A Few of North Carolina’s Noted Naturalists and the Places They Helped Save

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H. H. Brimley, founding director of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Image from the State Archives.

When the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, activists sought to harness the increased consciousness Americans had about the environment and the counterculture movement then sweeping the nation to motivate people to speak out and act on environmental issues.

In celebration of the watershed moment 46 years ago, here are the stories of eight North Carolina conservation leaders and the places they sought to protect:

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At right, Baum at Jockey's Ridge. Image from Friends of Jockey's Ridge State Park.

Carolista Baum. After her children saw a bulldozer flatten out part of Jockey’s Ridge on a quiet morning in August 1973, Baum went to investigate and discovered that the dune was slated for destruction to make way for a residential development. Baum planted herself in the way of the earth moving equipment, halting construction.

She went on to help found the People to Preserve Jockey's Ridge, which led to the creation of a state park in 1975.

Plan Your Visit to Baum’s Legacy, Jockey’s Ridge State Park

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At left, "Big Hugh" Bennett. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

“Big Hugh” Bennett. Now know as the “father of soil conservation,” Hugh Hammond Bennett grew up in the drainage basin of the Pee Dee River in Anson County and became aware of the woeful effects of soil erosion at an early age.

He is widely credited with selling the benefits of soil conservation to a skeptical public and spreading the message of the importance of topsoil preservation among farmers. Bennett served with the federal Soil Conservation Service for 50 years.

Learn More About Bennett’s Life on NCpedia

H. H. Brimley. After emigrating to North Carolina from England, Brimley and his brother opened a taxidermy shop in Raleigh. They quickly gained reputations as two of the South’s leading naturalists.

After Brimley created an exhibit on waterfowl and fishes for the State Exposition of 1884, the state Department of Agriculture found the exhibit too valuable to discard. The department found a more permanent place in its halls for the exhibit and, in time, found a more permanent place for Brimley, too, as the exhibit’s curator and director of the museum it began, now the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

Explore the Museum Brimley Helped Create

horace_kephart_cookingAt right, Kephart camping in the Smokies. Image from his book.

Horace Kephart. A former librarian from Pennsylvania, Kephart came to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in 1904 seeking solace. He would spent the rest of his life living outside of Bryson City, writing about the environment and outdoor life. By 1913, he had published three books on self-reliant living and the natural world.

An early advocate of the mountain region, Kephart tirelessly promoted the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His book Our Southern Highlanders, published in 1913, is the classic work on the region.

Hugh Morton. Perhaps best-known as the developer of Grandfather Mountain, which he inherited in 1952, Morton was also instrumental in saving some of the state’s historic treasures including the Battleship North Carolina and Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Morton gained notoriety for his fight to keep the Blue Ridge Parkway from crossing Grandfather Mountain and spoiling its aesthetic appeal, and took close to a quarter-million photographs which helped promote North Carolina’s scenic beauty.

Plan Your Trip to Morton’s Grandfather Mountain

Margaret Nygard. After the city of Durham announced plans to build a reservoir on the Eno River to increase the area’s water supply, Nygard and her husband ignited a grassroots campaign to fight to preserve the unique history and environment of the Eno and advocate for the creation of a state park along it.

Discover the Magic of the Eno at Eno River State Park
 

T. Gilbert Pearson. Originally from Illinois, Pearson settled in North Carolina after studying biology and botany at Guilford College and UNC. He had a strong interest in birds and assembled one of the largest collections of bird eggs in nation at the time.

After writing his first book, Stories of Bird Life, Gilbert became active in policy work, founding the Abudon Society of North Carolina and advocating for state and national legislation protecting birds and their habitats. He founded the International Committee for Bird Preservation in 1922 and served as its first president for more than a decade.

Dive Deeper into Pearson’s Story on NCpedia

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At left, Carl Schenck. Image from NCSU Libraries.

Carl Schenck. A German by birth, Schenck came to North Carolina to manage the woodlands on Biltmore Estate for the Vanderbilt family. He started the nation’s first school of forestry on the Biltmore grounds in 1898, teaching students about the care of nurseries; the transplant and cultivation of seedlings; timber selection; felling; logging; and sawing, and using Biltmore’s tens of thousands of acres of forest as a classroom.

This Earth Day weekend we hope you get in touch with North Carolina’s scenic beauty and natural splendor at the state parkaquarium or science museum near you or at the North Carolina Zoo.

You can also learn more about the conservation movement in North Carolina on NCpedia and find a guide to resources related to North Carolina's environmental heritage produced by the State Library.

Happy exploring!