- Protected Areas
- Support CMLC
- Get Involved
- Landowner Resources
- News & Events
Green River Preserve: Saving More Than Land
“This land is full of wonderful stories and history,” says Sandy Schenck, owner of the Green River Preserve summer camp in southwest Henderson County. Located at the upper end of the Green River valley and hosting the headwaters of the river itself, Sandy’s land has more than a few stories to tell.
In my mission to tell the great stories of the lands protected by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Sandy Schenck was without question the easiest interview I’ve done. So I was surprised to find it difficult to start writing about the Green River Preserve. Simply put, there were too many stories to choose from. Sandy’s been collecting them since his first boyhood visits to the Green River, and now he’s preserving them for generations to come. I hope to share many of these stories in this column, but I’ll start with Sandy’s effort to preserve the history of the land and incorporate it into the Green River Preserve experience--a story in and of itself.
When I first met with Sandy, I was excited to find many similarities between us. We were both raised in Charlotte and attended school at the University of North Carolina (far too distant from western NC, we agreed). We were both exposed to the mountains intermittently during childhood, but our families always whisked us away back to the flatlands of the Piedmont. My strongest connection with Sandy is the departure of a life at lower elevations in pursuit of more meaning among these mountains. Now we both seek to protect this beautiful region, and we’re both intensely interested in discovering its stories.
Sandy left a career in the business world in 1987 and came to western North Carolina with his wife, Missy. They constructed a summer camp on land the Schenck family had owned since the 1950s. “I came up here and never looked back. I couldn’t wait to get from behind a desk and out in the woods,” he says. Sandy has been making an impact on our mountain region ever since– both on its past and its future.
Nearly twenty years after opening the camp, the Schencks placed a conservation easement on 2,600 acres of Green River Preserve with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in 2006. It is one of the largest private conservation preserves in western North Carolina. Its vast forests, pristine streams and abundant biodiversity will be forever protected for generation of campers to enjoy.
Sandy and Missy are interested in preserving more than the Green River valley’s natural beauty alone. “Other people do not understand what land means to people in the mountains. The stories are very much a part of what the land is. Both have to be preserved to give each other meaning” says Sandy. “This is one of the few valleys left that hasn’t changed dramatically. You’ve got families who have been here for five, six, seven generations. You don’t find that many places these days,” he explains.
During his childhood, Sandy often visited Green River Preserve with his family. He learned the lore of the area from the people who had lived in the valley for generations. “The mountain folks were so influential to me as a child. They would teach me the things that they thought were important,” he remembers. Characters like Neman Levi, a lifelong resident of the valley, taught Sandy about tracking, hunting, and the valley’s history. “We would walk all over this place.”
Charles and Pearl Cox, who Sandy describes as an “old school mountain family”, introduced him to milking cows, churning butter, and cooking on a wood stove. “Mr. Cox always wore a pistol. It was a huge gun; a .45 caliber. I remember one day sitting on the front porch with him. As a child, I knew the basics of gun-toting—and that was to never carry a loaded gun,” he recalls. Mr. Cox wore the pistol everywhere, and one day curiosity got the better of young Sandy. “We were on the porch, and I was in a little rocking chair. I looked up at Mr. Cox, who was in a big rocking chair, and said ‘Mr. Cox, is that pistol loaded?’ Without hesitation, he flipped it up from its holster. KA-POW! He lobbed a shell into the air towards South Carolina.” Sandy remembers the sly smile Mr. Cox gave him returning the gun to its holster.
Thinking back to his childhood, Sandy thinks of the mountain folks as his camp counselors. Now Sandy is the teacher and he’s making sure the stories of the valley and the lore of the local people are an influential part of camp experience at Green River Preserve. “What we’re trying to do here is convey that sense of history and wonder about the Green River Valley to the kids who come to camp.” Sandy wants them to discover--much like our own revelations--that the mountains is where they may find resonance and discover who they want to be. Passing the stories on to the next generation is his way of doing that.
Since Sandy and Missy opened their summer camp at Green River Preserve to “the bright, curious, and creative” in 1988, thousands of campers have experienced both its amazing natural features and the intangible wonders that Sandy strives to pass on.
“Kids today don’t have the same sense of stories or sense of land. They’re used to seeing it out their car windows as they flash past it. You have to experience it to fully understand it. That’s what we’re trying to do here, and that’s why stories are so important,” Sandy explains.
It is no surprise that Green River Preserve has become a meaningful place to many over the years. “We have had so many people come here who say ‘there is just something special about this valley.’” Visitors often speak about the “energy” of the land or even that they detect the presence of its past inhabitants.
Sandy has felt it himself. “I have heard people talking down by the river and went to see where they were but then there were no people. But it was just like I was behind a big wooden door, and on the other side there were happy people and happy sounds.” He admits that it was probably the noise of water on the rocks, but nevertheless, these experiences have always stayed with him. “I had vivid impressions of listening to people, and I think I was listening to earlier generations of people in this valley,” he reasons.
I noticed goosebumps on Sandy’s arm. “Have you ever had that happen?” he asks me. Suddenly I was the one with a chill running down my spine. I had indeed experienced this phenomenon during one of my many walks in the woods. Of course, I hadn’t ever told anyone about it. Sandy made me realize that I wasn’t crazy; perhaps we really can hear echoes of the past.
“I can’t help to believe, want to believe, there really is a quality to this land that is truly unique.” But don’t just take Sandy’s word for it. “Get out and walk around a bit. You’ll hear it and feel it. There’s this great mystery and wonder here,” he says.
“Life here is so much more interesting than the buildings and wires of the city,” explains Sandy. “Why in the world would I ever go back to Charlotte?” he asks me. I’ve thought about it for a while—and I still haven’t come up with an answer.
Hours and dozens of tales later—stories I’ll share in future columns--Sandy paused. “Now before we get too far, there’s a great story that you would love.”
Visit the Green River Preserve website to learn more about the camp and opportunities for children.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.