A country kid’s passion for preservation

By Bill Kovarik    

ingles.cabinBeth Obenshain watched as suburban developments swept away the farms around Blacksburg, Va.,  where she had grew up.  And, as a self-described “country kid,” it bothered her.

So in 2002 she retired as a senior editor for the Roanoke Times and took on the challenge of directing the New  River Land Trust.  

“It was about saving farms, and I grew up on a farm, and I saw so much change in my life,” Obenshain said wistfully.

Now,  after helping farmers and landowners place 40,000 acres of land into conservation easements in the eight county region, Obenshain looks back on almost a decade of efforts as a guardian of the public interest in preserving farms and historic sites.

The land trust is an independent educational group that educates and encourages landowners. A separate agency of the  state government actually manages the formal tax and contract work.

A major factor in the success of these efforts, she notes, is Virginia’s bipartisan commitment to the land trust approach.

“Conservation easements speak to Virginia’s heritage,” she says. “They are about saving the very fabric of this beautiful and historic state.”

Among sites preserved through the easements are: Ingles tavern, where Davy Crockett once stayed; and the home of Tilly Wood, who was famous for her generosity to through hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

“I’m incredibly elated and proud that these properties are going to be there for future generations,” she said. “These go back to the founding days of our country.”

Although Obenshain has recently retired from the New River director’s position, she is continuing to work on preservation. One project is a long-forgotten stone fortress on the New River that was an outpost during the French and Indian war.  Another is  Ingles Tavern, where Davy Crocket, Sam Houston and many other famous figures of the early 19th century stayed over on their travels.

Preservation work has been personally rewarding Obenshain says. For one thing, it’s bipartisan.  “Land consevation is not a Republican or Democratic issue – this is for everyone.”

And it has been an adventure, too.  “I’ve gone down little back roads, places I’d never been and never would have been, if not for the land trust.”

(Also published in Appalachian Voice, Summer, 2012)

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