Here at Catawba Lands Conservancy, we talk a lot about what we do. Like protecting land to protect water quality. However, it is also important to talk about why we are able to do this work and who helped get us here.
The Conservancy would not be here without one person. One woman who saw the rapid development of land happening around Mountain Island Lake and had the foresight to think something needed to be done to protect it. That woman is Mary McDaniel.
Mary McDaniel was a local schoolteacher in 1991 when she first had the idea. Mountain Island Lake serves as the drinking water source for the hundreds of thousands, and the natural land around it was disappearing – fast. When we convert natural forests to housing, commercial or even mixed-use developments, much of the ground becomes hard surfaces like rooftops or pavement. This means that the soil and plants that naturally serve to filter contaminants out of rainwater before it enters streams and lakes are no longer able to do their jobs, and all those contaminants (fertilizer, engine oil and residue, etc.) end up in our drinking water. Mary knew that if we wanted to protect the drinking water for folks in Mecklenburg County, at least some portion of the land around Mountain Island Lake needed to remain undeveloped.
Starting as SMILE (Save Mountain Island Lake for Everyone) in 1991, Mary brought together a small group of ecologists and activists around her dining room table, with the goal of protecting land around the lake. They first focused on driving media attention around the issue of development, and eventually the small but passionate group was the impetus behind Mecklenburg County’s decision to run a bond referendum. Through the passage of that bond, the County was able to purchase the large piece of lakefront property that Mary’s group wanted protected.
Mary’s vision only grew from there.
It was clear that the region needed a nonprofit organization that would work to protect land and water quality, and the Catawba Lands Conservancy was born. Now, thirty years after Mary first saw a need to protect Mountain Island Lake, the Conservancy protects over 17,000 acres of land across six counties in the Carolina Piedmont.
While society has often overlooked women in the the conservation movement, we know that the Conservancy would not exist today without Mary. We are so grateful for her leadership and passion, and are honored to carry her vision forward for future generations.