Camp McDowell’s Mark Johnston exploring run for Governor

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Mark Johnston

Last week, longtime Executive Director of Camp McDowell Mark Johnston made a surprise announcement.

He informed Camp McDowell staff and board of directors that after 26 years, he will be retiring.  He then told them, he is exploring a run for Governor of the state of Alabama.

Bham Now caught up with the popular Episcopal priest who leads one of the largest Episcopal Church conference center/camps in the nation and has been a leader in Alabama’s conservation and nature education communities for decades.

Checkout below the brief Q&A about his life and interests, and if he decides to run for Governor – his priorities.

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Mark and his wife Maggie – via Facebook

Tell us about yourself?  What makes you uniquely qualified to explore a run as Alabama’s chief executive?

“I am an Alabama boy and I love Alabama. I am a priest in the Episcopal Church and I have been the Executive Director at Camp McDowell for the past 26 years. I am also a carpenter and have had a successful small business for 30 years buying houses and land.

Maggie and I live in a house I built at the end of a mile long drive way. We own and care for 820 acres which we could purchase because our business success. We have 4 dogs, 4 chickens, a garden and fruit trees. We heat our home primarily with wood and we are excited to begin producing our own energy this week with solar panels. I am proud of having a long history of working for quality education, clean water, clean air, environmental justice, and civil rights. I love to hike, fish, hunt, paddle my canoe and be with my children and grandchildren. I am a runner and love Braves baseball.”


I am uniquely qualified to be Governor because I will bring leadership and integrity from outside of the political system. I am also unique because of the diversity of my life experience and my history of providing vision that leads to success.

Alabama has a habit of being a one-party state.  The Democrats ran state government for over a century, up until the past few years. Today, Republicans now hold every state constitutional and judicial office, and control super majorities in the House and Senate. If elected how will work with Republicans? 

“I work with Republicans every day here at Camp McDowell and other places. We work well together because we have common vision and goals, and we listen to each other. It is my experience that listening leads to creative solutions and at least compromise if not consensus. I will work with Republicans because I want to.”

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Family and friends – Thanksgiving 2016 – via Facebook
 If elected Governor, what will be your top priorities?

“My top priorities will be growing the economy and improving education.

I choose these two because I have appropriate experience in both areas, and because I believe that improvement in the economy and education will be essential to help us move forward in other areas of need in Alabama.

I will work to grow the economy by continuing to recruit business to Alabama, but I will work just as hard to create a climate in Alabama for small businesses to start and thrive. As you know I have successfully started and managed numerous not for profit and for profit businesses over the last 45 years. I will use that experience as governor.

In regard to education, twenty three years ago I started a most successful residential environmental education program. We educate children from Alabama and three surrounding states. I do not know of a larger program in the Southeast and we are  nationally known and appreciated. Recently we also started a residential Farm School for children and started Alabama’s first nature based preschool. As Governor, I will use my experience and will gather the best and brightest educators to create a vision of where we want to go and a long term plan to get there. Such a vision and plan will encompass preschool though college as well as technical training.”


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Additional Background on Mark Johnston
– Graduated from Berry High School in Vestavia in 1968
– Graduated from the University of the South at Sewanee in 1972
– Graduated at the St. Luke’s School of Theology at Sewanee in 1980
Work History
– Worked in churches in Fayette, Tuscaloosa, and in the Black Belt before becoming the Executive Director at Camp McDowell in 1990.
– Started the West Alabama Food Bank while in Tuscaloosa in 1996.
– Grew McDowell from a summer camp with 4 full time employees to a very large and diverse year-round program with over 50 full time employees and over 125 seasonal employees. McDowell has become the largest camp and conference center in the Episcopal Church.
–  Alabama’s Outstanding Young Religious Leader in 1981
–  ARC State Volunteer of the Year in 1983 for work with people who have disabilities
–  The James Dockery Southern Environmental Leadership Award in 1999
–  Alabama Rivers Alliance River Hero in 2009
–  Forest Stewardship Certification by the Alabama Forestry Commission in 2011
Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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