“We have to change to keep things the way they are.”
One of the best parts of my job is getting to know the amazing volunteers of this watershed. Charlotte Hanes has to be one of the most engaging and formidable women I have ever met. I wanted to get to know her better. We emailed back and forth, me with a ton of questions, she gracious enough to answer and send photos. I was happy to find out ways she is involved not only with New River Conservancy in conservation, sustainability and land stewardship, but others as well. One of the quotes I heard doing research was the one that begins this story. I love the quote above as it reminds us that some things we cherish, like the planet, aren’t standing still. We must adapt and think forward to preserve ways of life, culture or this earth. Please enjoy getting to know her as well. ~ Lisa
CH: The quote above was in response to a Grayson County resident when questioning the person I was in favor of for county supervisor.: They asked “Will they change things? I don’t want any change, I like our county the way it is”
You must be a powerful manifestation guru. You saw River Ridge Farm for the first time when you were very young and dreamed you would live in a place like that someday. And now you do! Was River Ridge on your mind all those years or was it just a happy confluence of events that led you back to the New River mountains?
CH: I always thought houses in rows facing a road were so conforming. I hoped this would not be my destiny. If I lived on a farm, I could get away from a paved road and hear nature instead of traffic.
I’ve heard you say you have the “gene of agriculture,” but your first tract of land at River Ridge was acquired to protect the New River from development. How did the agriculture gene dovetail to conserving the New River?
CH: To me, A gene for agriculture means that you actually love doing farm work; no matter what the weather or how tired you get or how early or late you are working. Most landowners along the new river have this agriculture gene and they know the soil and water are important. I started out asking them to give up their development rights. None of them wanted to see their land developed, but they did not want to deprive the next generation of a possible needed income. With this in mind, I started thinking along the lines of how to make agriculture profitable so landowners could keep their land and pass it on as a business that could support a family. I could get into a whole other discussion here which would include regenerative agriculture, whole farm planning, forest and wildlife management plans to name a few things.
In 2006 and 2007 you led the successful fight to keep a large state prison from being built on the New River in Grayson County. Why was this fight important?
CH: There were numerous reasons why this fight was important. The stretch of river from Mouth of Wilson to where it returns to North Carolina is one of the most beautiful and natural runs there is. There is no development to speak of and very few eroded banks. The views of the surrounding mountains are spectacular for anyone navigating this ancient river! The Native people and pioneer landowners have cared for and protected this river for hundreds of years. We send good water down river for others and are a model for all river Keepers. Another reason is that agriculture is the number one industry in Grayson County and all the farms in the Cox’s Chapel area and across the New River are well established since the 1700’s. A prison would bring an industry completely foreign to our agricultural life. The corporation who had the contract to build the prison said the only place they could find to build it was on farmland that was surrounded by the new river on 3 sides. When the head of the Department of Corrections visited the site he said “We don’t build prisons in places like this.” We knew it was political and greed was playing a role.. The prison on the New River would have cost the state an extra 100 million dollars and required a water and sewage treatment plant and a bridge. Grayson County is blessed to have the New River running through it: “The New River, Like it is”
What led you to the New River Conservancy?
CH: Because of the determined, dedicated people of Grayson County and a famous journalist, Wallace Carroll, the river was protected from building a dam on it back in the 1970’s. I was horrified that Avery Neaves’ farm on the New River would be gone if the dam got built. It would have flooded 40,000 acres of farmland in northern Ashe County and southern Grayson County and would be obsolete in 25 years.
The more I learned about the project and saw how the people of Grayson county had risen up to protect their river, the more I knew the dams should never be built and they were not. The National Committee for the New River was founded in 1975 as a result of this Dam fight. I knew so many people on that original board and others associated with the organization; my late husband, Phil Hanes, being one. Protecting the New River, “my river” has been a part of my life for over 50 years. The organization has since changed its name to the New River conservancy carrying on the mission of Protecting the New River’s water, woodlands and wildlife.
Not only are you a woman entrepreneur and business owner, you are also involved with Rachel’s Network – an organization named for Rachel Carson that is a community of women funders committed to a safer, healthier, and more just world for all. New River Conservancy is a women-led organization, rare among non-profit environmental organizations. How do you see the future for women in environmental leadership?
CH: Oh Mother Nature! Of course it is natural for women to be in conservation defined as the protection, preservation and restoration of the natural environment on which all life depends. The planet has so many climate and people related points of issue. More and more women are taking up the responsibility of passing on an intact planet to the next generation. It is a difficult dilemma of survival now or none in the future. I am seeing dedicated women rising to the task not expecting fame or fortune.
You trained and became a Water Watcher for the New River Conservancy this past summer. Where are you sampling and how is that going? How is the watershed doing?
CH: Vincent Benish and I will be monitoring at Bridle Creek close to where it flows into the New River. We start monitoring this month. It will be educational to learn how effective our fencing off the cattle from the river and riparian areas is.
How can we, as members of the New River watershed community and the planet, do better for the next generation?
CH: Think of our communities as having watersheds in common. As the water flows to the ocean, it connects our communities. We depend on watersheds which start at springs and become creeks and rivers. Our watersheds can unite us as we know the importance of protecting this life giving resource. Water follows the path of least resistance and this is a lesson. Learning to lead a life of less resistance: listen to each other, accept our differences, abandon greed and fear and make sacrifices for the common good.
Charlotte, right, with friend Kathy Winn and their dogs atop Big Ridge with New River in the background.