Judy Murray Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

2022 TN Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award Winner – Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Recipient: Judy Murray

Judy Murray, who has led an inspired life dedicated to conservation in Southern Appalachia, has been named winner of the 2022 Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is part of the annual Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

Judy Murray standing with awardThere are few people who can truly be described as committing a lifetime of sacrifice and passionate hard work to an endeavor with modest monetary reward yet boundless benefit to the greater good of humankind and nature. Judy Murray, however, is just such a person. Judy was first inspired by nature on a quintessential family vacation in the 1950s when her family traveled by car from New York City to Canada. On the return trip, and especially as the family traveled through the Adirondack Mountains, Judy fell in love with nature and the mountains.

As a young lady, Judy joined and supported the Scenic Hudson organization in New York. Upon graduation from college in 1960, Judy sought a job that would enable her to further her interests in the outdoors and the mountains, accepting a chemist position with Tennessee Eastman Company (now Eastman Chemical Company) in Kingsport, Tennessee. Within days, she was hiking and enjoying the spectacular vistas from the grassy ridges of the Highlands of Roan and was soon a member of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club. An inspired life dedicated to conservation, Judy’s early experiences with the Hiking Club led to her lifelong work in the Highlands of Roan.

Early Work with the Appalachian Trail and founding Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

Judy and six other members of the hiking club formed a working group to further protection of the Appalachian Trail and the magnificent grassy balds of the Roan massif. The entire area was threatened by development for resorts and vacation homes. The group of seven hiking club members started meeting at members’ homes in Johnson City to discuss how to safeguard the vulnerable Roan lands for present and future generations. The group grew and was formalized in 1966 as the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee of the Appalachian Trail Conference with the goal to preserve the views and landscape surrounding the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan.

In 1974, the U.S. Forest Service and the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee created a landscape-scale “Highlands of the Roan Composite Plan”. The plan identified tracts needed to protect the bald areas and the Appalachian Trail, established alternatives for acquisition if the tracts were not available in their entirety, identified the fragile resources of the bald areas, and described broad management direction of these lands.

To accelerate the protection of critical land across the Highlands of Roan and along the Appalachian Trail, Judy, and other members of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee founded the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) as a Tennessee non-profit land trust. The organization was created to raise funds to purchase lands for which the Forest Service was not funded.

During this time Judy realized that she wanted to devote more of her time and energy to conservation. Judy resigned her position with the Tennessee Eastman Company to return to school. She knew that increased knowledge of the interaction of living organisms and their environment was key to protecting and managing the unique and fragile Highlands of Roan. Graduating with a master’s degree in Ecology from the University of Tennessee, Judy became SAHC’s first Roan Stewardship Director in 1974. A position she held for 40 years until her retirement in 2014.

SAHC’s non-profit charter was expanded to include North Carolina and now, nearly 50 years later, the organization continues to build on the foundational work of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee. SAHC protected 1,644 acres of lands in 2021 including 1,050 acres in the Highlands of Roan, of which 150 acres have recently been added to Roan Mountain State Park. SAHC, its members and donors, and in partnership with many organizations and agencies, has protected over 19,000 acres in the Highlands of Roan and over 75,000 acres throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains. SAHC is a leading land trust nationally and is fully accredited by the Land Trust Alliance.

Caring for the Ecologically Important Highlands of Roan

Judy has spent her life dedicated to preserving the beautiful and ecologically rare Highlands of Roan. This has been accomplished through hard work and personal sacrifice, vision and extraordinary communication skills, stubborn determination, and encyclopedic knowledge of the area and ecology. But perhaps more than anything, Judy was able to use her deep and genuine love and respect for  nature and people to align interests and spur action. Continuing the early collaborative efforts of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee with the Forest Service and other organizations, Judy, as SAHC’s Roan stewardship director, established the Roan Stewardship Committee to bring together a larger community of interested parties. And through all of this, Judy was able to build trust and respect among landowners whose cherished land had been part of their families for generations, thus opening the door to conversations about conservation and ultimately protecting their land. Landowners have many fond memories of working with Judy and often ask about her years after her retirement. These relationships formed a bedrock of trust that has led to a conservation success story that was unimaginable when the small group of individuals met in Johnson City over 50 years ago.

Whether leading a day-long workshop, applying the power of persuasion, or rallying volunteers, Judy got results. Getting to shared goals and prioritized projects was just the start of Judy’s work. Once plans were developed and projects agreed-to, the hard work of implementation began. One of Judy’s strengths has been her ability to recruit and lead volunteers to carry out the many projects needed to protect and restore the Highlands of Roan. From restoration of Golden-winged Warbler habitat in the Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area, removing invasive Garlic Mustard from Roan Mountain State Park, to mowing blackberry and other woody growth from the grassy balds, legions of volunteers have accomplished herculean goals.

A wonderful example is the annual effort undertaken by multiple groups and agencies to remove blackberry and other woody plants slowly encroaching on the grassy balds, threatening not only the unique habitat but also the attractiveness of the region to many thousands of annual visitors. Volunteers use loopers, rakes, hand scythes, and heavy-duty power equipment to mow down the growth, manually replicating as best possible what was done for centuries by fire and grazing animals. Each summer dozens of acres of grassy bald are restored by these efforts. And for many, it is a cherished annual event.

Along the way, Judy has been repeatedly recognized for her tireless contribution to conservation and protection of the Highlands of Roan. She was twice awarded the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club’s Hiker of the Year Award and co-chaired the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s 50th anniversary biennial meeting. She contributed to Roan Seasonal Ecologists with mentoring and inspiration. She also added knowledge and guidance to numerous articles and scientific studies of the Highlands of Roan. Judy formally retired from her position as the SAHC Roan stewardship director in 2014, but her efforts to celebrate and protect the Highlands of Roan continue. And even at 84 years of age, she actively participates in strategy and planning activities as a member of the SAHC Roan Stewardship Advisory Committee. She’s always willing to share her knowledge, offer perspective and advice and lend a helping hand. Her legacy is also evident in the continuing success of SAHC.

A Lifetime of Partnership and Leadership on the Roan

As a founder, Judy was instrumental in shaping and leading the organization. Mentoring and inspiring staff members and scores of volunteers has insured that SAHC’s success is carried to other conservation challenges. This work has been accomplished using the same principles Judy embodied as she led stewardship of Roan – building trusting relationships with the community, partnering with state, federal, and other conservation organizations, and ensuring that the hard work gets done.

As a final testament to Judy’s lifelong commitment to conservation and the protection of the Highlands of Roan, she commissioned Jens Kruger, a member of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame and recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music, to compose a musical celebration of the Highlands of Roan and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee. The result, the Roan Mountain Suite, premiered on October 15, 2016, at the Paramount Center for Performing Arts in Bristol, Tennessee. The performance of the Kruger Brothers and the Kontras Quartet was met with enthusiasm and multiple standing ovations. It was a thrilling evening that would not have been possible without Judy’s vision, powers of persuasion and patronage.

“Sometimes I like to be the last one to turn in for the night, when I have the stars, the wind, and The Rock to myself. A time for silent reflection from the place I love most in the world.” – Judy Murray

Future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park

Volunteers clean up debris around Hominy CreekTrails are shaping up at the future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park in Haywood County! When SAHC purchased the 448-acre tract in 2020, we obtained a loan to complete funding for the acquisition. We will be able to retire the remaining loan in 2022 and complete the transfer of the property to the Town of Canton. The new park will tentatively open in spring of 2022.

SAHC’s acquisition of the Chestnut Mountain property was made possible with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the NC Attorney General’s Office’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, many private donors, and a bridge loan from the The Conservation Fund.

We are grateful to partners at Haywood Waterways Association, Inc. and volunteers who helped clean up debris in and around Hominy Creek at the base of the property.  The large debris resulted from flooding from Tropical Storm Fred, which had a devastating impact on Haywood County and damaged property upstream.

Hanni and Jay accepting Dogwood Award in RaleighThe office of NC Attorney General Josh Stein honored Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy with a 2021 Dogwood Award for our work conserving land and water that will be enjoyed by generations as the future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Congratulations to our amazing team, gratitude to our partners the Town of Canton and Haywood County, and thank you to all the incredible conservation supporters who make this work possible!

For more information about the history of this project and Chestnut Mountain, CLICK HERE.

Accreditation Renewal 2021

Land Trust Accreditation Commission seal and sloganOne thing that unites us as a nation is land: Americans strongly support saving the open spaces they love. Since 1974, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has been doing just that for the people of Tennessee and North Carolina. Now SAHC has renewed our land trust accreditation – proving once again that, as part of a network of over 400 accredited land trusts across the nation, we are committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in its conservation work.

“SAHC became an accredited land trust in 2010, and we have now successfully renewed that accredited status twice,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “This rigorous process serves to reassure our donors and stakeholders that SAHC continues to practice the highest standards in conservation, demonstrating strength, professionalism, and longevity for our organization.”

SAHC provided extensive documentation and was subject to a comprehensive third-party evaluation prior to achieving this distinction. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded renewed accreditation, signifying its confidence that SAHC’s lands will be protected forever. Accredited land trusts now steward almost 20 million acres – the size of Denali, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined.

“It is exciting to recognize Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s continued commitment to national standards by renewing this national mark of distinction,” said Melissa Kalvestrand, executive director of the Commission. “Donors and partners can trust the more than 400 accredited land trusts across the country are united behind strong standards and have demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”

SAHC is one of 1,363 land trusts across the United States according to the Land Trust Alliance’s most recent National Land Trust Census. A complete list of accredited land trusts and more information about the process and benefits can be found at www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission inspires excellence, promotes public trust and ensures permanence in the conservation of open lands by recognizing organizations that meet rigorous quality standards and strive for continuous improvement. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts. For more, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

SAHC Honored with Pigeon River Award

On Tuesday December 3, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Haywood County Agricultural Advisory Board, and The Conservation Fund received Haywood Waterways Association’s Pigeon River Award, an award honoring individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to protecting land and water resources in Haywood County. SAHC has been conserving land in the county since the early 1990s — from the first conservation easement at Cataloochee Ranch to recent protection of 139 acres in the Beaverdam watershed and 50 acres in Crabtree.

“Haywood County is such a special place, and we are lucky to have so many great organizations, landowners, community leaders, and funders working to permanently protect its land and water resources – it takes all of us,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “We’re honored to receive the Pigeon River Award along with wonderful partners at Haywood County Agricultural Advisory Board and The Conservation Fund. SAHC will continue to team with partners and willing landowners to protect the scenic vistas, wildlife corridors, fertile soils, and land securing clean water in Haywood.” Read more

Stanley A. Murray, Inducted into Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame

 

smurraySAHC founder Stan Murray was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame last year, and retired Roan Stewardship Director Judy Murray traveled to Boiling Springs, PA (the “Half-way” point on the AT) to accept the award in his behalf.

Stanley A. Murray, along with Benton McKaye and Myron Avery, was one of the most important individuals in the early history of the Appalachian Trail. Read more

SAHC Staff Win Award for ‘Striving Not to Drive’!

SAHC staff (L to R: Pauline Heyne, Hanni Muerdter, and Michelle Pugliese) receive the workplace challenge award at Asheville City Hall.

On Tuesday, August 13, SAHC was recognized at the regular Asheville City Council meeting for winning this year’s “Strive Not To Drive Workplace Challenge” in the category for organizations of 11-30 employees. In May, SAHC staff competed with staff from other organizations, making a pledge use a mode of transportation other than driving alone for a week. Read more

Jay Leutze honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine

jayaward_enews.jpgIf you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing Jay Leutze eloquently speak about the rare diversity of botanical life in the Highlands of Roan, or belt out a melodic serenade with his conservation song, you can understand why he was recognized this past January with the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is the highest honor the governor can bestow on a North Carolina citizen. It is presented to individuals in recognition of a proven record of extraordinary service to the state.

Over the years, Jay has been an ardent supporter of conservation. He grew up hiking, camping, and exploring the fragile wonder of the Southern Appalachians.  In 2008, Jay helped pass state legislation authorizing the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area adjacent to the Highlands of Roan. He also stopped the proposed Putnam Mine, which would have devastated views from the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan. The story of this heroic battle is the topic of his book “Stand Up That Mountain.”

We are sincerely thankful for Jay’s ongoing, outstanding conservation work with SAHC!

Buncombe County Conservation Hall of Fame Awards 2010

William Hamilton and Martha & Porter ClaxtonThursday, September 16th, the Members of the Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board (LCAB) held the 3rd Annual Buncombe County Conservation Hall of Fame Awards at Claxton Farm in Weaverville, NC to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments in  conservation in Buncombe County. The LCAB helps promote the use of voluntary land conservation easements to preserve the county’s beauty and ecology.

Carl Silverstein, Executive Director of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Board Member of the Buncombe County LCAB, presented awards to landowners that had given donations of conservation easements during the past year through SAHC. Among those who received awards were Martha Ann and Porter Claxton and Fairman and Kate Jayne who are all landowners that have partnered with SAHC to establish conservation easements on their properties. The Claxton’s hosted the event on their property and were named Conservationists of the Year.