GLEN Takes on Everybody’s Problem

100_9525What 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

19 Responses to “GLEN Takes on Everybody’s Problem”

  1. What a wonderful concept. It helps to bring urban and
    suburban minds and bodies together. Those in rural areas often have skills and ideas that are simple and
    utterly sane. Every state and country should take note.

  2. Very nice. See what happens when people stop talking and act? Go GLEN!

  3. It’s really great to see people who care enough about our environment to actually get out and do something about it. All for a better world and no financial gain. Gives me cold chills. Thank you GLEN and keep up the great work.

  4. Very interesting article and very informative. Hopefully, this will be the wave of the future.

  5. Great to see folks who still believe they can make a difference. What would we try to do if we knew we couldn’t fail?

  6. I am amazed by the many groups around central Virginia that are doing such good work. I wish there was more press coverage of it. I look forward to reading more about GLEN and what’s happening around the Lynchburg area.

  7. Nice to see an article with a positive story about what people can do working together. Hope to see more like it.

  8. Great to see a positive article about how people can and do accomplish things working together. I hope to see more.

  9. I need to read an article like this every day to remind me of the importance of the preservation of this planet. I am just back from Culebra, where I noticed many signs that read “Save What’s Left.” How true.

  10. nice article about something starting simply and growing into big action. I love the train story. Rivers are no longer a place to dump.

  11. Great article! What a wonderful blueprint for other cities and towns. How lucky you are to have a group like GLEN in your area. Reaching out with positive solutions, instead of negative complaints, is the only way we, as a nation, no, as a planet, will move forward. Thank you for your great example.

  12. Thanks, Amanda Sandos, for the good story!I loved the part about the tanker and only wish I could have been present to see it pulled out of the James River.

  13. Great article and very eye-opening. It would be wonderful if more individuals were as proactive in forming these types of groups in their own communities—very inspiring. Ms. Sandos put it very well when she said, “…these problems do not belong to someone else; they belong to all of us.”–how very true. Hope to see more informative articles such as this.

  14. Thanks for bringing this organization to my attention - I had no idea there was anyone interested in environmental issues in Central Virginia! I’ll be contacting GLEN.

  15. Very informative article - first visit to the Got2begreen website. I’ll definately visit more often. Does my heart good to know more and more people are becoming more actively involved in environmental issues in their own communities

  16. Wonderful coverage of an organization in my own community that I didn’t know enough about. Well done, Amanda Sandos, and well done, GLEN. Thanks to got2begreen for the article.

  17. Also my first time on got2begreen. Thanks for the informative and positive review of a local green organization. Wish I’d known about GLEN sooner. Any updates on current projects?

  18. Thanks for the wonderful comments. For more information on upcoming environmental events in Central Virginia, you can join the GLEN listserv at
    and they will send you regular updates on events.

  19. Thanks for all the positive feedback. For more information on upcoming GLEN events it is best to join their listserv at and they will send you emails with all upcoming activities.

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