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I received a few emails after the story of Brent Martin’s departure as Southern Appalachian Regional Director of the Wilderness Society (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/21079). I must say that most were supportive of Martin and/or saddened about the circumstances of his departure from the Wilderness Society.

The former Southern Appalachian Regional Director for The Wilderness Society was the catalyst and key facilitator for a compromise and groundbreaking proposal for the Pisgah-Nantahala national forests that brought conservationists and recreational users together under one umbrella.

Over 100 years ago, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said to the American people: Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Roosevelt took the issue seriously, as did members of Congress, and when he passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, he established a legal mechanism for future presidents to conserve land as well as making conservation a national bipartisan priority for decades to come.  

Yet when Congress adjourned in December, it left in its wake an unprecedented amount of legislation designed to dismantle decades of laws protecting our public lands. These decades-old laws, passed under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, put the interests of the American people first, and politics second. We enter this New Year with Congress taking the opposite philosophy, and since this is an election year, we can likely count on more of it.  

Here is a brief overview of some of the Great Outdoors Giveaway legislation that members of Congress are returning to Washington this month to work on:

• The “End of the National Monuments” Acts: Eight different bills have been introduced with the sole purpose of gutting the Antiquities Act (HR 302 – introduced by N.C. Congresswoman Elizabeth Fox – HR 758, HR 817, HR 845, HR 846, HR 2147, HR 2877, and HR 3292). All of these eviscerate the president’s authority and most seek to exempt certain states from having new national monuments designated in their borders. National monuments have proven to be economic generators wherever they are designated. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created in 1996, is good proof of this. Steve Roberts, owner of Escalante Outfitters, says “Escalante National Monument didn’t just help the economy, it is the economy.

• The “Great Outdoors Giveaway” Act: Introduced by Congressman Kevin McCarthy, HR1581 would eliminate the Forest Service Roadless Rule, one of the most commented upon and publicly supported conservation policies in Forest Service history. This bill would open 50 million acres of currently protected land to resource extraction. Here in North Carolina it would mean that 178,000 acres of public land would no longer be protected under the Roadless Rule, and that two of our Wilderness Study Areas, Overflow and Snowbird, would lose this congressionally designated status. Former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt testified that HR 1581 “… is the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that that has been proposed in my lifetime.”  

• The “30-million Acre Giveaway” Act:  HR 2852, known as the “Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011 and introduced by Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, would require that the federal government give away, free of charge, 5 percent of all federal land in each western state — an area equal in size to the state of New York. Billions of dollars in assets that belong to all Americans would be given to states without giving compensation to the rightful owners — the American people. This act would gut the key purpose of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, a bi-partisan statute enacted in 1976 that requires that federal lands be retained in public ownership unless determined to serve the national interest.  

• The “Motorize our Wilderness Areas” Act: HR 2834, introduced by Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek, contains language that would effectively destroy the Wilderness Act by allowing motorized vehicles such as snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and motorboats in designated Wilderness as long as they are used for hunting, fishing, and shooting. This act would effectively destroy the values that many hunters and anglers actually seek in Wilderness and undermine the spirit, intent, and integrity of one of America’s unique legislative contributions to permanent land protection.  

The list could go on. There are bills to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bills to allow the Department of Homeland Security to take over all public lands on the border of Mexico and Canada, and bills to allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

In the same speech Roosevelt told the American people, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us ... Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few ... Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

I think our patriotic duty this year might begin with writing our congressmen and giving them a history lesson and a call to action for protection of our natural resources instead of squandering them with these bills. And then get outside and enjoy our country’s beautiful forests and parks – they’re still some of the best in the world.

Brent Martin works in Sylva and is Southern Appalachian Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist

The craziness of this year’s mid-term elections has passed. The campaign advertisements and signs are coming down. The dust is starting to settle. But one thing should remain top of mind for those Senators returning to conclude the 111th Congress — there’s still a lot of work to be done.  

Members of Congress should also take note that even in the midst of a difficult economy and political sea change there continues to be strong and bipartisan voter support for investments in land conservation and parks. On Election Day, voters approved 28 of 35 (80 percent) of state and local measures on the ballot to finance land conservation and parks, including statewide measures in Oregon, Iowa, Maine and Rhode Island. In Arizona, voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 301 that would have raided voter-approved open space funds and put them to the general budget if approved.

With public support for conservation and recreation in mind, one issue facing senators as they return for the lame duck session on Nov. 15 is the need to finally provide consistency for a program that has done more for local communities and our country than most people realize. Signed into law in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was designed to dedicate a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas development for land conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the country — a promise that has been chronically unfulfilled.

LWCF was supposed to receive $900 million per year — a drop in the bucket of offshore revenues that typically tally well over $5 billion — but has been shortchanged by Congress nearly every year, with revenues regularly being diverted to other purposes. Full funding has been appropriated only once in the LWCF’s 46-year history and recently declined to a low of $138 million in 2007. This shortfall has resulted in a huge backlog of unmet funding needs for land protection and outdoor recreation for our federal public lands, and state and local parks.

And yet in spite of rarely receiving its due, LWCF has been instrumental in many of the places that are most dear to us as a nation. From local parks and playgrounds, where kids can get outside to play, to greenbelts and recreational trails that connect and enhance local communities, to state parks that provide hiking, biking, and camping and help to sustain wildlife, to federal public lands used for hunting, fishing, paddling, and our most pristine national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas — LWCF has provided a continuum of conservation that has touched us all. Close to home, LWCF has provided over $60 million and protected almost 40,000 acres in North Carolina since its inception in 1964, protecting places like Catawba Falls, the Appalachian Trail, and Lake James.  

Given the tragic oil spill in the Gulf this summer, the vision behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund is even more relevant than ever and now is the time for action. In a national bipartisan poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and FM3 in May, 85 percent of respondents view the LWCF as more important today in light of the oil spill. And now, with the offshore moratorium having been lifted once again and the oil spill still fresh in our minds, it is only right to ensure that some of the revenues from the use of this resource are used to protect our precious land resources.

On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives took on this challenge by passing the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2010, H.R. 3534, including full, dedicated funding for LWCF with the support of Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC). In addition, LWCF was a centerpiece of the Administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” listening sessions throughout the country this summer and is expected to be a priority as that initiative continues to take shape.

But the Senate needs to act in order to capture this opportunity and momentum to finally ensure LWCF receives its due. Please write Senators Burr and Hagan and encourage them to work with Senate leadership to ensure that full and dedicated LWCF funding is included in energy or other relevant legislation and enacted before the end of this Congress.  

(Brent Martin lives in Macon County and works for the Wilderness Society. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

By Brent Martin

I went down to the water but he left me in the mud; I wanted me some wine but he turned it into blood.

— from the Dean Williams painting, “Jesus gave me the blues”.

A little over two years ago, I began spending a significant amount of time in a drab and windowless little downtown Andrews storefront known only to its occupant and a handful of others as Static King Studio. The studio belonged to the late musical wizard Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse, who was producing my wife’s album, and though it contained world-class recording equipment, it had no bathroom. When I asked where he normally relieved himself, he pointed out the door and down the street to Dean’s Records and Outsider Art, and said “Just tell Dean you’re over here with me, and that you need to use his bathroom. You probably won’t be back for a while though; you’ll dig his art.”

That simple trip to the bathroom established a relationship for me with a self-taught painter who is producing some of the most interesting folk art west of Asheville.

Dean’s store is large, with high wooden walls and paintings hung salon style floor to ceiling. Vinyl records and CDs are arranged in perfectly organized rows down the main length of the floor, and bookshelves filled with used books make up the contents of one corner. The entrance is boldly colored with brightly lit windows filled with kitsch and other interesting objets d’arte. One’s first impression from the outside is this: something different is going on in here. It’s an unlikely find in this remote western corner of the state and well worth the trip.

Mark was right about my slow return, and I found myself spending more than an hour on that first bathroom excursion, lost in Dean’s diverse and expressive cast of phantasmagoric characters, painted upon old wood and beadboard which he finds and glues together in panels. With subject matter ranging across blues music, religion, fried chicken, cheap beer, and other things local, there seems to be something for everybody interested in the Southern folk art genre.

When asked about his influences — like most folk artists — he cites sources other than what fine artists traditionally call forth. “Most of the art that has made an impact on me came from sources other than the world of fine art. Album cover art, beer bottle labels, and matchbook ads were always fascinating,” he explains to me one late Friday afternoon over libations, after the store has closed and the Andrews Main Street has been rolled up for the evening. “As I became more obsessed with blues music, the subject matter of the black culture of the South set off a spark of creativity that had been planted by years of the heaven and hell religious dogma that had directed much of my childhood. Whether there was actually a God and a devil, or simply a struggle within each human being, blues music seemed to be a testament of this battle. I realized that art and music both possessed the same power to exorcise these forces.”

This answer is one I can relate to, and one that explains much of my own interest in folk art. When the rock band The Talking Heads released their hit album Little Creatures in 1985, I spent as much time studying the cover art as I did listening to the music. I was living in Georgia at the time, and when I learned that the artist whose painting adorned the cover, Howard Finster, was only an hour away, I soon began to make pilgrimages to explore his sprawling artscape known as Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Ga.

That was my first introduction to the genre known as folk art, which can be defined generally as art produced without formal training, often accomplished in isolation and reflecting the customs and traditions of a particular community, and free from the competitive world of academics and social promotion.

Finster’s work is emblematic of this form of creative expression, and to wander among his towers made of old bicycles, eccentric outbuildings constructed of Mason jars, coke bottles, and junk, along with his prolific collection of scripture laden paintings of Elvis and other pop culture icons confirms this widely held opinion.

Dean is of course familiar with Finster, as well as other great folk artists in our region, and it is perhaps no accident that his birth in Johnson City, Tenn., in 1962 was not far from the Museum of Appalachia, home to one of most representative collections of primitive folk art in the South. He drew all of the time as a child, and when his family moved to Andrews in 1968 he was sick a lot, which increased the amount of time he spent with this early passion, most of it drawing with simple felt tip markers.

“I never sought out art and lived in a household where neither art nor music were important. All of my work was inspired by imagination and was a way to escape the meaningless world around me. I drew in school and gradually declined academically. I quit school in the tenth grade in the middle of a math test. Music became an obsession by the time I was 16,” he tells me, taking another pull from the sweaty Budweiser and waving his hand towards his large vinyl collection. “My first records were Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd. Most of my art from this time period was music inspired. I eventually became more connected to the American blues that had inspired these musicians.”

He began drawing more during the 1990s and reinvented a style that worked well with acrylic and wood in 2004. The last six years have been his most prolific, being divided between drawing and painting. Opening a music, book and art store in 2002 allowed him more time to manipulate his work schedule and market his work.

As the first of our many evenings together came to a close, I asked him about his current inspiration for art, as one can definitely see an evolution of style and subject matter over time. Dean, with his characteristic forthcoming style, explains: “Most of the subject matter of my work blurs the lines of fiction and non-fiction pretty evenly, probably having more to do with truth than fact. Much of the subject matter is music inspired, but much has been drawn from imagination and dreams. Many of the symbols that reappear in my work may be drawn from symbolism, but the lines that divide them are so muddy that they should not be overanalyzed. I don’t like explaining my own work and always find a way to avoid it.”

His daughter Christa and son-in-law Israel suddenly appear from the upstairs loft apartment that they live in, directly above the store. I say hello, and remember the hour-long drive home, up the Needmore Road and through the gorgeous desolation that inspires my own creative life, and realize I need to be going. As Christa and Israel leave the store, he tells me one last thing: “I draw a lot of inspiration from my wife and four children and the unique creativity of each member of my family. Most of my work is done with my family around. This seems more natural than working in solitude. I’m also inspired by surrounding myself with creative people. I’ve grown to hate the educational system in this country, which minimizes the importance of the arts and continually promotes competition and class structures. All of us draw as children, and most of us abandon creativity due to the guilt-ridden social forces at work in the hands of this country’s educators.”

This is plenty of food for thought on the long drive home.

(The folk art of Dean Williams is currently on display at The Wilderness Society’s downtown Sylva office. It will be featured there as part of the town’s Art after Dark series on Friday, June 4, beginning at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public. For more information contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Back in early January, I found myself waking early to pack for a day-long excursion into the backwoods of Chunky Gal Mountain with a friend who was home from graduate school in Forestry. It was close to 10 degrees up in Cowee Valley where I live in Macon County, and I seriously questioned my judgment as I drove in to Franklin to meet him. However, since he is only in the area about once a year, and being one of the most knowledgeable people I know about forests, I was anxious to go out with him regardless of the weather or my judgment.

We were going out to look for old growth forest, a shared passion that has bonded us for many years, and I knew that I would be pushing through difficult terrain along frozen ground, into the area’s most inaccessible coves — the reason that areas such as these were never cut to begin with.

Chunky Gal Mountain runs roughly north out of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, along the Clay/Macon county line, with steep western slopes that drain into the Hiwassee River Valley and more gentle eastern slopes that eventually drain into the rugged Nantahala. That there is any old growth at all on this mountain is somewhat of a miracle. Ritter Lumber cut most of the surrounding area in the early 20th century, divesting their cutover and degraded land to the U.S. Forest Service for bargain prices beginning in the 1930s. Though the Forest Service was able to buy most of Chunky Gal mountain during this period with annual appropriations from Congress at established prices ranging from $3 to $10 an acre, they could not quite acquire it all, and a significant 53-acre tract sitting square in the heart of it remained in private ownership until last year when the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee acquired it from a willing seller.

Without this important acquisition, the area could have very well faced a fate similar to the Tusquitee Mountain range just several miles to the west. Private developers there are seeking to build a road into a small in-holding completely surrounded by national forest land, a tract that sits adjacent to the popular Fires Creek Rim trail which is heavily used by hunters, fishermen, and horseback riders. Similarly, the Chunky Gal tract lies directly on the Chunky Gal Trail, an outstanding hiking trail that connects the Appalachian Trail to a larger trail system to the north which includes the Fires Creek Rim trail and other trails around the Tusquitee area.

Fortunately, the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee has an opportunity to protect this area and add it to the Nantahala National Forest through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This fund, established in 1964 and funded through offshore oil leases and royalties, is at long last receiving an increase in funding, and Chunky Gal and three other North Carolina projects of similar importance are the Forest Service’s priorities for the upcoming budget year. Two of these are in Caldwell County and will be added to the Pisgah National Forest, and one is in the piedmont’s Uwharrie National Forest. With support from North Carolina’s congressional delegation these four important places can be permanently protected.

As we bushwhacked our way across the mountain through the Chunky Gal tract at the end of that very cold day, I was able to at least take some comfort in the possibility. Write your congressional representatives today and ask them to support these acquisitions and to support the full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Brent Martin works for The Wilderness Society out of Franklin. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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