By John McFerrin
As of the beginning of 2019, Beth Little has left her position as Membership Secretary/Administrative Assistant. We are sad to see her go. She had wanted to leave for a couple of years; we kept saying, “OK, OK, we understand. Just stay until we can find somebody to replace you.”
Finally, we realized that we could not keep this up forever. We were fortunate that Dave Saville was available and willing to take over her position so now Beth is able to retire, at least from that position.
Beth leaves behind a record of almost twelve years of service. During all that time she has kept up with our membership, sent out renewal notices, managed fund raising letters, and generally done all the day to day work that is necessary to maintain the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy as a functioning organization. In her time on the job she began our on-line store, the on-line place where people can join, buy our hats and shirts, hiking guides, etc. Beth’s job expanded from keeping track of members to include keeping track of inventory, filling orders, etc.
Beth’s role in the behind the scenes, nuts and bolts work of keeping the Highlands Conservancy running comes after a long history of more public activism. In 2009 she won the Laura Forman Grassroots Activist presented by the West Virginia Environmental Council. The announcement of the award offered this mini-biography:
Beth came to Pocahontas County from Philadelphia over thirty years ago, and has fought to protect the mountains that drew her here since she arrived. Her selfless devotion, attention to detail and leadership ability make her a sought – after member of many community and state boards. She has worked tirelessly to protect the Monongahela National Forest, promote wilderness, helped defeat more than one proposed coal burning electric plant – including the recently proposed Western Greenbrier co-generation plant – and is now actively fighting to control Marcellus shale gas drilling.
In 2012 she won the Sierra Club Award. The work for which she was recognized reflected the times. Horizontal drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia began in 2008. The biography that accompanied her 2012 award emphasized her work in dealing with the problems that arose from that:
Beginning in 2009, Beth began raising the alarm over unrestricted drilling statewide. Brine disposal in MNF sites had resulted in dead trees and polluted streams and there were leases being proposed for State Parks, but the horror stories on private lands were substantially worse. Beth began researching cases and compiled a multi-media slide show to illustrate the scale of the impacts.
For two years, Beth was the primary contact for citizens concerned about gas development. She became expert in gas leasing and property rights issues. In addition, with frequent talks to local groups statewide, she helped raise awareness to the lack of adequate regulation of the industry, the Halliburton loopholes, and the problems with the lack of inspectors and the inadequate enforcement. She identified the need to further refine Sierra Club policy on natural gas at a time when there was a tendency to ignore the adverse impacts.
In an issue that is near to the Highlands Conservancy’s heart, Beth was a leader in the multi-year effort that resulted in the Wild Monongalia Act. Passed in 2009, the Wild Monongahela Act, created three new wilderness areas in the Monongahela National Forest, and adds acreage to three existing wilderness areas. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the Wilderness Hero Award.
Beth got to West Virginia as part of the wave of educated, urban homesteaders who made their way to Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties in the 1970s, seeking cheap land and a different way of life. Legends of their blundering, trying to live off the land without the skills necessary to do it, are legion. Yet many of them persisted, learned, and became permanent parts of the community.
Beth’s own journey took her from life as a computer programmer. In the early 70’s, she left that life in Los Angeles to travel around the country with her kids, her then husband and their dog, all in a truck with a camper on top. They landed in Pocahontas County. There followed a seven year stint in Philadelphia before she was drawn back to Pocahontas County for good in 1980. By this time she was a single mother with two young children. She gravitated to her local extension agent and quickly became renowned as an organic gardener.
Beth still lives in an energy efficient house she built on her land in Lobelia. She says “I have a sense of home and place and community that I didn’t expect to have before this. In a city, I just didn’t have the sense we have here. It’s really special.”
She’s always the same good company and better informed about proposed depredations than just about anyone else. Unlike many of us, she doesn’t get too distracted by saving the world to remember to enjoy the world. She has her favorite hikes, as we all have. It’s always a pleasure to explore them with her.
The place and community are not the only things that are special. We all know that Beth is special and wish her well wherever the next chapter of her life takes her.