In mid-March Ashley Lovell, our Director of Partnerships and Outreach, sat down to talk with Richard Orton, owner of Orton Hill, a beautiful property that is protected with TLC in Nacogdoches, TX. They discussed Richard’s love of the land and his perspective on the biggest environmental concerns facing Texas in the future.
Ashley: What is your earliest memory of nature?
Richard: Before my family moved from Nacogdoches to West Texas, when I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember the four of us, my father, mother, and little brother going to what is now the Tanglewood Circle area near where I live and where TLC holds the easement. At that time in the very early 1950’s the northern end of Shawnee Drive stopped there. This was long before the area was developed and I don’t think Tanglewood Circle had been built. I remember that we got out of the car and walked into the woods. It was an autumn day and everything was golden… leaves on the ground and in the trees. I can still see all of that in my memory.
I remember visiting my parents in my late 20’s or early 30’s a few years after they moved into their house on Tanglewood Circle. Early one Saturday morning my father came into my bedroom while I was still in bed and said, “Get up… we’re going to walk the boundaries!” It was not a request. I got up, got dressed, and followed him outside. We walked to the southwest corner of the property fronting on Tanglewood Circle then headed toward the northwest corner through dense woods. I remember getting disoriented about half way to the corner. We had to cross the creek shortly before arriving there. We then proceeded across the back boundary line, then back up to the street… thus, we “walked the boundaries.” I think it was during that venture into the woods, the woods I would eventually inherit, that I began to realize what I had and how fortunate I was. It didn’t happen all at once, but that’s where it began. Sid Orton finally got fed up and forced the issue. I’m glad he did.
A: Why is your property, Orton Hill, special to you?
R: It’s the last of the land that was once owned by the Orton family. In the days of the Republic my great-great-grandparents came and settled that area. The 13 acres protected at Orton Hill are all that’s left of the land that belongs to an Orton. It’s also just about the only part of it that’s left that is relatively untouched. That means a lot to me and I take that very seriously. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have it and to be able to live there. I can always go home.
I would give anything to have another conversation with my father, because he died before he was sure about where I stood on stewarding this land. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I didn’t get it. I didn’t pay any attention to the land. I think that hurt his feelings, rightly so. He grew up in that area and I think that he had spent a lot of time on the land. I would love to have a conversation with him about the land because when he was alive I just didn’t care about it.
A: How has your relationship with nature changed since you were a kid?
R: After the experience mentioned before in my early childhood I don’t remember another “nature experience” until I was well into my 30’s, unless you count the sandstorms I experienced in West Texas in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I remember our yard in Midland being completely covered in sand after one such storm.
A: What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue in Texas?
R: There is the water issue… which is beyond denial. Those of us in East Texas who have water are going to have to deal with those who do not, I fear. There will always be those people who for profit or other reasons are willing to destroy the natural environment without a thought given to what is being lost. The only way I know to deal with that is by making a long term commitment to education.
A: How often do you think about the environment in your daily life?
R: I suppose I think about the environment whenever I experience something really beautiful in the natural world… and whenever I see the destruction of something that was once natural, beautiful or not.
A: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a landowner?
R: The biggest challenge that I face is finding time and resources to manage the land in a way that cultivates and enhances its natural beauty and allows it to be an outdoor classroom and limited use recreation area.