StoryCorps in the Valley: Environmental Conservation

Aug 5, 2021

Kate Wofford and John Hutchinson

As part of WMRA’s partnership with StoryCorps in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia, we’re sharing a conversation today between John Hutchinson from The Valley Conservation Council and Kate Wofford from Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, two conservationists who talk about their careers, the environmental milestones they've achieved, and projects they’re currently undertaking.

John:  One thing about the conservation movement is that people have a propensity to see a problem and then say, well, I need to go create a group to address that problem whether it's a pipeline or lack of plastic recycling, the lack of pollinators. The first thing a lot of people want to do is they want to go out and they want to create a group to address their problem. So, conservation groups tend to proliferate and I have had a long-term goal of seeing fewer conservation groups and stronger conservation and we started looking at what conservation organizations we could consolidate at the time.

Kate:  After two years, we pulled it off and you were right there with every step and so far, so good.  Right?  Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley is three years old now.

John:  I’m very optimistic about our ability to address this issue. Some people have a very gloom and doom view - oh my God, what are we going to do if the temperature changes 1°? We're all doomed. We as a race have had many problems thrown at us and we have many smart people to address them and I think that we will be able to address climate change just as we have the other issues with have faced.

Kate:  I think that our region the Shenandoah Valley is it makes our work even more urgent and impactful.

John:   When I started this, I was like the young person in the room. Now, I'm the old man in the room. But Kate came along 10 years later and she was the baby in the room, but there are fortunately a lot of young people who are wishing to work in the field of conservation.  For a while, it looked like, oh my goodness, what are we going to do if we all die off? But we have lots of young people who are interested in conservation and I think that's one reason for us all to focus on resiliency and countering global warming is because these young people, they look at their future and unless we can address the issues of climate change, their future is not bright.  But if we can address those issues, their future’s great.

Kate:  I totally agree. And I think you're such a great mentor for your talented young staffers at The Valley Conservation Council. But I've admired how you always seem to have time for people who are coming up and learning. It’s definitely working.  It’s passing on all this knowledge and experience that you gained over 30 years.

John:  Well, thank you.  There’s a lot of really important and rewarding work to do. We were chatting the other day and I told you about a property that has been brought to VCC that's right on the West Virginia-Virginia line in Highland County.  And it's a property that belongs to the Virginia Ornithological Society. And they asked us if we would accept a conservation easement on this 40 acre property that is in the middle of nowhere because it has nesting sites of the golden-winged warbler. So there's always something like that.  We had the opportunity to take an easement on a nine-hundred, almost thousand, acre property in Page County, near Luray, in Virginia, that eventually would be added to Shenandoah National Park. That's really fun. When I drive around the Shenandoah Valley, I get to go past places that, yeah, 30 years ago or ten years ago I helped protect.  So that's the sort of thing that gets me motivated is, wow, I mean we get to do all this cool stuff and we're doing it for permanency and for good - we're doing good work.

Kate:  I'll tell you what's been getting me up in the morning lately – the prospect of a future Shenandoah rail trail. It’s so fun to work on this rail trail project from Front Royal, Virginia 49 miles to Broadway, Virginia.  So we’ve got a few years to pull this off.  But it's an awesome opportunity and when you talk to people about it, they get so excited for what it would bring to the historic towns along the abandoned rail corridor. It feels great to work on this project.

John:  It's a great to be for something right.

Kate:  It feels really good to be trying instead of fighting something bad and scary.  It feels really good to be working hard to achieve something that's positive all around.

John:  Well we going to keep doing this - keep protecting the iconic landscapes?

Kate:  If you are, I will.

John:  I'm going nowhere. And I've got lots of time on my hands.

Kate:  Well John, it’s a joy and a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with you on this stuff, it truly is.

John:  Same to you.