Manfred, Christel, and a Green River Paradise

I don’t know about you, but I had this picture of the South as one big, unzoned, unregulated bunch of land staked out by homesteaders with trailers, front yards with six cars, none of which run, and a personal trash dump out back: a real environmentalist’s nightmare.

Of course, I’m exaggerating, but that’s part of what this blog is about: exposing the exaggerations and the stereotypes, and challenging them with a dose of reality drawn from people’s lives here in the Tryon area.

One thinks of Colorado and Minnesota as “environmental states,” both of which I have lived or currently live in. But there are plenty of people, private citizens, who take it upon themselves to be excellent land stewards, wherever they live. And for people of faith, it’s a matter spoken of in their sacred scriptures.

Israel’s relationship to the land and the recovery of conservation work by Christians as “Creation-Care” have greater urgency now with the concern over climate change. But one need only look as far as the Psalms to see the tip of the biblical warrant to care for the environment: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).

Sunday afternoon, my 15 year old son, Samuel and I came early to a dinner invitation at the Mill Spring home of Congregational Church members Christel and Manfred Walter in order to take a walk in the woods. Their 50 acres of land includes a stretch of the Green River and is thick with deciduous trees, ferns, may-apples, and remarkably little kudzu, the ubiquitous, invasive weed I mentioned in last week’s post.

Born in Germany, the couple bought 100 acres with their neighbors in 1971, dividing the property up 50/50. The neighbors built a cabin on their land, and the Walters, who were living in Wisconsin at the time, would come down to vacation occasionally.

Then Manfred retired, and they began making plans to build a vacation home on the property; one thing led to another, and in 2002 they moved down here full time.

They volunteered at a nature center while still in Wisconsin, eradicating invasive species and recreating a prairie, but more importantly, learning a whole lot about natural systems and stewardship of the land—and the importance of being good stewards.

The next step was in 2004 when, with the help of the North Carolina Forest Service they developed a Forest Stewardship Plan, something my parents also did on their forested land in Ohio—state forest services exist to help private citizens do things like this: your tax dollars at work!

I think people who get involved in conservation have a hard time doing anything halfway. Manfred and Christel went to Forest School, taking the Woodland Forest Series course, and joined the Pacolet Area Conservancy, where Christel was a board member and chair of the environmental education committee.

North Carolina Environmental Educator certification provided opportunities to travel the state for hands-on learning experiences and greater appreciation of ecosystems and their importance to continued, healthy existence on the planet.

In 2014, they were offered the chance to buy part of their neighbor’s property, and did. This then gave them the impetus to permanently conserve most of the land in its present natural state by means of a conservation easement through the Pacolet Area Conservancy.

Christel relates the life-altering result of the process this way: “We feel strongly that we are only the caretakers, with a responsibility toward the next generation; but more than that, we want to preserve the habitat for the flora and fauna that have been here all along. We discussed this with our 3 children and in October of 2014 we put 65 acres of our approximately 90 acres under conservation with PAC.”

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