10 Conservation Heroes Honored for Their Work

North Carolina’s 23 local land trusts bestowed their annual awards on deserving winners during a dinner celebration at the 2017 Land Trust Assembly in Hendersonville on Wednesday, May 24. The NC Land Trust awards are given annually to businesses, nonprofits, governments, and individuals who lead efforts to protect streams, farms, parks, forests, and trails that help provide safe drinking water, clean air, fresh local foods, and abundant recreational opportunities for all North Carolina families.

The award winners included:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Haywood Rankin
  • Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year, John McLendon
  • Rising Leader: Land Trust Staff, Peter Barr
  • Rising Leader: Volunteer/Intern/Supporter, Jonathan Hill
  • Special Recognition/Media Partner, Karen Chávez, Asheville Citizen-Times
  • Corporate Conservation Partner,Holt C-Store
  • Federal Government Conservation Partner, Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • State Government Conservation Partner, Tommy Hughes, David Allen, Gordon Warburton, NC Wildlife Resources Commission
  • Local Government Conservation Partner, Town of Cary
  • Community Conservation Partner, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Lifetime Achievement Award: Haywood Rankin

Nominated by Catawba Lands Conservancy.
For most, Redlair Preserve has become synonymous with Haywood Rankin. The Redlair Preserve connects more than 1,500 contiguous acres of protected property along the South Fork of the Catawba River, and has served as the touchstone for conservation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. A large tract of land near North Carolina’s largest metropolitan area, and the site of North Carolina’s largest population of bigleaf magnolia, Redlair is a symbol of Rankin’s passion for land stewardship, which has impacted the region in positive ways.

Today, Redlair Preserve is owned by the N.C. Plant Conservation Program, which is dedicated to conserving imperiled plant species and their natural habitats. More than a protected property, it is also a living classroom and source of inspiration connecting thousands of citizens to conservation through the outdoors, a mission advanced by Catawba Lands Conservancy.

“His leadership has had a profound impact on the history and success of our organization,” said Catawba Lands Conservancy Executive Director Tom Okel. “Haywood deserves all the recognition for his commitment to land and plant conservation in North Carolina.”

Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year: John McLendon

Nominated by Piedmont Land Conservancy and Blue Ridge Conservancy.

John McLendon has been a tireless champion in the work required to open Piedmont Land Conservancy’s (PLC) first nature preserve. His attention to detail enabled PLC to work through the steps necessary to obtain rezoning, garner neighborhood support, and create a management plan for the Preserve. Today, after eight years of persistence and five separate land transactions, PLC’s Knight Brown Nature Preserve’s beautiful trails attract visitors from all over the region.

With a lifelong commitment to conservation and as a tireless champion in the fight to permanently protect North Carolina’s farms, waterways and special natural areas, John embodies all the qualifications of a Stanback Volunteer Award winner. John McLendon has served as a member of the PLC Board of Directors since 2011, and he and his wife Connie are active members and supporters of Blue Ridge Conservancy who hope to protect their Avery County property with a conservation easement. He demonstrates his personal commitment to teaching the next generation to preserve and protect our natural resources through his involvement with and financial support for the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps. He also continues to support the Vermont Land Trust in his native state.

“John is an extraordinarily talented visionary; he may be the most detail-oriented, big picture thinker I’ve ever met,” said Piedmont Land Conservancy Executive Director Kevin Redding. “He doesn’t just steer the policy in seemingly always the right direction, he’s the first one in line to roll his sleeves up and help us navigate the most complex of projects.”

Rising Conservation Leader of the Year (Land Trust Staff): Peter Barr, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Nominated by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

Peter Barr joined the staff of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy as an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member, and he has been a permanent Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy staff member for seven years. In his role as Marketing and Communications coordinator, Peter wrote and produced the regular Landscape Newsletter and authored more than 60 “Stories of the Land” narratives published in regional newspapers – broadly making land conservation more relatable and tangible to a wide audience throughout the community.

The White Squirrel Hiking Challenge program Peter developed inspires more than 1,500 individuals to get out on the land and explore. Additionally, he has inspired 10,000 individual self-guided hikes, and through this program, raised tens of thousands of dollars for land conservation. He has led more than 75 group hikes and tours on conserved lands.

“It was my opinion on our first days of meeting that this young man was going places, but more particularly was going to “save the places we all love,” said Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Development Director Lynn Killian. “With his impressive skill set, expansive knowledge of conservation, and willingness to work tirelessly to fulfill conservation successes, Peter is a true conservation leader.”

Rising Conservation Leader of the Year (Volunteer, Intern, and Supporter): Jonathan Hill

Nominated by Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

Jonathan Hill is a quintessential rising leader in the conservation community. He served as a North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps crew member for two summers, and participated in the Duke University Stanback Internship Program as CTNC’s Government Affairs Intern advocating for North Carolina’s land trusts in the General Assembly. Jonathan led research and service projects at Eno River State Park and planned fundraisers for Duke University’s Environmental Alliance Club, from which he recently graduated with dual degrees in History and Public Policy. In 2016 and 2017 Jonathan served as an assistant to the NCYCC project director and was a summer policy and lobbying intern for the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, Jonathan is a founding member of CTNC’s Future Leaders of Conservation millennial advisory board where he currently serves as board member and secretary.

“Jonathan is an invaluable member of the CTNC family,” said NCYCC Program Director Jan Pender. “Jonathan’s commitment to conservation, service ethic, positive attitude, and can-do spirit makes him one of the state’s most outstanding young conservation leaders. Now that Jonathan has graduated from college, we can’t wait to see what he achieves for critical conservation issues and policies.”

Media Partner of the Year Award: Karen Chávez, Asheville Citizen-Times

Nominated by Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

Carolina Outdoors Reporter Karen Chávez of the Asheville Citizen-Times is celebrated for her exceptional, ongoing coverage of conservation-related news items across the region. In addition to promoting outdoor recreation opportunities, for several years Chávez has consistently reported on important topics pertaining to conservation and land protection from various Western North Carolina land trusts including Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Pacolet Area Conservancy, Mainspring, Blue Ridge Forever coalition, and Conservation Trust for North Carolina. In recent work, she has covered the protection of the 1,060-acre Little White Oak Mountain property, the addition of more than 300 acres to the Cold Mountain Game Lands, Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site efforts to fight hemlock woolly adelgid infestations, and tips for enjoying protected lands in forests and along the Blue Ridge Parkway to bring incredible public awareness to land trusts’ work in Western NC. Karen has also done in-depth feature articles highlighting the importance of diversity in conservation and environmental leadership, such as her opinion piece, You can take the city child into the woods.

“Karen’s attention to detail, receptiveness to outreach from many land trusts, and in-depth reporting style bring important attention to conservation topics in our state, and we’re proud to honor her with this award,” said Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy Communications Director Angela Shepherd.

Corporate Conservation Partner of the Year: Holt C-Store

Nominated by North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.

Holt C-Store has played a major role in the long-term success of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust (NCCLT). Holt C-Store is a third-generation, family business that today operates/leases 22 retail convenience stores in the southeastern and Sandhills regions of North Carolina. Holt C-Store has been a leading corporate supporter of the NCCLT for 15 years, encouraging its management and owners to volunteer with community nonprofits, from land trusts and conservation groups, to animal protection, schools, and women’s centers.

“At a time when nonprofits are urged to deliver results, Holt C-Store’s contributions of time, talent and treasure make it possible. When Holt C-Stores people roll up their sleeves, sparks fly,” said North Carolina Coastal Land Trust Executive Director Camilla Herlevich. “Our community is fortunate to have a philanthropic business like Holt C-Store, and we enthusiastically support them for this award.”

Federal Government Conservation Partner of the Year: Natural Resources Conservation Service Nominated by Blue Ridge Forever.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has an established history of working with land trusts to provide farmers and ranchers with financial and technical assistance through Agricultural Conservation Easements. Now, Western North Carolina has been awarded more than $8 million through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) program for agricultural easements, through partnership with the Blue Ridge Forever coalition’s 10 western land trusts and NRCS. It is expected that more than 2,000 acres of mountain farms will be protected through voluntary easements in WNC because of NRCS contributions.

“NRCS’ dedication to, and support of innovative partnerships has assisted Blue Ridge Forever partners to access federal funding for farmland preservation at a scale never before seen in WNC. It’s also brought a greater diversity of community partners together, and helped land trusts deepen relationships with their local Soil and Water Conservation Districts,” said Blue Ridge Forever Coalition Director Jess Laggis. “As a result, we achieve better conservation outcomes, and conserve more land to protect the quality of the mountain headwaters flowing through our farms.”

State Government Conservation Partner of the Year: NC Wildlife Resources Commission Tommy Hughes, David Allen, and Gordon Warburton

Nominated by North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.

NCWRC biologists, Tommy Hughes and David Allen, significantly helped the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust advance the work of conserving coastal lands. With almost 60 years of wildlife management expertise between them, they have been around the forest and have used their knowledge to protect, enhance, and manage some very special places. They are well-respected in the conservation community with passion and commitment toward conservation of North Carolina’s biological diversity.

Tommy Hughes, Coastal Plain Ecoregion Supervisor, is responsible for overseeing the management of over 500,000 acres of coastal game lands which include habitat restoration, infrastructure improvements, and staff supervision. David Allen, Coastal Faunal Diversity Coordinator, works to survey, conduct research, and conserve habitat for our coastal nori-game species. And he supervises a team of biologists that focus on sea turtles, colonial waterbirds, herps, and landbirds. Gordon Warburton served as Ecoregion Supervisor at N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for Western North Carolina. Formerly the Commission’s Black Bear Project Leader, he led the statewide black bear conservation efforts and research program.

“Tommy and Dave have been instrumental in helping NCCLT identify collaborative land conservation projects, prepare the necessary grants, promote projects through NCWRC Headquarters for approvals, and coordinate with State Property Office on closings,” said North Carolina Coastal Land Trust Executive Director Camilla Herlevich. “Gordon’s work has been similarly impactful on conservation in the western part of the state. They are all exceptional land trust partners most deserving of recognition.”

Local Government Conservation Partner of the Year: Town of Cary

Nominated by Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

The Town of Cary was recognized as Local Government Partner of the Year for their work with The Conservation Fund (TCF), the North Carolina Community Development Initiative (NCCDI), the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), and the Piedmont Conservation Council (PCC) on the Good Hope Farm project in western Cary. Good Hope Farm is a 30-acre property owned by the Town of Cary and operated by PCC as an accelerator farm for beginning farmers.

In the past 60 years, Wake County has lost more than 5,000 farms, and the Town of Cary recognizes the role it can play in protecting the farmland that remains. The Town sees its support of Good Hope Farm as fulfilling its mission to be good stewards of our natural resources, to value growth that balances community health and stability, and to be creative and innovative. They fully understand and communicate the farm’s goals and benefits including creating a financially sustainable model of leasing farmland to new farmers, connecting farmers with local markets, serving as a demonstration site for environmentally-responsible farming practices, and providing educational opportunities for the community regarding agriculture and nutrition.

“The Town of Cary’s partnership with conservation and community economic development
organizations on Good Hope Farm serves as a national model of a public/nonprofit partnership,” said CTNC Associate Director Caitlin Burke. “The Town’s support has been essential to ensuring Good Hope Farm achieves the goals of sustainable farming, open space preservation, community education, and historical preservation.”

Community Conservation Partner of the Year: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Nominated by Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

Based on a proactive approach to partnerships and multi-faceted strategies to promote sustainable agriculture, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) has helped land trusts effectively facilitate farmland preservation across the state. CFSA has engaged the land trust community in its efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and local food production through expanded outreach opportunities, policy research and advocacy, and farmland preservation and land access initiatives.

As part of its Sustainable Food NC (SFNC) project, CFSA has brought together land trusts and sustainable farming organizations to support funding for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, both of which fund farmland preservation and agricultural development projects. In addition to outreach support and project coordination, CFSA has partnered with CTNC and other land trusts on a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant Program proposal to train the next generation of sustainable farmers and provide new farmers with access to affordable conserved farmland. CFSA’s staff expertise and willingness to incorporate a land trust land access component in an existing proposal, reflect a genuine desire to partner and share limited resources to meet the needs of new farmers.

“CFSA and SFNC provided a forum for promoting innovative farmland preservation regional planning and community economic development through local food production, and offered partnership opportunities to land trusts across the state,” said CTNC Government Relations Director Edgar Miller “They’re an exceptional community partner to land trusts working to keep conserved farmland in agricultural production and assist new farmers in obtaining affordable farmland that meets their needs.”

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The Conservation Trust for North Carolina protects the Blue Ridge Parkway’s natural and scenic corridor, assists 23 local land trusts so that they can protect more land in the communities they serve, and connects North Carolina families with the outdoors. Land trusts preserve land and waterways to safeguard your way of life. They work with landowners to ensure natural lands are protected for safe drinking water and clean air, fresh local foods, recreation, tourism, and healthy wildlife habitat. More information about CTNC is available at www.ctnc.org or @ct4nc.

North Carolina land trusts have protected 428,936 acres in 2,751 places across the state. The land trusts preserve land and water resources to safeguard your way of life. We work in local communities to ensure critical lands are protected for clean air, safe drinking water, healthy local foods, and recreational opportunities for all North Carolina families.