Steady gaze

Welcome!  Greetings!  Salutations!  Whether you are with us in person at our 50th anniversary celebration, or checking up on us by reading this at home, we send you our very best wishes for being part of the first 50 years of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Throughout this year we’ve looked back at our past.  But now, what’s next?

Periodically writers for The Highlands Voice have toyed with forecasting the future.

“On July 4, 1972, hundreds of visitors turned away disappointed during the long holiday weekend when smog prevented the sightseers from catching a glimpse of the spectacular falls.”  That’s how one of us, in 1969, fancied that Blackwater Falls could be affected by the air pollution problems then.

We had also worried about trail bikes.  Someone projected another news bulletin, with sarcasm again—

“April 17, 1971 -Another day of bitter fighting broke out between the Suzuki Trail Bikers and forces of the Audubon Society. Forty-seven birdwatchers were killed in the bloody battle of Bear Rocks while 6 Suzukis were destroyed by Audubon mortar fire. Three regiments of Hondas and 7 platoons of minibikes were thrown in to take possession of the whole Dolly Sods area.”

Many of us would not feel confident in predicting the future, aside from tongue-in-cheek ones such as those above.  The political upheavals and changes in our country magnify our uncertainty.

We could be pessimistic.  Perhaps we will not be able to attract folks of an age and inclination to work on the issues.  Perhaps industries will be emboldened to oppose scrutiny and activism through litigation and we will suffer.  In earlier decades, some of our members and writers foresaw smog and clearcutting everywhere; we could easily imagine frack wastes abounding and more waters fouled by those same spoils and mine drainages too.  We could envisage precious public lands whittled away or commercialized beyond recognition.

Alternately, we could take an upbeat tack.  We could foresee years ahead with folks joining our group and ally groups and new groups to make change for better outcomes…for protected lands and waters.  We could see uniting to work for legislative reforms so that lawmakers and citizens would be working together to avert climate collapse.

Thinking glumly or cheerfully though, it’s difficult to imagine a time when our organization would not be needed.   As when our predecessors were dealing with dirt bikes and smoggy days, sometimes the outlook seems grim.

Once a speaker for a West Virginia raptor rehabilitation center made a startling claim.  “We’d like to see ourselves go out of business.”  He meant that they would like to lay aside the business of patching up injured birds, because ideally there would no birds suffering injuries, especially those that are related to humans.

In the future, is that what we wish?  Do we hope there will be no West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, because the highlands will be in a state of protection and preservation?  Do we want to be out of a “job”?

No.  But maybe our work will be different and the burden will be even more widely shared.

In 1973, in our 8th year, noted Charleston Daily Mail columnist Skip Johnson wrote a piece complimenting us and said, “Every government bureaucracy, every coal executive, every politician needs a suspicious citizen looking over his shoulder.  The Conservancy is West Virginia’s suspicious citizen, and more power to it.”  We too think that the mountain state is lucky to have us, and we find it hard to imagine a time when captains of industry and elected officials wouldn’t need our scrutiny.  Johnson also wrote, “The success of the Conservancy stems from the fact that it gets a lot of people from different walks of life involved in a common goal: a better environment for West Virginia and West Virginians.  What could be more purposeful than that?”

We still have that purpose.  We still have many friends and ally groups; indeed, the number of groups forming up to meet challenges to the mountains seems to be growing and we welcome a congenial cooperation with all.

The greatest, steadiest strength of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy remains, as ever, you.  The individuals who support us will ensure that our stewardship endures.  Three cheers for us!  Three cheers for fifty years!  Three cheers for fifty more!!!