“There is one place in the preserve – I just know that there are sprites there. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it.” ~ Feil
When Elisabeth Feil went looking for an environmental group to support, the Conservancy was a good fit. “You work behind the scenes and don’t make a big ado about things. It suited my personality,” she explains. Three decades later, she is still pleased with her decision.
In addition to supporting the Conservancy, Feil has also played an important role in stewardship and she has a personal connection to one of the Conservancy’s signature landscapes.
Feil is a native of Bielefeld, Germany. Her husband Heinz’ work as a textile engineer brought the couple to North Carolina 45 years ago. “TNC came by osmosis,” she says.
“I was always interested in biology,” she says. “One of my teachers tried to steer me to the University to study biology, but instead I attended chemistry school.”
It wasn’t until after her children left home that she went back to college and received a master’s degree in biology with a concentration in botany from UNC-Charlotte. She completed her thesis “Floristics and Vegetation of Chimney Rock Park” in 1987. The Conservancy has done considerable work around Chimney Rock Park (The Park and the surrounding landscape are known as Hickory Nut Gorge by the Conservancy.)
Feil became the Conservancy’s first female intern in 1985, conducting hikes at Bat Cave, which was the core of the Conservancy’s Hickory Nut Gorge preservation. She had been a Girl Scout leader and first visited the area with a former scout a few days before the young lady’s wedding. “She needed a break from the hectic preparations. I’ll never forget that day, because she was so excited to see all the lovely flowers,” she remembers. “It was early spring and absolutely beautiful.”
Over the years, through her work on her thesis and with the Conservancy, she came to know the area very well. “You come from this rich cove forest area. You go around the corner and everything is covered in rhododendron. Then you get up to the cave. There is just such a variety of things to see.”
She has found some special places in the area. “There is one place in the preserve – I just know that there are sprites there. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it.”
The Conservancy’s North Carolina chapter was established in 1977. Feil recently read the Chapter history. “I didn’t realize that I had been with you that long,” she says.
Over the years, she has seen the Conservancy change. “I’ve followed the development from just protecting individual species to a strong focus on the entire ecosystem, including the people that live there.”
Through her work with the Conservancy, she has come to realize that people are often left with a lasting impression when they visit a preserve. Years after she led hikes at Bat Cave, she still finds people who remember them. “People come up to me and say ‘Aren’t you Elizabeth? I met you on a hike at Bat Cave.”
Debbie Crane is Director of Communications for the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.