While May 30, 2007 was the first public meeting of the High Country Audubon Society, according to one of the “founding fathers”. Curtis Smalling. “this chapter kind of takes place of the original Grandfather Mountain chapter that was active in the 60’s and 70’s. That chapter was a seasonal chapter and had folks like Hugh Morton and Dr. Frank Randall who taught ornithology and other field courses at ASU for decades.”
Fast forward to the 20’s and Miles Tager, the first president of the new chapter, was a driving force to get the new chapter underway. According to Jesse Pope, past president of HCAS, Tager “had a special interest in creating a group that could help pull together the land trusts in the area. James Coman of the Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust and the High Country Conservancy didn’t always see eye to eye and they were working on similar projects in the same communities. Miles felt it was really important that they talk more, and he wanted to use the creation of the Audubon Chapter as a way to connect the two groups. I wouldn’t say Miles plan was all together successful, but several years later, after James Coman had passed, the two conservation groups merged into the High Country Conservancy which is still thriving today.”
Miles Tager really should be recognized as the person who initially got HCAS off the ground. He organized the initial meeting, with Curtis Smalling’s help. Curtis in turn in listed the help of Betty Bond, a professor of History at ASU and then president of the Watauga County Community Foundation. Betty was reported to “have her finger on the pulse of Boone” and did much to get the fledgling organization off the ground. She later joined HCAS and became a board member.
According to Jesse, “Miles didn’t stick around very long, and Jesse took over as president of HCAS. The original board of directors consisted of Miles Tager, Jesse Pope, Bob Cherry, Stewart Skeate, Janet Palmer, Betty Bond, Martha Cutler and Doris Rachford.
Doris Ratchford, set up the budget, and Jesse Pope, among other things, started the Yahoo page. Jesse and Miles Tager did much of the “front end” work. Within the first 4-6 months following the original “interest” meeting at the library, we applied for the articles of incorporation and created our small non-profit credentials prior to applying for 501c3 status. Miles and I also took the first stab at creating bylaws with direction from Curtis and a few outside folks who gave us advice. Doris Ratchford had a lot of experience with 501c3 start-ups and she quickly came in to help write our organizational documents and submit our documents for non-profit status. Doris also set up the website. Café Portofino was our board meeting location for many years and they were always very welcoming to us. Eventually, when Bob got involved with BRC we moved to their offices for board meetings.”
The club struggled for the first two years, but the third year was really the year that helped get the chapter on good footing. We pushed a membership drive, built our website, increased the amount of activities we offered and started receiving some funds from several sources to help out with basic expenses. Doris Tanner gave a very generous donation to get the treasury in better shape and was later made a life member.”
According to the press release printed below, the first meeting was held at the Watauga Library. Jesse went on to say that “after about a year meetings were moved from the library to the Ag. Building for a short time and them to the La Quinta Inn and Suites downstairs meeting room. We stayed there several years, and they were very supportive of our chapter. Our annual meeting was held at the Lees-McRae College field house every year for the first 6-7 years. We eventually moved to other venues after several years. After the La Quinta closed down their meeting space we moved to the Holiday Inn Express, probably around 2012 or so.
Jesse created the Yahoo Groups page and listserve and helped design and create the first newsletter template, which is basically still in use today.
The Saw-whet Owl was part of our logo from the very beginning! The year we started, I took a really cool picture of a saw-whet perched in a nest box on Grandfather and it quickly became the logo of the chapter. My friend Devin Floyd, from Grayson County, Virginia did the art work for the logo for free! He gave us permanent rights to use it, which was very nice of him to do. I gave permanent rights to the photo of the saw-whet as well.”
Today High Country Audubon in a thriving organization, involved in many projects that benefit the birds, and wildlife here in the High Country.