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Grandparents' Love of Land Lives on Through Conservation of Cabin Ridge
"My grandparents undoubtedly had the most influence on my life of anyone," said Andrea Owensby of Edneyville, about her grandparents William Thomas and Effie Collins Justice.
"There are certain things I remember them teaching me, not so much in words, but just by their actions."
But perhaps more than anything else, what Owensby's grandparents taught her was an appreciation for the mountain that they called home — an appreciation that will last, quite literally, forever.
Owensby's grandfather acquired land on a ridge extending from Sugarloaf Mountain, in eastern Henderson County, in the 1920s. To make the purchase, he worked for 5 cents an hour constructing stairs during the early days of Chimney Rock Park. Cabin Ridge, as his land became known, is where he raised his children and where Owensby spent much of her own childhood.
"He told me that I used to ask more questions than any human he had ever come upon," she remembered of her time with her grandfather when she was a little girl. "He was always patient with me. He would just stop and lean on his hoe or shovel and talk to me."
With her grandparents, young Owensby gardened, dried apples, collected seeds and made buttermilk. She also explored the forests with them, hiking to nearby destinations on Sugarloaf Mountain such as Sunset Rock, Cloven Cliffs, The Pinnacles and Worlds Edge.
"They were such stewards of the land, every piece of it. The land was actually more home than the cabin," she explained.
Her grandparents placed more emphasis on the land because they said it brought forth life. They took pride in growing their own food, and the cabin was built next to a mountain spring that reliably provided fresh water.
"My grandparents had a lot of joy here. They shared everything," Owensby said.
Much of what they had was homemade — built for function and not looks. The furniture did not match, and no two dishes were alike. Her grandmother cooked on a wood stove her entire life. Owensby said that the family once bought her grandmother a new kitchen stove to surprise her.
"She was flabbergasted and tried to be really nice about it. But she put it in the back room and stored her pots and pans in it," Owensby said.
Her grandparents weren't quite comfortable with newfangled things. They had what they needed.
The deep influence of her grandparents and her time at Cabin Ridge always made her feel something special for the property.
"It's always been, as long as I can remember, my absolute favorite place to come," she said. "The best times I have ever had have been here. The most major decisions I have made in my life, I have made here."
Owensby assumed ownership of Cabin Ridge in the late 1980s. While her grandparents are no longer there, she insists that the property still "feels different."
"It's because of my grandparents. It's like their whole spirit lives here. That peaceful, joyful, share-everything kind of feeling."
To ensure that feeling is always present on her grandparents' land, last year Owensby worked with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy to convey a conservation easement on 60 acres of her Cabin Ridge property.
The conservation easement honors the memory of Owensby's grandparents by permanently protecting it from development. The easement ensures that land will always remain in its natural state, the way her grandparents knew it and loved it.
Owensby has had several offers over the years to purchase or subdivide pieces of Cabin Ridge. She always declined. Once an inquirer told her "it's just land … it's just dirt."
"No. It's not just land," she said defiantly. "I have a deep emotional attachment to this land. There are places you go that don't quite feel the same. There are other places you notice it, but you definitely notice it here."
She first began considering permanent conservation of her land when she learned of CMLC in 2005 after the organization purchased nearly 1,600 acres at Worlds Edge — just a few miles from her property. That conservation effort prevented imminent development on a nearby scenic ridge line. Now permanently protected, the Worlds Edge tract is part of Chimney Rock State Park.
"It made my heart hurt to think that there could be houses up on (Cabin Ridge) one day," she said. "I understand that people need places to live, but I wish there was more discretion when building on ridge tops."
Owensby also didn't want the property to become a financial burden on her children when she is no longer able to care for it. In many cases, a conservation easement can lower property tax burdens, easing pressures to sell.
"I have a vision that my sons, my grandson, and maybe my great grandsons and granddaughters will come here and walk on this land." She wants them to be able to feel what she feels at Cabin Ridge, always.
A passionate advocate for what she feels for the land, Owensby now shares it with visitors by renting out a small cabin on the property — one built on the former site of her grandparents' original cabin. Though a few concessions have been made to modern conveniences, the new cabin sits on the same rock foundation and has a wood-fired cookstove, and a hand pump draws water to the kitchen sink.
When guests stay in the cabin, Owensby said, "It's one of the biggest joys I've ever had. It feels like I am sharing it with people and allowing them to feel what I feel about it."
Her visitors arrive wide-eyed and excited, seeking out a mountaintop experience that lacks the distractions of electricity, traffic and busyness of the everyday world — and a breathtaking vista with all of Henderson County laid out before them, to boot.
"People come to get away," she explained.
Some guests to Cabin Ridge call it peaceful. Some even call it healing. Whatever you call it, thanks to Owensby's conservation easement honoring the enduring spirit of her grandparents, Cabin Ridge is forever.
For more information on Owensby's Cabin Ridge, visit www.thecabinridge.com.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.