A Half Century of Conservation

West Virginians gather in Morgantown to celebrate The Nature Conservancy’s 50th Anniversary


Supporters and partners of The Nature Conservancy gathered Friday (Oct. 25) in Morgantown to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary of conserving critical lands and waters in West Virginia.

More than 200 individuals, including long-time supporters, landowner partners, representatives of state and federal land management agencies, and public officials, toasted the successes of the past half century and pondered a vision for the next 50 years.

“We know these Appalachian Mountains enrich our everyday lives,” said Rodney Bartgis, director of the Conservancy’s program in West Virginia. “But they are so much more. Our forests are the lungs of the East. The mountain streams feed the great river systems of the Potomac and the Ohio. And the conservation of these lands rests on our shoulders.”

The event was held in Morgantown to honor the memory of a small group of students and faculty from West Virginia University who banded together in the early 1960s to protect what’s now known as Cranesville Swamp Preserve at West Virginia’s border with Maryland.

That original 259-acre purchase launched the private conservation movement in West Virginia. Over the next 50 years the Conservancy grew to be the most successful private land trust in the state—one that has protected some 120,000 acres of the state’s finest natural areas.

But in that 50 years it has expanded its mission beyond the traditional boundaries of a land trust, using pragmatic science and non-confrontational tactics to develop ever more effective conservation strategies. From its instrumental role in launching the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund to developing a watershed assessment tool to guide freshwater protection, the Conservancy works with government, landowners, industry, and individuals to create tools that make the most sense for a rapidly-changing world.

“Over the next 40 years the Earth’s population is expected to surpass 9 billion, and the demand for food, water, and energy will put increasing pressure on our natural resources,” Bartgis said. “Our challenge over the next half century will be to find ways to address the needs of both nature and people.”

At the event, the Conservancy honored fifty individuals or organizations who contributed to the protection and restoration of West Virginia’s natural heritage over the past 50 years. These “Conservation Heroes” were chosen from the thousands of dedicated conservationists who have supported the Conservancy mission over the past half century.

The “Heroes” program honors West Virginians living and remembers those who have passed on. A few examples include:

• Charlie Baer, a retired professor of ecology at West Virginia University, where the Conservancy has its West Virginia roots,
• The late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, who during his many years in Congress tirelessly supported the protection of public lands, especially significant natural areas that are now part of the Monongahela National Forest,
• The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, whose leaders have worked closely with the Conservancy on many critical conservation projects over the years,
• Volunteers like Steve and Terry Bailes, whose maintenance and public programs at the Conservancy’s Ice Mountain Preserve has brought a greater public appreciation for the National Natural Landmark,
• And our corporate partners, including Dominion, which has supported conservation and stewardship of our Bear Rocks Preserve.

“The Heroes come from all corners of West Virginia and represent a variety of backgrounds,” Bartgis said, “but all exemplify the same standards of persistence, generosity, and enthusiasm for West Virginia’s wild places.”

The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia thanks the following generous sponsors for supporting the 50th Anniversary Event:

Mr. Stephen J. Callen
Digital Relativity
Orders Construction
Steptoe & Johnson PLLC
Dow Chemical Company Foundation
Gat Creek
Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Printscape Morgantown


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Randy Edwards
The Nature Conservancy

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