What do you do about something that is nobody’s problem? You do as David Robertson does: gather up fellow citizens and convince them to consider it “everybody’s problem.” About thirteen years ago, Robertson put his head together with Daniel Bowman and Ted Harris to create the Greater Lynchburg Environmental Network, better known as GLEN. They collected a small group of college professors, local business owners, and citizens, people with a variety of skills and a passion for the concept of ecology, who understood it was time to stop waiting for someone else to work on the issues of environmental quality and justice in Central Virginia.
Robertson says, “I returned home to Lynchburg after having lived away for many years. Having been involved in environmental advocacy organizations in the Rocky Mountain region of the western United States, I was surprised by the seeming lack of opportunities for civic engagement regarding environmental quality in the Greater Lynchburg area. A group of friends and I met for lunch to discuss what environmental activities were occurring in the region and Ted suggested we continue meeting… the group was formed, we named ourselves GLEN, and we got to work.”
Board member Jeff Smith says GLEN may have started as an informal lunch-time “think tank,” but he chose the group because their “discussions would actually culminate into actions.” Smith says, “I immediately recognized the GLEN group as individuals who believed in a growing purpose and actually accepted and completed tasks in their area of interest. It was clear that these were committed individuals.” Laura-Gray Street, current president of GLEN’s Board of Directors, was similarly impressed: “I started going to those lunch meetings a year or so after they started and have been hooked ever since.”
Since its inception in the late nineties, GLEN has-through its ACES program of awareness, coordination, education, and sponsorship-taken great strides towards its mission of promoting environmental awareness, sustainability, and community in Central Virginia. Perhaps the group began as small informal conversations among friends and peers, but GLEN has grown into a testament to the power of grassroots, proving that small groups can and do accomplish big things when they put their minds together and their hearts to the task.
Board members consider the establishment of the Central Virginia Land Conservancy (CVaLC) as one of GLEN’s largest accomplishments. The land conservancy, now with its own nonprofit status and separate board of directors, provides landowners the option of preserving their land-farmlands, woodlands, wetlands, and waterways-for future generations. In addition, CVaLC helps landowners and others understand the value of land conservation and stewardship for maintaining the health of our region’s environment and economy.
Another of GLEN’s literally enormous accomplishments was a 20,000 pound problem nobody else wanted to tackle: a railroad car that the 1985 flood had deposited in the middle of the James River in downtown Lynchburg. Although citizens often complained of it, the tanker had remained an eye-sore that polluted the river with rust and lead leached from the paint for twenty years. Despite the seemingly insurmountable difficulties, members of GLEN decided in 2005 it was time to take this problem on.
How would they extract the tanker out of the accumulated silt and sand? Who would take it once it was on shore? Who would pay for all of this? When the owner of the car could not be located, GLEN pushed on, forming partnerships with the City of Lynchburg and the James River Association, spreading the word by mouth and by media, and enlisting the help of city police, area certified divers, construction companies, and land owners. Through that combined effort, the tank car was dragged out, cut up, and hauled to a company that recycled the steel. The James River and downtown Lynchburg are cleaner for it.
GLEN continues to form partnerships and network with a variety of organizations from local college environmental studies programs to hiking clubs to non-profits. Street says it is of key importance that GLEN be inclusive of all environmentally conscious people and that the group’s strength lies in brainstorming ideas in order to follow through on important tasks. “I’m always amazed at the energy that’s generated when a few or more of us gather in a room together,” she says. “It is contact and communication that makes GLEN work, finally, far more than any specific agenda or particular administrative structure.”
According to Smith, GLEN will continue to “work to keep environmental issues in the public eye”: “The purpose here is to make larger the environmental awareness of each citizen of our region to bring about a fundamental and subconscious change.” He adds that GLEN is most concerned with creating opportunities for citizens to become involved in area grassroots efforts for the environment wherever these opportunities take place.
In the face of large and seemingly impossible tasks such as cleaning our air and waterways, greening our cities, reducing our energy, sustaining our forests, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think someone else should tackle the problems, someone with more money, more power, more prestige. However, these problems do not belong to someone else; they belong to all of us.
So what can you do? Think about joining the Blue Ridge Wildflower Society, or the Central Virginia Master Naturalists, or the Appalachian Trail Club, or the James River Association, or any of the numerous other environmentally conscious organizations in Central Virginia. Think about joining forces with GLEN. To find out what’s happening on all things environmental in Central Virginia, visit this site.
Consider bringing your ideas to the table. Each of us has the potential to accomplish great things, if we only put our minds and our hearts to the task.
Photo Credit - Amanda C. Sandos