Morton the environmentalist

Grandfather with Turk’s CapWhen my good friend who works for the Nature Conservancy in NC heard that I was going to be working on the Morton photos, she could barely contain her glee. Hugh Morton, you must understand, is somewhat of a rock star in environmental and land conservation circles. This lovely eulogy by Morton’s good friend and Appalachian State professor Harvard Ayers (a former professor of mine, actually!) details Morton’s legacy and contributions in these areas—donating thousands of acres of land on Grandfather, championing the Linn Cove Viaduct to “minimize the ecological impact of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” and making the influential 1995 documentary “The Search for Clean Air”—to name just a few.

Rural scene near LinvilleBut Morton’s most powerful statements on behalf of nature were his photographs, which he used to great effect to show damage done by pollution and irresponsible development, to document rare and endangered species, and to capture rural life in NC. As these sample images illustrate, his eye for composition and remarkable ability to highlight natural features to their greatest impact made a stronger case for conservation than words could have.

We would love to hear from people who worked with Morton on environmental causes or who saw him in action on this front. Did you attend one of his slide show lectures? When and where? What images stuck with you?

6 thoughts on “Morton the environmentalist”

  1. What a great job to have and I know you’ll do a great job:your enthusiasm is contagious! If you come across a group of photos from Tasmainia Australia, my husband can help you out and we’d love to see them. Good luck and good work! Maggie

  2. I am so excited that his work will be preserved at Chapel Hill, I believe his favorite place besides Grandfather Mountain! He was a real North Carolina treasure and now we will be able to see even more of his work as your project progresses. Good luck!

  3. Thanks so much for doing this blog–I’m really enjoying it! This is bound to be an incredibly interesting collection.
    Meanwhile, I just wanted to note that I discovered in the research for my recent book about the Blue Ridge Parkway (Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History) that the the Linn Cove viaduct story is actually much more complicated than we have been given to understand. To get to the simplest point: Morton was not the source of the idea for the viaduct; it was thought of and designed by federal highway engineers in the years *after* the resolution of a long conflict between Morton and the National Park Service over the Parkway route at Grandfather Mountain. In that conflict, Morton resisted the Park Service’s preferred route for the Parkway at Grandfather, which was higher on the mountain than Morton’s preferred route.

  4. One further comment: I think it is important to complicate our notion of “Morton the environmentalist” by noting the evolution of Morton’s perspective over time. My research revealed that when he acquired Grandfather Mountain in the early 1950s (and when he fought the Park Service in the 1950s/60s), Morton was much more “businessman” than “environmentalist,” and the two strands of thought remained complicatedly intertwined throughout his life, even as he did develop genuine credentials as an “environmentalist” in the 1980s and 1990s.

  5. Though I agree that he came into the Mountain in the early 1950’s a businessman (factually correct), I don’t know that the combination of businessman and environmentalist was “complicated” – more of a balance, I think…and a well-executed one! My grandfather had a deep-rooted love for the NC mountains long before inheriting the Mountain, having “summered” up there, gone to camp (where he learned photography), etc.

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