Another Conservancy Founder Passes

A tribute by Dave Elkinton

One of the key founders of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Lou Greathouse, passed away November 24, 2019 in Roswell, Georgia at the age of 88. According to his obituary, Lovell Ridgeley Greathouse was born on February 19, 1931, in Strasburg, Virginia. He was a graduate of West Virginia University. The next sentence summarized an entire and memorable career: “Lovell worked for the Natural Resources Department under Governor Hulett Smith of West Virginia and Governor Jimmy Carter in Georgia.”

In researching my book on the first 40 years of the Conservancy, Fighting to Protect the Highlands, published in 2007, I corresponded with Lou and eventually met him, first with his family in Martinsburg, then when he attended the Conservancy’s 40th anniversary celebration. He was so proud that he had helped give birth to this organization that he ordered and I signed books for each of his grandchildren. When I belatedly learned of his death, I realized the Highlands Voice needed to salute him as one of our founders. I turned to another founder, still active in Roanoke, Virginia, for his thoughts. Rupert Cutler wrote:

Lou Greathouse and I became acquainted about 1967 when I was assistant executive director of The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C. and he was a planner for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.  My job was to find roadless areas in the Monongahela National Forest and help create “grassroots” groups to advocate for their protection within the wilderness system.  Lou’s job must have been similar because we met in the Highlands while hiking there and became close friends.  My memories of hiking with Lou along the Shavers Fork of the Cheat and in the streambed of the Gauley River while Summersville Dam was being built are fresh in my mind, as is my memory of the first West Virginia Highlands Conservancy annual review on the summit of Spruce Knob in about 1968 that Lou and I helped plan and hold.  The things about Lou that I loved the most were his great smile and his sunny, positive personality.  The last time I saw him was at the Highlands Conservancy’s 40th anniversary reunion on the Greenbrier that he and Jackie drove up from Atlanta to attend.  He was an inspiration to the rest of us in those early days of the WVHC and I will miss him very much. 

If I may add a little more context, Lou had become Superintendent of Holly River State Park in 1958 and in 1963 transferred to Charleston as Statewide Recreational Planner. (He was later joined by a young wildlife biologist, the late Joe Rieffenberger, who later would twice serve as president of the Conservancy.)  As Lou told me 2007, as he worked on the first Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, he knew that first-hand observation was crucial, and frequently led or arranged for “show me” trips to critical or endangered areas across the state, especially in the highlands. 

Among the threats was the proposed Royal Glen Dam near Petersburg. Greathouse and Lee Maynard, another co-founder of the Conservancy, led horseback trips through Smoke Hole Canyon, taking state leaders and media members to raise awareness of the area to be flooded if the dam was built. (Another founder, Bob Harrigan, organized the Petersburg White Water Weekends, older members might remember, for the same purpose.)

Greathouse told me he used the letterhead of the West Virginia Recreation Society, of which he was past president, to invite leaders of a wide number of recreation user groups to a series of meetings. Many of these groups would later become founding sponsors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Lou loved to canoe and especially appreciated West Virginia’s many free-flowing rivers. He was the first chair of the Conservancy’s Scenic Rivers Committee, but when he left the state for a senior planning position in Georgia, that responsibility fell to Bob Burrell, who was later the Conservancy’s second president and first Voice editor.

Lou always kept West Virginia in his heart. He remained a Conservancy member until the end and followed the organization’s progress. Former Voice editors will remember receiving letters from Lou sharing or correcting details, an indication that he read and digested each issue.

Lou Greathouse shared the vision for a comprehensive, multi-issue approach to protecting the highlands. He knew their protection would be easier if in-state and out-of-state users were mobilized. He also knew any success would need a coalition and diverse leadership. A little later, he began and led the Conservancy’s long history of river protection. Now celebrating over 50 years of environmental activism, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy owes a debt of gratitude to Lou Greathouse, along with the other founders, for establishing an organization that has achieved so much since those early years. Thanks, Lou, happy paddling.