Editor’s Note: After Turtle Island Preserve was forced to close in October due to building-code and other violations from the Watauga County Planning and Inspections Department and Appalachian District Health Department, Turtle Island Preserve released the following two letters seeking assistance from supporters. For more information, click to Turtle Island Preserve’s Facebook page and a petition regarding this issue.
Nov. 26, 2012. Turtle Island Preserve is in danger. Please read this letter, and, if you feel moved to do so, carefully follow the suggestions for support provided at the end.
Recently, local county government authorities have targeted Turtle Island Preserve, attacking our way of life, and forcing our educational camp to close to visitors.
On the morning of September 19th, eleven county officials (being paid by tax payers) barged into our living room unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome. A large caravan of county vehicles blocked our private road, miles away from any public area. The men (some armed) presented a search warrant two and half miles into the interior of our private land, a most intimate zone of refuge where we do not even take visitors, and then spent the next half of the day violating our privacy and photographing our buildings and personal homes. The unwanted invasion team came prepared with topographic maps, aerial photographs, GPS equipment to discern coordinates, laptops, pages of highlighted photographs of unknown origins, and even a county 4-wheeler to more easily get around the property. Much time and tax-payer money had clearly been spent preparing for this deployment against our 501c3 non-profit education center.
The primary focus of this action centers on our buildings and construction methods. The American heritage buildings that we keep alive and teach about are “unacceptable” in today’s modern world. The very building techniques and materials that all of our ancestors thrived with are now being deemed unacceptable and targeted as illegal because they don’t fit into the cookie-cutter code status that is so extremely far from what we are about. The buildings and lifestyle of our working farm and education center teach about true American freedom. The invasive attack was a surreal wake-up call to the illusion of the American myth: “Land of the free.”
Those of you who have visited Turtle Island Preserve know that our structures are unique in that they are built with materials harvested here on the farm and adhere to natural and historical methods. Our buildings are unquestionably structurally sound, but do not fit the wording or application of modern building codes, as the methods used to build them predate the conception of modern building codes. The veteran, licensed engineer we hired to assess the structural concerns expressed by the county stated that our buildings are “Better than code.” If modern, cookie-cutter buildings fit our purposes or needs, we would have built them. But they certainly do not.
To comply with current, modern building codes and regulations, with no variance or allowance for natural, traditional, historical, cultural or educational models, is at the very least a compromise to our integrity, our mission, and our value to the community and the world. If we were forced to function like every other public facility, the values, ethics, and practical knowledge we teach would be lost. Trying to force a modern framework around a facility that is specifically designed to be primitive does not make sense. The methods we teach go back tens of thousands of years. The modern building codes go back only 40-50 years.
For the past twenty-six years, Turtle Island Preserve has been a functioning farm and education center for primitive skills, cultural heritage, and traditional/natural living. We are run by volunteer laborers and administrators, good citizens who believe in the worth of volunteering their time to share natural traditional living in hopes of making life for people more meaningful and our impact on the earth a gentler footprint. Our non-profit education center has brought thousands of people from all over the world, of all ages, faiths, and socio-economic backgrounds and enabled them to develop a personal relationship with the natural world. In many cases, these are people (usually children) who would not have the opportunity to gain that experience elsewhere. What they get here, they keep forever.
Eustace Conway, full-time volunteer director of Turtle Island Preserve for the past 26 years, now faces the threat of criminal charges. That’s right, for dedicating his life to celebrating and preserving American cultural heritage, his American government is condemning his interest in exercising what he believes is an inalienable human right to build and live in the traditions of our ancestors. He said, “If this was a joke or something out of a science fiction novel about corrupt government control, maybe I could laugh about it… but it is very, unbelievably, maliciously true… and I can only cry about it, and ask for the voices of friends to support me and citizens that care about the ‘American Dream’ of freedom to speak up for their rights and interests now.”
Our recent studies show us that there may be no variance for any private, state, or federal interpretation sites that exhibit natural/primitive historic structures or practices. The recent attack on our home and lifeways makes us question the confines of our state building and county codes on our most fundamental freedoms of American heritage, Appalachian regional culture, and a three million year precedent of inalienable human rights concerning structures and living.
We are working with legal counsel and structural engineers to present a clear and thorough assessment of our structures, practices, and mission to authorities who are not personally familiar with Turtle Island Preserve. We have drawn up a petition and begun a letter writing campaign, all of which we’ll present to the North Carolina Building Codes Council on December 10, 2012 in the hopes of educating the council about the unique importance of Turtle Island Preserve and securing a variance for our continued operation without sacrificing our integrity and commitment to historic structures and natural lifestyle.
We need your help in raising a voice. This matter will not be resolved positively without your support. Please help support Turtle Island Preserve by taking the following steps:
1. Sign the petition at www.change.org.
2. Join the letter writing campaign! Write your own letter in support of Turtle Island Preserve, or use the letter included here – just print, sign, and send to the Chairman of the North Carolina Building Codes Council. Either way, be sure to send us a copy of your letter, too. Addresses are attached.
It is impossible to overstate how important your swift support is to the future of Turtle Island Preserve. With the North Carolina Building Codes Council meeting just three weeks away, we need all the voices we can get, and as quickly as possible. Please set aside a few minutes to sign the petition, send a letter, and stand with us as we work to save Turtle Island Preserve.
Keep checking Facebook for updates, and for more information on the Building Codes Council meeting or if you have any questions at all, please email [email protected] or call our office at 828-265-2267.
The Staff and Community Members of Turtle Island Preserve
Dan Tingen, Chairman
North Carolina Building Codes Council
322 Chapanoke Drive
Raleigh, North Carolina 27603
Turtle Island Preserve
2683 Little Laurel Road
Boone, North Carolina 28607
Letter to the NC Building Codes Council Chairman
NC Building Codes Council
322 Chapanoke Road
Raleigh, North Carolina 27603
Dear Mr. Tingen,
I am a friend of Turtle Island Preserve, a non-profit primitive and natural skills educational camp and heritage farm in Boone, North Carolina. For the past 26 years, Turtle Island Preserve has been a unique model and education center for primitive/natural skills, cultural heritage, and traditional lifestyle. This hands-on education model has brought thousands of people from all over the world, of all ages, faiths, and socio-economic backgrounds to the Appalachian region of North Carolina. The experiences these folks have at Turtle Island Preserve help them develop a personal relationship with the natural world. They return regularly, bringing their families, friends, and more and more revenue for the Appalachian region with them.
Recently, Turtle Island Preserve has come under scrutiny by the Watauga County Planning and Inspections department after operating unimpeded in the same location for the last 26 years. The heart of the issue centers on concerns about the construction of buildings at Turtle Island Preserve. The buildings are constructed from trees harvested on the farm using methods from hundreds of years ago. The buildings are safe and sound structures (according to a structural engineer recommended by Watauga County) but purposefully do not follow modern codes or use modern materials, as they are built using methods that pre-date the conception of these codes and often these materials.
Because of the action by the Watauga County Planning and Inspections department, Turtle Island Preserve is now closed to the public. They are being restricted from offering educational programs until they can comply with modern building codes or are forced to destroy these valuable resources. This is a travesty and a gross oversight and/or miscarriage of power.
Turtle Island Preserve is a living, working example of a primitive mountain farm. They were “green” before it was a buzz word or a popular aspiration. They have brought thousands of children and families to the Appalachian region to learn valuable and largely forgotten life skills and traditions. Turtle Island Preserve was even selected by National Geographic as one of “The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life.”
As a supporter of Turtle Island Preserve, I request that the North Carolina Building Codes Council enact a code change, variance, or exemption that will accept the structures at Turtle Island Preserve, prevent any further issue regarding the construction methods and materials used there, and allow Turtle Island Preserve to re-open and continue offering its outstanding programs.
Thank you for your consideration of this very important issue. I have signed the petition at www.change.org in support of Turtle Island Preserve and I may attend the December 10, 2012 North Carolina Building Codes Council meeting in Raleigh with my friend, Eustace Conway, and some of the other supporters of Turtle Island Preserve.
cc: Turtle Island Preserve
2683 Little Laurel Road
Boone, North Carolina 28607