Burdett, building relationships and community

Published 10:00 pm Friday, June 13, 2014


Polk County residents know Saluda resident Betsy Burdett as someone who passionately protects open land (no parcel is too small, she emphasizes), and won’t back down from anyone in doing that.
_DSC8147BWShe also teaches young campers to bake bread and cookies, and to carve figures from wood. Regardless of the activity, Burdett approaches it with a mindset of building relationships and community.
“We’re old hippies,” she said of herself and her husband Allen when asked how her core beliefs formed. Actually, she noted it runs deeper and further back.
“What you love is created when you’re a child,” she asserted. Burdett loves nature, loves the connection to the land, and has no time for an unsustainable “standard of living” that treats natural land, family and neighbors as expendable or unworthy.
The former president of Saluda Communithy Land Trust (SCLT, for whom she now serves on the board), Burdett has gone out on a limb to keep parcels of open land open and natural. “I’ll stick my neck out, and stand in front of a moving vehicle (to do this),” she noted.
One major ally, she emphasizes is the Polk County Community Foundation which has always supported SCLT’s work, “because we’re building community,” Burdett noted.
She can’t understand how people can disregard connections with nature and either cause or allow open space to be destroyed for profit. Many of us she notes, are part of the problem, but can change. “Once you realize you’re part of the problem, you start thinking differently. Our standard of living is all screwed up, we don’t have time for family, for nature (but) ask people what they cherish,” she continued, they’ll say family and nature.” However, she says, so many people don’t live their lives in ways that actually enhance those elements.
“If my environmentalism comes from the vacant lot across the street in New Jersey . . . no lot is too small. We’re disconnected from our natural environment,” Burdett continued. It’s all for money.” While she is not the first or the last to lay it out in those terms, one gets the sense that this is not a rehearsed speech of for show and that she won’t surrender her beliefs under pressure.
“We use children,” she continued. “We use the environment. What are we using it for? Capitalism without morals,” she asserted, “is immoral. That’s what we have. It’s all about the money.”
For many years, she and Allen have put their money where their mouths are. Around 1995 when Duke Energy was selling off some 450 acres of open land bisected by Camp Creek just west of Saluda, Betsy Burdett knew that if subsequent actions were ruled by the financial bottom line, the natural beauty would have been traded for a tangle of houses.
Instead she and Allen borrowed some money, got Pacolet Area Conservancy to obtain a conservation easement and purchased the land from Duke. The result is a conservation development with ten large lots (not all occupied, and complete with deed restrictions that forbid more than one dwelling per lot), with a 100-acre easement. Another 60 acres is owned by all parties, because, as Burdett said, “It would be immoral to build a house there.”
Unfortunately, this is not typical. “If truth is what will set us free,” Burdett said “I don’t understand how so many of us allow the wrong to keep going on.” When others might waiver on protecting a piece of land, “I’m the one who will say ‘no.’”
The actions of elected officials to end the state’s moratorium on high-volume, deep-shale gas drilling and hydrofracturing (“fracking”) has not gone unnoticed by Burdett. “The whole thing is money,” she stressed. “We know it’s wrong. How can the state of North Carolina (allow this) . . . I don’t understand why we think we own the water or own the land. We happen to be the guests, the lucky recipients. It’s not ours to use and abuse. The world is not ours. It’s a gift. We’re stewards.”
Why do we (as a society) honor people who have made a lot of money?” Burdett asks. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Burdett has been with SCLT since about 2007. The group’s land first land conservation project was a small one, but it led to more and larger projects. In acquiring land for preservation Burdett feels strongly that those in her position “have to work with landowners (to) fulfill their needs, and the greater good.”
Burdett worked for Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) until 2005, but served on its board after that. “Why,” she wonders “does society honor a business (expletive) who dresses well, and not the honest worker who goes to work and picks up his kid after school? We elevate the developer.”
She disagrees.
“What will change the world for the better is the little guy, the ones who say ‘no’ to the pocketbook. If you don’t care for your next-door-neighbor then who are you? It’s all about relationships,” Burdett continued. “If you screw your neighbor, you can’t have relationships.”
How does she fell about where the U.S ranks among other nations?
“My parents,” Burdett said, “wanted to believe in this country. We’re not the greatest country,” she claimed, noting that more Americans should “swallow the humble pill. Let’s work together to make this the best place we can make it.”
Besides protecting open land, Burdett loves baking and wood carving. She was one of the founders of Wild Flour Bakery in Saluda, “I like baking,” she stated. During the summer she teaches baking and woodcarving to young girls at Camp Van Arden near Tuxedo. A popular activity there is “Baking With Betsy, where her young charges get their hands in the dough and make bread and cookies. “That’s all they want,” she said of the youngsters– “bread and cookies.”
“I’ve come here (to the camp), and never left,” she said during her nineteenth summer there. In addition, she and the young girls enjoy “lots of singing, skits, little girl stuff.”
Burdett learned carving from Ernie Mills a Georgian, who taught at the camp years ago, and now carries on his enthusiasm, with considerable skill. Burdett notes, “The basis of the camp is relationships.”
What ever Burdett is involved with, she believes “our job is to help people focus on what really matters.”

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