When she came to Kingsport, TN in 1960, Judy Murray knew that she loved mountains. Two days after arriving, her first visit to the Highlands of Roan kindled a passion that became the driving force behind much of the preservation and habitat restoration work we and our partners have accomplished on the Roan.
This year Judy retired from her position as our Highlands of Roan Stewardship Director, and we give her a resounding and heartfelt ‘thank you’ for her dedicated service over the past forty years.
“It was the mountains that really drew me here,” says Judy. “Two days after I landed in Tennessee, I was on the Roan.”
She came to work at Eastman Chemical Company straight out of college, and her early experiences with the Tenn essee Eastman Hiking Club eventually led to her lifelong work in the Highlands of Roan. Guided by SAHC founder Stan Murray, members of the hiking club formed the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee (RMPC) of the Appalachian Trail Conference in order to preserve the views and landscape surrounding the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan.
“There is a delicate balance between public use and resource protection, and that has never been more apparent than on Roan Mountain,” says Judy.
Judy chaired the RMPC for several years, obtained her graduate degree in ecology, served as SAHC’s volunteer land steward, and then became Highlands of Roan Stewardship Director. With her guidance, SAHC spearheaded a coalition of partners dedicated to the management and restoration of Roan’s unique grassy balds. The Highlands of Roan stewardship partners address the growing problem of encroachment on the balds. No longer naturally grazed, the open expanses of grassy balds and their incredible diversity of rare native species are in danger of being lost.
Judy began organizing the Grassy Ridge Mow-off in the 1990s to help keep the grassy balds open. Each summer, a group of volunteers camps at Grassy Ridge and spends the weekend hand-mowing to maintain the balds. “We’ve been holding an annual Grassy Ridge Mow-off Volunteer Weekend for over 20 years. Volunteers come in for the weekend or just for a day to mow and help restore the balds. Many return time after time, and it’s certainly one of the highlights of my year.”
“On Saturday nights after supper is over and the dishes are washed and put away, we all grab our cups, camp chairs, flashlights, and warm clothing and head for the Rock where we gather to share tales, travel stories, favorite books and lots of laughs,” Judy reflects. “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. Somehow, it makes me feel connected to all the mountains on the planet.”
Special moments like this have fueled Judy’s stewardship of the Roan. The Highlands of Roan management partners focus on the entire ecosystem and work collaboratively across state lines. Some of the challenges facing the Roan and our new Roan Stewardship Director include non-native invasive species, fragmentation of the landscape (much of which is still unprotected), and user impacts due to the popularity of the area. Judy stresses the importance of “Leave No Trace” principles for people enjoying the Roan.
“Roan is different from other places. It’s an extraordinary piece of our natural heritage — an ecological crown jewel. It’s natural, and we want to keep it that way.”