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Don Spude

Conservancy Work Supports His Hobby

Story Highlights
  • Spude worked for 28 years as a printer in Asheville before being laid off; he now works at the Botanical Gardens on UNC-A's campus.
  • Along with his printing co-worker Jay Kranyik, the two produced a plant list for Dupont State Forest.
  • The two documented 784 plant species in the forest, including 20 species of orchids.

Don Spude’s first contact with The Nature Conservancy was in the 1970s at a hike at Toft’s Point, a Conservancy preserve on Lake Michigan. “I said to one of the people leading the hike ‘I just hate development.’ They said ‘The Nature Conservancy isn’t against development. Some of our members are real estate people. We’re just against senseless development. We don’t want to save every last blade of grass or every tree. We want to preserve the important parts of the natural world.’ “

Spude, who enjoyed exploring caves and hiking, embraced that approach. That’s why he has given The Nature Conservancy an annual gift since 1974. Spude, who moved to Asheville in 1980, was born in California but moved to Wisconsin at age five. “I say I’m from Wisconsin,” he says with a laugh. “Unless, you call me a Yankee, then I’ll say I’m from California."

A Love of Botany

He is a self-taught botanist – an interest that grew out of his hiking. “In the late 1990s, I started running out of trails. I was doing the same ones over and over. So, I got more interested in botany, particularly wildflowers.”

Spude worked as a printer for 28 years in Asheville. He found a shared love of botany with co-worker Jay Kranyik. Together, the two produced a plant list for Dupont State Forest – documenting 784 plant species in the forest, which is located in Transylvania and Henderson counties. Some of those findings are more memorable than others. “During our investigation we found the federally endangered swamp pink,” he says. “The State Natural Heritage Program sent a botanist to confirm our findings.” The heritage program also confirmed that Spude and Kranyik had discovered a previously unknown natural community – the low elevation acidic glade, grass subtype.

The two documented 20 species of orchids at Dupont. “I found orchid number twenty,” Spude remembers. “It was large flowered pogonia.”

The plant list was published in 2007. "We think we have gotten 97 percent of the species. That is good especially considering the 10,000 acre size of Dupont,” he explains. He still visits Dupont several times a year, looking for plants to add to the list.

An Unexpected Career Change

After 28 years with the printing company, Spude was laid off a few years ago. “I never really thought my hobby would get me a job,” he says. “All I knew was printing and botany.” Those years of botanizing paid off. He works as Horticulture Assistant and Resident Security at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville on the UNC-A campus.

Today Spude’s botanical interest centers on rock outcrops. “Flowers in the forest get shaded out, especially this time of year,” he explains. “But the flowers on outcrops bloom from early spring to frost. There is also the beauty of the rock. I guess that’s the old cave explorer in me.”

Spude says that The Nature Conservancy’s conservation work has protected lots of important plants, and he appreciates that the organization takes stands on important issues. “I believe in preserving biodiversity,’ he adds. “On the surface, you aren’t an activist organization. But, you can be. Look at the strong stand the Conservancy has on climate change. There are a lot of good environmental organizations. All have their niche, but The Nature Conservancy has impressed me more than any others. “

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