Caddo Lake Institute is a non-profit scientific and educational organization founded in 1992 to protect the ecological, cultural and economic integrity of Caddo Lake, its associated wetlands and watershed. Caddo Lake is recognized even outside our area for its biodiversity. Caddo Lake is a valuable resource to both Louisiana and Texas. “Caddo Lake is truly one of the last wild places,” said Overdyke. “I am so honored to continue a tradition of wise stewardship of our wetlands with the Caddo Lake Institute.

Overdyke plans to build upon the existing successes of CLI, including reintroduction of the prehistoric paddlefish, which was dependent upon restoring seasonal pulses of water in the rivers upstream of Caddo Lake. CLI has also focused on research for management of giant salvinia and other invasive species, restoring wetlands and leading the effort to establish the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Karnack. Overdyke will split her time between the Shreveport and Karnack offices.

Overdyke grew up enjoying the many benefits of outdoor living near such a beautiful wetland environment. “I grew up skiing, fishing and shooting on Caddo Lake and know first-hand what a valuable resource it is to our region,” she said. “I have so many great memories, but the one that stands out the most is when it was time for me to go off to college. I was a daddy’s girl, and I spent a lot of time with him on that lake. Right before I left, the thing I wanted to do most was for the two of us to go to Caddo Lake together to watch the sunset, and that’s what we did.”

It was that story that moved CLI’s chairman and founder, Don Henley, to hire Overdyke. “He grew up in Linden, Texas, and when I told him about that special memory, he said, ‘That emotional connection is what we’re looking for.’” Overdyke attended Loyola High School in Shreveport before graduating from Washington and Lee University in Virginia in 1998. After taking a few classes at Harvard, she spent a decade working for the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. While there, she helped launch their Explorers-in-Residence grant program that featured historian and explorer Bob Ballard and historian Stephen Ambrose.

“Working on those projects was amazing,” Overdyke said. “I started out on the nonprofit side but then moved over to television when they established the National Geographic Channel. We had one of the fastest rollouts in cable history. There, I was research manager for a nightly news show.”

After that, Overdyke worked for the White House on the nation’s largest public health media campaign for five years. “That was a culture shift,” she said. “I had avoided politics in D.C. I had stayed in the nonprofit world. But my friends told me it was a nonpartisan position so I decided to try it. I got to work at the White House, and I was brand manager for the youth anti-drug campaign. I switched us from that brand of ‘anti-drug’ to being ‘above the influence.’ I also launched our prescription drug campaign at the Super Bowl.”

When Overdyke’s husband, Lloyd (who also grew up in Shreveport), was offered a job in Alexandria, La., they moved back closer to home. “It was while I was on maternity leave,” Overdyke said. “We made it back to Shreveport in 2011, and that’s when I went to work for KTBS as senior editorial producer. Lloyd is a landscape architect so he started his own architectural design firm here in Shreveport.”

The couple now have two girls, 7 and 9 years old. “I can’t wait to get them out on Caddo Lake,” Overdyke said. “Both Lloyd and I are thrilled to be back here for good.”

To learn more about the Caddo Lake Institute, visit www.caddolakeinstitute.us.

Laura Ashley Overdyke can be contacted at lao@caddolake.us.

–Susan Reeks

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