Volunteer Spotlight ~ Meet Carrie McClain

Volunteer Spotlight ~ Meet Carrie McClain

Carrie McClain is co-owner of the Old Store at Grassy Creek and the creator behind the “Saved by a Salamander” first annual event recently held at the Old Store at Grassy Creek in May.  McClain is indefatigable in her efforts to promote her love of the region.  The 2nd annual Saved by a Salamander event will be held on May 18, 2024.

How did you learn about the New River Conservancy?

I grew up knowing a little bit about the New River Conservancy (NRC) as my parents have been farming Christmas trees in Ashe County, North Carolina since 1986. When I moved to the area and met Elizabeth Underwood, the Director of NRC, through the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, I learned a lot more about the NRC, its history, and its efforts to keep the New River and its wildlife healthy.

What was your inspiration for the Saved by a Salamander event?

The first farm my parents purchased in Ashe County was in Grassy Creek, a historic community on the NC/VA border.  They soon learned that throughout the 1970s, Grassy Creek had been in perpetual danger of being flooded by the dam that the American Electric Power Company planned to build on the New River just over the state line in neighboring Grayson County, Virginia.  They heard about the historic fight to preserve the river, including the rumor that Grassy Creek had been “saved by a salamander”.

In 2020, my parents and I decided to restore the old general store on our farm that was originally built in 1900.  At one point in its history, Grassy Creek was a bustling community and the store served as a post office, doctor’s office, and general store.  After the Virginia Carolina High School burned down in 1967 and the dam threatened to flood the area, economic investment in Grassy Creek slowed.  We opened The Old Store at Grassy Creek in 2022 to allow people a place to sit, relax, and enjoy Grassy Creek’s natural beauty, but also to share its story.  James Watson, a member of The Old Store staff and avid herpetologist, decided to dig into the “saved by a salamander” myth.  He discovered that the salamander in question was a hellbender and that Grassy Creek was saved after the heroic effort of the National Committee for the New River (the predecessor of the NRC) to get the New River designated as a scenic water way, preserving the river and saving its wildlife and the communities of the upper New River valley.

The story of the conservation of the New River is an amazing one, involving local citizens, a massive power company, state governments, the US Congress, and even the White House. It is a story that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. We started Saved by a Salamander Day to tell the story and also raise awareness of ways we can continue to support the conservation of this historic watershed, its wildlife, and its communities for future generations.

What would you like to see in the future for NRC?

In conjunction with Saved by a Salamander Day, we held a farmer forum in partnership with the Ashe County Cooperative Extension Office.  Area Christmas tree farmers met with staff from the New River Conservancy to learn about things we were already doing well to keep the New River watershed healthy, why they were important, and best practices for the future.  We hope to continue the conversation next year.

What’s your favorite spot on the New River?

My favorite spot on the New River is the River House Country Inn and Restaurant on Old Field Creek Road in Grassy Creek.  The River House was established by local legend, Gayle Winston, in 1988 and sits along the north fork of the New River.  The River House has been a part of my life in Grassy Creek for as long as I can remember.  We’ve celebrated many significant family events, including my brother’s wedding, at the River House over the years.  I was even a member of the catering staff one summer when I was in high school!  But it’s the times spent rocking on the porch of the River House, wine glass in hand and watching the ancient New River flow on by, that will always touch my soul.

McClain  was featured on the WKSK Farm Friends podcast talking about…. The Old Store! She talks about the history, the vision, Grassy Creek, Christmas trees, and more. Listen HERE