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Maura High: Fire Volunteer Extraordinaire

There are many ways to support The Nature Conservancy. Maura High covers the whole gamut.

“When I started earning my own money, I could start giving money to my favorite causes, and TNC was one of them,” High explains. 

That support began more than three decades ago, when she lived in New Hampshire. It continued and intensified when she moved to Carrboro in 1989.

“I was delighted to find that the chapter office was right in my town, so I called up and asked if they needed volunteers," she says. “They said they did and asked if I would be interested in starting that very afternoon.”

Evolving to Fire Crew Coordinator

At first, she helped out in the office. “Then I was asked if I would be interested in training with the fire crew. A few of us got the basic training. This was early days for the fire program, before we had our own engines, ATVs, and seasonal crews. By modern standards it was very bare bones. Nowadays, we follow the highest national standards for equipment and training.”

Fire Director Margit Bucher says that Maura is an important part of her team. “She is crucial to our work,” Bucher says. “Being a crew member is one thing, but doing all the work organizing crews is also important. She really is indispensable.”

High coordinates volunteer fire crew members, ensuring that they are trained and available for burns. Fire crew members must pass the annual pack test, which involves walking three miles while carrying a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes or less. 

Looking to the Future

“Now that I am 65, I have to start planning for the future when I can no longer pass the pack test,” High explains. “This is very arduous work, but it has been a real treat to get so close to what the Conservancy actually does in the field.”

Although no one expects High to quit working in the field anytime soon – her last pack test was timed at 43 minutes – she recently began another chapter in her Conservancy support. She and her husband Peter Burian, Dean of the Humanities at Duke University, have established a charitable trust with the Conservancy as the beneficiary.

Supporting the Conservancy is a good fit for High, who has spent a lifetime outdoors, sometimes in exotic locales. The Welsh native grew up in Pakistan and Malaysia, where her father was stationed as an army officer. As a young adult, she worked in Nigeria as a school teacher. She has traveled across the world. “But, this is home,” she says. “I am one of those exotic species that have taken root here and flourished.”

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