BRC Board

Virginia Tate, President

I was “born and raised” in western North Carolina. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know that these mountains were very important to me.

I have spent the last 25 years living in Hickory NC with my husband and 3 now grown children. Other than being a wife and mother, I have been involved in many volunteer activities with church and our community. My strongest interest has been gardening in my own yard as well as others.

In 1996, we were fortunate to purchase a 368 acre farm in the northwest corner of Ashe Co. We wanted it primarily as a place for our family and friends to be to enjoy the mountains. At the time we were buying the property, Sandy Schenck (then president of the board of The Conservation Trust of North Carolina) introduced me to the idea of conservation easements. In 2001, we purchased another 170 acre farm that adjoined us. At that time I began working with James Coman to draft an easement for our farm. After a lot of discussion with our family, we were able to establish that easement in 2003. It was a wonderful feeling to know that our 500 acres would be protected forever. We then made the decision to hold any tax savings we received from the easement and use it to purchase more property to put under easement. We are now up to 700 acres (and I think we are finished!) Most of this additional acreage was placed under conservation easement in 2006.

During these years, the focus of our property has changed. It is now a working livestock farm. We raise grass fed cattle, sheep and goats. We have worked with the NC Environmental Enhancement Program to protect our streams and wet areas. We have worked with our local NRCS, farm, forestry and wildlife extension to implement best management practices for our property. With all of this, my idea of conservation of lands has grown a bit. At first, I was most interested in the protection of view sheds and biological diversity. Now I include the importance of conservation easements to protect working farm and forest lands. I also see an important role of the Blue Ridge Conservancy in educating farmers to be good stewards of their working farms. I am very excited to be a part of this work.

Ann Baker, Vice President

Ann Baker, of Crossnore, NC, has deeply-rooted connections to the land in northwest North Carolina. Ann spent many summers in the home her Great Grandfather built in Blowing Rock overlooking the Globe Valley and has vivid memories of enjoying the smells of the moss in the Rhododendron woods and the purity of the air instilling in her a respect for clean air and water.

Ann and her husband, Charlie, have three children. Ann enjoys being outside, hiking, swimming, boating, and gardening. When she’s not enjoying her time outdoors, Ann manages a Christmas tree farm and teaches fine arts students at The Crossnore School, Mayland Community College, and Penland School of Crafts. Ann has her own art studio and has managed the Fine Arts Gallery at The Crossnore School. Ann also devotes her time to improving her community through Crossnore’s non-profit organization and serves on advisory boards at Warren Wilson’s Environmental Leadership Center and The Avery Partnership for People at the End of Life.

Gary Clawson, Treasurer

As a joke, I tell people I’ve been in banking since I was 10 years old. Around that age I was licking stamps and counting pennies at my dad’s bank. Fresh out of college, I took a job at NCNB (now Bank of America) where I worked in Charlotte and Greensboro. I must say BOA was very good to me and after 15 plus years in the business, it allowed me to start a bank from nothing in 2001 and move back home. Unfortunately, a chronic health problem helped me decide to retire in 2007.

I have a wonderful wife and two great children. Hobbies include hunting, fishing, gardening and most recently grafting apple trees. I’ve served on many volunteer boards over the years including United Way, American Cancer Society, North Carolina Community Foundation (Catawba Chapter), NC Bankers Association and many more. However, today I am focusing my efforts on only two Boards -Blue Ridge Conservancy and a family’s endowment fund.

As simple as it may sound, my interest in land conservation began around the age of 12 or so. Many years ago, hunting at an early age just came naturally. My buddies and I hunted one of the best dove fields I have ever been on. September was a month we looked forward to year after year. We had to walk about 3 miles to get to the field and opening day one year we made our trip and found that the corn field we loved had transformed into a housing development. At that age, there was nothing I could do but attempt to find another field that was just as good. I never did. At a young age, the movie Jeremiah Johnson exposed me to how beautiful western US land was and made me wonder why my state wasn’t as beautiful. I asked why we had so many people and houses by comparison.

Being a banker, I felt personally conflicted when providing a loan for land development. I regret when people struggle, particularly during any recession but I am so thankful that the crazy land development and speculation has all but ceased and it appears it will be many years before anything remotely similar will return.

I first learned about Blue Ridge Conservancy through James Coman, founder of Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust. For many years before James’ passing I leased his farm for hunting (and continue to do so) and nearly all of our countless conversations included discussions of land conservation. If there has been one thing that compelled me to do something tangible for land conservation it was witnessing James Coman and the love and effort he devoted to the land trust. Both James Coman and Walter Clark are responsible for allowing me to serve Blue Ridge Conservancy. The only non-profit organization that I truly have ever had a sincere interest and concern for is Blue Ridge Conservancy. It’s an organization where I feel I can truly make a difference in the future and enjoy every minute of my service. While raising funds to operate is a must, being able to witness the process of protecting land is very satisfying

John Turner, Secretary

John Turner is President and Shareholder of Turner Law Office, PA in Boone. John is married to Patti M. Turner (a real estate broker, personal trainer, and co-founder of Appalachian Women’s Fund), with whom he has one child, Ryan. Ryan is a high school senior and has committed to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, where he will play baseball as an infielder. John’s hobbies include singing, playing guitar, hiking, and following the Tar Heels during basketball season. Patti and John are longtime supporters of OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Service, Information, and Shelter), Inc.

John’s interest in land protection developed through his law practice, which includes a heavy concentration of real estate work and where he handled some conservation transactions. He loved the concept and wanted to help support it. John learned about BRC from his friend Richard Stevens, former board member for Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust. John asked Richard if he could attend a meeting to learn more about the organization.

John’s interest in land conservation came from many years of observation; watching nearly every farm and undeveloped tract near Boone succumb to subdivision and other development pressures. Protecting the beauty and rural culture of northwestern North Carolina in a manner that also benefits the landowners was his primary motivation, and it has been deeply gratifying to contribute to Blue Ridge Conservancy’s successful efforts.

Ann Browning

Ann is a native North Carolinian, having grown up in High Point.  She developed a love for the North Carolina mountains thanks to frequent childhood visits.  She and her husband, Ric, enjoy gardening, fishing, and doing projects on their property in Ashe County.

Ann’s first career in banking spanned 23 years with Bank of America (originally NCNB) where she was involved with corporate banking, investment banking and private equity investing.  When she chose to pursue a second career, she wanted to focus her efforts on preserving the natural resources and character of her native North Carolina.  She become involved with the Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land in Charlotte.  When the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15 county initiative to connect trails, open space and regional attractions, was being planned, she joined as the first full time staff person.  As the Carolina Thread Trail Director,  she worked on community outreach, branding, public and private fund raising, and the development and oversight of The Thread’s community grants program.  She retired after seven wonderful years with The Thread to spend more time in the mountains and in Davidson, NC.  She sees land conservation as a critical element in ensuring that the High Country remains a healthy and attractive place to visit, work, and play.Ann earned her bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and her MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Sonny Church

Sonny lives in his native community of Wilkesboro, North Carolina where he owns and operates Brushy Mountain Water Company and Creative Reclamation. While growing up in Wilkes County, Sonny was drawn to the woods and streams near his home and learned at an early age to appreciate the adaptability and diversity of nature. Sonny earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Appalachian State University and considers himself a life-long learner. Sonny enjoys the opportunities his life offers him to meet new people and gain new experiences.

Sonny is also very active in his community. He volunteers his time with the Yadkin Valley Greenway Council, the Wilkes County Heritage Museum, and participates in the “Lunch Buddy” program at the Wilkes County Schools. Sonny believes that efforts such as Wilkes County’s greenway development and BRC’s land and water protection have permanent and positive impacts from which future generations can benefit. Land protection, including greenways, can be an important tool as we strive to find balance between land and resource conservation and the commercial and residential development that comes with a community’s growth.

Kelly Coffey

Born and raised in the Aho community of Watauga County, Kelly Coffey graduated from Appalachian and taught history at Caldwell Community College for six years. He has been a regional planner with the High Country Council of Governments, which serves as staff extensions for 26 local governments helping them with tasks such as ordinance revisions, planning documents, annexation studies, and salary studies, since 1998.

Kelly finds that the need to preserve land is obvious, all one has to do is look around. “When a landscape is ruined it negatively affects people in terms of identity, spirituality and community cohesion. Saving land is much more than an environmental issue,” says Kelly who understands, holistically, the consequences of land degradation. In his free time, Kelly operates an income-producing farm consisting of 100 heritage apples trees, vegetables and cattle. Having been in his family for over 130 years, his farm is designated by the NC Department of Agriculture as a North Carolina Century Farm.

John Cooper

John is the former president and founder of the Mast General Store, Inc. John and his wife, Faye, have one daughter, Lisa Martin. Lisa is the Vice President of Mast General Store Inc. John enjoys hiking and biking and volunteers his time extensively. He has served on numerous community, regional and statewide boards as member and officer. Currently, John is working with a group trying to save and restore the Appalachian Theatre in Boone and is a member of Boone Sunrise Rotary.

John’s history with Blue Ridge Conservancy goes back many years and includes the donation of conservation easements to protect the beautiful community of Valle Crucis. Through Mast General Store, Inc. John also established Land Trust Day on the first Saturday of June each year, which directly supports BRC. John is committed to land protection in the High Country.

Bob Dixon

Bob is a new member of the BRC board. A retired pediatrician, he lives with wife Roddy in Alleghany County. They have two children and six grandchildren and list their permanent address as “on the road between Sparta, Raleigh, and Greenwood, SC.” They lead life largely out-of-doors. Avid backpackers, scuba divers, and sailors, they “dig in the dirt” much of the remainder of the time. Roddy is a perennial person; Bob raises many differing kinds of fruits and berries in patches and plots on small acreage adjacent to their home at Parkway Milepost 234. They are easement donors on Bullhead Mountain.

Bob attributes an initial attraction to the outdoors to an enjoyable boyhood scouting experience. While not distinguished by grade advancement, his troop claims to have spent the most weekends in the woods of any group in the southeast. Stewardship was less than exemplary. The BSA hatchet was a prime means of touching nature, felling trees for shelters and firewood, building trails and bridges, and damming creeks and small rivers. He claims to have left no trash but much more than footprints, an individual experience similar to society’s joint record, creating scars with scant regard for preservation.

Fortunately that attitude changed with lifetime nature exposure and forty plus year’s membership in many of the national conservation groups. Fortunately also, some pristine areas still persist and others can be reclaimed. If we can successfully preserve what has not yet been altered and give nature a chance at restoring what has been compromised, the land can have a brighter future. Local land trusts are a prime facilitator of that endeavor. He would hope to actively engage in that process through BRC.

Susan Hambright

Susan lives in Blowing Rock and has a farm in Avery County that is in a conservation easement. She fell in love with the mountains when she lived in Idaho in the late 1970′s and has seen the need to protect our land ever since. Knowing that uncontrolled development would destroy our lands and natural habitat, she has been an advocate for saving our resources for future generations. It is her way of “paying it forward” to people yet to come. She is a CPA and has served on several non profit boards over the years, and is currently a guardian ad litem where she advocates for at risk children in court. Married to Bob for 36 years, they have 2 grown sons.

Cobb Milner

Bio Here…

Zika Rea
Traci Royster

Traci RoystTraci Photoer grew up in Burlington, North Carolina as the only child of Effie and David Royster.  Royster has a bachelor’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a master’s degree in human development and psychological counseling from Appalachian State University.  Currently she is the Director of Parent & Family Services at Appalachian State University.

Traci currently serves on the Watauga Education Foundation Board of Directors and the Boone Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.  Traci is passionate about community service and giving back to those things that touch her heart and can continue to help others for a lifetime. Her interest in land protection developed through meeting Mr. Walter Clark and having many discussions about the organization and the very important work it was doing in so many areas. She absolutely loved the work being done and caught the spirit immediately.

Some of Traci’s previous volunteer roles have been president of Appalachian’s Alumni Council, chairing ASU’s Diversity Celebration Fundraising Committee, serving as a member of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees (Ex-Officio), ASU Board of Visitors, ASU Foundation Board and the Yosef Club Advisory Board, and serving as a Faculty advisor to several student organizations on campus.

A native of Burlington, North Carolina, Traci has resided in Boone, North Carolina for over 16 years.

Larry Trivette
Steve Wylie
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