OCTOBER 8, 2011 10:33 a.m. (0)
Tommy Wyche doesn’t move mountains.
He saves them.
His work to preserve the Blue Ridge escarpment from the Jocassee Gorges to the Poinsett Reservoir over the past five decades has earned the Greenville lawyer and conservationist another national award.
The National Association of State Parks Directors on Thursday presented Wyche with its highest honor, the President’s Award, for his contribution to South Carolina’s state park system.
Fittingly, Wyche received the award at Table Rock State Park with the Blue Ridge Mountains he so loves as the backdrop.
“It’s not a stretch to say Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap state parks owe their existence to Tommy Wyche,” said Phil Gaines, a Greenville native and director of the South Carolina State Parks system. “He’s been an advocate for protecting the Blue Wall and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness.”
The President’s Award, the national association’s highest honor, is for Wyche’s canvas of work supporting state parks but especially his efforts in the past 30 years, Gaines said.
“The people who are reaping the benefit are generations of people who were not here when he started this effort,” Gaines said.
Wyche started the Naturaland Trust, one of the region’s largest land trusts, in the 1970s with the idea of protecting the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest corner of South Carolina.
By piecing together conservation easements and property acquisitions, the Naturaland Trust has created a Mountain Bridge with public land from the Greenville Reservoir to the Table Rock Reservoir. Included in the Mountain Bridge are Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap.
Jones Gap State Park got bigger late last year thanks to a donation of 305 acres, including the peak of Grassy Top Mountain, by the trust to the state parks system. The land abuts Jones Gap and connects to another nearly 300 acres being acquired by the Nature Conservancy.
Wyche helped preserve much of the land marked by sheer cliffs, steep terrain, rivers, dense forests, waterfalls and rivers in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area through his nature photography.
The photography was used to illustrate a number of his books, including “South Carolina’s Mountain Wilderness – the Blue Ridge Escarpment,” “The Blue Wall – Wilderness of the Carolinas and Georgia,” “Mosaic – 21 Special Places in the Carolinas,” “Cycles of Nature” and “Quiet Reflections.”
Wyche also contributed to four editions of the guide, “Mountain Bridge Trails.”
The Naturaland Trust developed a system of trails in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area.
“Every inch of trail in Jones Gap and Caesar’s Head state parks, Tommy has hiked, helped design and helped to maintain,” Gaines said.
Wyche also designed and sponsored the only suspension bridge in South Carolina. It is constructed over Raven Cliff Falls.
“It’s hard to walk in Jones Gap or Caesar’s Head state parks and look to Table Rock without thinking about what Tommy Wyche has meant to the preservation of this natural beauty for future generations to enjoy,” Gaines said.
Wyche also spearheaded efforts to get the Chattooga River designated as a wild and scenic river.
The National Association of State Park Directors’ President’s Award is the latest national award won by Wyche. He also won the nation’s most prestigious environmental award, the Conservation Foundation’s Alexander Calder Conservation Award, and conservation awards from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Wildlife Federation, Duke Energy, the Gulf Oil National Conservation Award and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.
In addition to his conservation efforts, Wyche is a former South Carolina Singles Tennis Champion and the South Carolina-North Carolina doubles winner. At one time, he was ranked second for doubles in the South. He has also ranked first in senior competitive tennis.
Wyche is a senior partner at the Wyche Law firm.
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