The Land Trust & The Nature Conservancy

Photographer Steve Babin
Photographer Steve Babin

The outdoors are very important to me. I grew up on a farm north of Huntsville that was about 650 acres mostly leased out to a local cotton farmer called Buddy Darwin. The parts that Buddy did not use for row crops was a strip of mountainside that was heavily wooded and filled with deer and squirrels and woodland animals. Thirteen miles north of town, I was pretty much alone to wander the place and discover the beauty of the simplest things in life.

As I got older, I was always interested in conservation and supported the Natural Resources Defense Fund, The World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club. I learned that those organizations are great but they are far removed from Huntsville.  So, after meeting them during some appraisal work in the early 90’s, I joined the Board of Directors of the Land Trust of Huntsville and North Alabama and served as Chairman in 2000. They do amazing work and have preserved literally thousands of acres in and around Madison County.

Now, 14 years later, I am still interested in conservation and because of that interest I accepted a position on the Alabama board of the Nature Conservancy. We meet in amazing places around the state and talk about how to best preserve habitat and develop more interest in conservation. I have met a great group of people on the Board from all over the state who are deeply involved in preserving the best parts of our beautiful state. They are committed, connected to the national conservation movement and they are smart, really smart.

One of the best examples of how smart they are is a new partnership between the Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy is responsible for preserving over 50,000 acres in North Alabama and still manages about 3,000 acres.  The Land Trust manages about 4,000 and it was hard for the Land Trust to be able to afford a Full Time Land Manager by themselves. The Conservancy had a Manager at one time but also struggled to keep the position funded.  With the new partnership in place, partially funded by a grant from the Jane K Lowe Foundation, the Land Manager is now fully funded and shared by the two organization. That’s a smart use of the scarce funds we have available for the mission. Very smart!

So, if you like the ring of pretty green hills surrounding Huntsville, or the Greenways that everyone loves for walking and biking, maybe you’d consider joining both organizations as a monthly sustaining member. If you’re loaded and want Alabama to stay beautiful, consider larger gifts or even land donations and estate plans but even if you are not, these organizations will do more with your money than almost anything else. Locally too, this money stays in Alabama.

 

Photo Credit: Photographer Steve Babin. Clingman’s Dome TN

What Matters Most?

PoohLast Sunday a small group gathered in the entry to Leslie Rhett Crosby’s (’83) lovely antebellum home downtown to honor departing Randolph Head of School Byron Hulsey.  As the current Board Chair, I followed the three prior Chairmen in rising to say something about Byron. City Councilman Mark Russell gave Byron a plaque from the City, a football signed by Nick Saban and an Auburn baseball cap. Foster McDonald wrote and read a poem that was the highlight of the night for me. Bob Thurber read a heartfelt letter describing how transformational Byron had been for the school and how much Byron had meant to him personally, it was wonderful, and a little emotional.

Then I stood on my friend Leslie’s graceful stairs and read a quote from A A Milne, a quote that reminded me of Byron and how he approaches his work at the School:

“There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.” A. A. Milne

Byron acts like this. He and his staff know our kids; really, really knows them. He feels their successes in his heart,  as if they were each his own son or daughter. Likewise, he feels their failures like a cut, like a physical assault to his person. It’s painful for him to expel a kid for cheating, or to learn of a tragedy affecting our large family. He tries not to because he understands that a certain detachment is healthy. But he can’t help it. His genuine attachment to these kids will not allow for that kind of distance. He simply knows what matters most and it’s the kids. That concern is authentic and genuine and cannot be simulated.

What Byron wants for each kid is what we want for our own. He wants them to fail, and then learn. He wants them to be safe and then to get outside of that zone and grow into something they could not have imagined. He wants them to be curious and persistent; resilient, intellectually honest and morally grounded. He wants them to be loved and then to have their expectations for themselves challenged and expanded.

Byron and Jennifer have accomplished each of these and more in their eight years at Randolph and they leave us in a far better place than they found us. I cannot think of any higher praise.

So, as a grateful member of the larger Community of Learners that is now vibrantly growing and expanding at the School, I’ll quote A. A. Milne one more time:

“I wrote somewhere once that the third-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking with the majority, the second-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking with the minority, and the first-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking. A. A. Milne – Macmillan War Pamphlets 1940

Byron is only happy when he’s thinking and learning and growing as a person. I will miss being around that kind of character and will have to work hard to maintain the level of excellence with which Byron simply lives his life.  Thanks for everything Byron, we will follow your success with eagerness and not a little pride that we had your attention for a season.

 

PS. I was inspired to use A A Milne to tell this story by my daughter Sarah Fowler (’11). She has always told me that Byron reminds her of Christopher Robin’s little bear. He’s a serious guy by any measure but Sarah saw through it even as a child. She understood that under the neat suit and Headmaster’s bearing, there was clearly a loving and lovable, undeniably wise and cuddly bear-y best friend. I cherish that image and her relationship with her School. Byron was a big part of creating that atmosphere and we are all eternally grateful.

Mapathon for Downtown Huntsville

Sketchup ExampleThere is a new event coming up in Downtown Huntsville called a Map-a-Thon.  It’s a competition put on by Downtown Huntsville, Inc along with several friends and partners, including Solid Earth. Basically we are dividing the city into zones and recruiting teams to build models. Then, we’ll score them on several criteria including accuracy and the level of detail etc.   At the end of the competition all the models will be submitted to the GIS guys at City Hall so they can submit them to Trimble’s 3D Building Warehouse.

The teams will hopefully bring together modelers, engineers, geographers, photographers and other disciplines that can contribute to a successful modeling team.  It’s typical Huntsville stuff, Art meets Engineering; Lowe Mill meets Cummings Research Park. All intersecting in the newly rejuvenated downtown sector.  And when we’re done, we’ll upload the submissions to  Google Earth so Huntsville looks even better online. Site location people use Google Earth all the time and if the models are detailed enough, a virtual   of the blocks might be enough to cause them to choose the city for their project!

So if you know a photog, or a modeller, or a hacker of any kind tell them to head over to Downtown Huntsville and sign up to create a team.  Go here for info: www.facebook.com/mapathon

 

Pray for Ukraine

When I was 18 I went to Russia. It was 1983 and before the Berlin Wall fell and communist kleptocracy that was the old Soviet Block came crashing down.  Like most 18 year olds I was spoiled and had a very US-centric view of the world. When I came home, I was a very patriotic, very thankful young person with a much deeper knowledge of the special place and time God chose to place me on this earth.

One of the highlights of the trip was Kiev.   It’s a lovely, old city with onion domes as well as European architecture and I remember it felt more like Vienna than Moscow. The Red University stands out in memory because it’s actually red.

kiev-shevchenkouniv

But the real highlight was the people. I remember them correcting us when we said we were excited to be visiting the Soviet Union, they preferred to think of themselves as Ukrainian, not Soviet and certainly not Russian.  They talked about how close they were to central Europe and you could tell, longed to focus their society to the west, not the east.

Now, 30 years later, Kiev is torn apart by violence. Those desires of the people to face west have run afoul, again, of the old guard tied to the colonial influence of Moscow. I am certain that the leadership in The Ukraine and the leadership in Moscow have no intention of loosening their grip. And the will of the people is clearly unwilling to return to the status quo. This could get much worse before it gets better for the people of The Ukraine. Please add them to your prayers and maybe drop a donation off for their support. See Twitter for the latest.

 

 

 

End of the Year Giving Ideas…

So we’re coming in on the end of another year. If you are thinking of making a little bit more of an impact this year, consider an end of the year gift to one of these social movements in Huntsville, they are all amazing. Want to add one, just post it here.

  • Village Marketplace, Inc. – A 501(C)(3) Organization located in Lincoln Village area just north of downtown. VMP is engaged in 1) providing employment for people who can work but need a good first (or recovery) job; 2) providing low-cost goods to the neighborhood and 3) providing long-term funding to three local charities: Boys & Girls Club, Lincoln Academy and Village of Promise. Donate by donating material or your time to the store. Talk to Marisa Suarez-Stearns at the store.
  • Boys & Girls Club – What an amazing ministry! There are clubs all over the county serving kids with after school care, summer programs and all sorts of homework help, transportation, meals, mentors and basically a whole support system for a group of kids that really depend on them.  My friend Lisa Downs is involved with them as an education coordinator. Pat Wynn is the Director and a powerful advocate for the kids.  Several other close friends have served on their board including Jodi Adams, Bill Fowler and I am sure more I don’t know about. They do good work. Donate here. 
  • Lincoln Academy – A Christian school located in the Lincoln Village area just north of downtown. My Dad went there in the 30s when the Lincoln Mill was still operating. Since then the neighborhood went way down and was the scene of depravity and poverty and hopelessness.  Then, in 2005 some crazy people from Southwood Church lead by their chief crazy person my friend Mark Stearns began to pour into the area pledging to do whatever it took to drag the people out of the darkness that was overtaking their world. It worked, now they own the school and it’s a center of hope and excellence. Give till it hurts folks, these amazing people are changing lives every day down there.
  • Village of Promise – So Bobby Bradley grew up in the neighborhood, graduated from Butler High School and Vanderbilt University. She’s a smart, focused, dedicated business person and that talent allowed her to build a big company and then to sell it. Now, refocused on her home town, she’s determined to break the cycle of generational poverty in the University Place Elementary School area. She’s gathering support and supporters (and Board Members like me) to work on a data-driven, strategic initiative to tutor, mentor and otherwise push 1700+/- kids into college and into a better life.  Donate here.
  • Randolph School – The only K-12 Independent School in North Alabama, Randolph is the leading primary and secondary educational institution in the area. As a Trustee of the school and an alumnus it’s my sincere belief that no organization can do more to advance the pursuit of excellence in primary education in the area. As part of an effort to take that leadership role Randolph has established the Randolph School Community Learning Fund with the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County.  It’s a great way to donate to the School and to focus those funds on an effort that benefits the whole city.  Donate here.
  • Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama – Driving east from the airport into Huntsville you see the city nestled against the rolling green hills of the lower cumberland plateau.  Those hills overlooking the town are for the most part undeveloped, creating a nearly unbroken “emerald necklace” surrounding the city’s downtown. That land, plus more than 5000 acres in three counties, was preserved by the Land Trust. It’s still today offering one of the best Urban Trail systems in the country because of the tireless advocacy of the Land Trust.  Want to help? Sign up for the Land Baron’s program that deducts a small amount from your account each month earmarked solely for the purchase of open space.
  • The Nature Conservancy – The Conservancy is the Land Trust writ large. The Conservancy has a big presence in Alabama and I joined the State Board of Trustees this year. I can’t say enough about the professionalism and dedication of their staff. Wow. The lands in Paint Rock Valley all the way down the Cahaba and the Coosa down into the Delta where Alabama spreads out to meet the Gulf. The lands and micro-habitats preserved by the Conservancy maintain the very life that makes up our world, and is so additive to our own experience in ways that we don’t fully understand.  Donate by becoming a member, it’s easy and cheap. If everyone I know did this we’d live in a measurably better State and you won’t miss a small auto-debit each month.

There’s too much going on right now at Solid Earth, Inc.!

Two announcements in one day is heavy for us. But, there’s another one! About 400 brokers in the Birmingham area are getting notices today that the Spring MLS API has been released for GreaterAlabamaMLS.com. For the first time ever, broker members can signup for an API key and interact with the MLS real time. Post here for more information and look for an Early Adopter announcement Monday. Innovation is cool! See more at www.solidearth.com

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