Leutze Regales Audience with Tales of People from Dog Town who Saved a Mountain
08/26/12 by Guest Writer
By Rebecca Rider
Nearly 150 people turned out August 23 to hear Jay Leutze, acclaimed author of “Stand Up That Mountain,” tell the story of mountain people “who fought for their own backyard.” The event, hosted by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College and the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, was held in the Center facility on the Catawba campus.
A graduate from UNC Chapel Hill's law program, Leutze retired to a childhood summer home in Avery County with dreams of becoming a writer. In the early 2000's he became involved in a four-year legal battle against the Clark Stone Company. The community came together to take action against the mining company and, with the help of conservation organizations, won the fight to preserve their mountain.
Jason Walser, the executive director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, introduced Leutze to attendees of the event. Walser is a personal friend of Leutze's, and called him "a storyteller, a conservationist, a friend . . . a guitar player and author.”
Leutze began his reading by informing the audience that he wanted, "to bring some of these people to life with you; and I want to take you further up the mountain, to Avery County." For the next hour, Leutze introduced the audience to an unlikely crew of mountain people. By imitating facial expressions, gestures and accents, it seemed like Ashley (the fiery teen who started it all), her aunt Ollie, father Tony and others were physically present.
Leutze said his defense of Belview Mountain and the rest of the Roan Highlands started with a phone call from his 14-year-old neighbor, Ashley. She said she had evidence that a mining company behind her house wasn't operating entirely legally, and she needed a lawyer.
"I'm not a lawyer," Leutze told her, "though I went to law school."
"You'll have to do," she said. And so the fight began.
Jay's portrayal of Minneapolis, N.C. (or "Dog Town," as it's known) was vivid, funny and refreshing, and kept attendees of the event laughing and on their toes, waiting to hear what other mischief the "Dog Town Bunch" got up to. At one point, Leutze paused in his reading and addressed the audience, "You couldn't make this up."
David Ray, N.C. Mountains Program Director for the N.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, was Jay's special guest at the event. "When I read Jay's book," Ray said, "I thought it was about the environment and conservation . . . but I saw it was really about the human will and the human spirit." The will and spirit that shone through Leutze's book inspired Ray to write a song titled “Stand Up That Mountain,” which he performed for the audience.
Maggie and Archie Dees ask Jay Leutze to autograph their copy of "Stand Up That Mountain."
After the reading, Leutze did a short Q&A. Many attendees who had read the book were eager to know what became of its characters. Ollie is aging but "I went four-wheeling with [her] last week," Leutze said. Paul Brown, the foreman who cut corners, "immediately got up to more mischief," but died last year of a stroke. And Ashley, the girl with a fight who started it all, is now sociology major at UNC Greensboro. "She's just remarkable," Leutze said.
In addition to authoring “Stand Up That Mountain,” Leutze is a trustee for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, a national spokesman for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a recipient of the Stanback Volunteer Conservationist Award. He also speaks nationally of his battle to preserve the mountains he loves.
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.centerfortheenvironment.org or www.campaignforcleanair.org.