Piedmont Profile: Waters’ work for LandTrust helps make this a better place

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Deirdre Parker Smith
For someone whose interests range from creative writing to guitars to canoeing, and whose education includes an English degree, an MBA and a real estate license, Andrew Waters has found a niche as operations director for the LandTrust of Central North Carolina.
At the LandTrust offices in Salisbury Station, Waters does a little of everything ó accounting, grant management, writing for grants, setting up events, writing press releases, you name it. He’s surrounded by maps, books, binders, T-shirts, hats and soil cores.
He’s patient, soft-spoken, and looks at you while he talks with conviction about his role.
“I get to work with people deeply concerned about the environment and our place in it.
“I get to help them achieve their goals for their land. I go to bed thinking I’m helping make this a better place,” Waters says.
He and wife Anne moved to Salisbury just before the birth of their son, Eli, who’s now 4 1/2. At that point, Anne, who now owns Green Goat Gallery in Spencer, was working at John F. Blair, Publisher, in Winston-Salem. Andrew was working for the Catawba Lands Conservancy in Charlotte.
Salisbury was halfway.
“We were drawn to Salisbury for the historic preservation here,” he says
His path from his first job as an editor at HarperCollins in New York to Salisbury reveals a variety of interests.
He grew up in Hendersonville, similar in size to Salisbury, and majored in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lived in New York for two years. “It was a wonderful experience. I really appreciated it.”
He headed back to North Carolina and worked at Blair, where he met Anne. He didn’t want to stay in publishing and looked for a business-oriented field. His father had been an attorney who did a lot of real estate deals. Real estate, Andrew thought, was not just a numbers business. It gave him a chance “to see the best and worst of human nature on display.” He felt like he was helping people.
With his real estate license, he got involved in the community development corporation in Winston-Salem ó and found he liked the non-profit world.
Meanwhile, he got an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and met Jason Walser, director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, who needed someone with a business background.
“My commute went from one hour to two minutes. I have loved every second,” he says.
Anne and Andrew had always dreamed of opening an art gallery, and Anne bought Green Goat Gallery in Spencer. In the back, which was once Brent Smith’s pottery studio, she now operates Blue Ewe Yoga, combining a love of art and yoga. Both Anne and Andrew have a passion to support local artists.
“We wanted it to be a center for creative people,” and he thinks they’re making that happen.
“Between working here (the LandTrust) and Green Goat and being a dad, life is as full as it’s ever been. I don’t have the time or compulsion to think about what I don’t like,” Waters says.
His favorite conservation project was in Charlotte, where he helped save habitat for the bog turtle, which is not endangered, but threatened. “We were able to work with the farmer (in Gaston County) to conserve the habitat. We got money from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the bog. … It had gotten less boggy and too streamy,” he laughs. A lot of volunteers moved mud from one place to another to flatten it out.
The landowner thought it was silly at first, but when it was completed, he was very proud.
“People don’t understand what we do. There’s a natural suspicion about land trusts because of that lack of understanding. We face a challenge because what we do is not easy to explain.
“One thing about land conservation is both sides of the political spectrum can embrace it. It’s not partisan. People who believe in limited government like it; it gives them the right to determine what happens to their land.”
Others like it because they see the environmental benefits.
“The LandTrust does not take land. We only work with the landowners who want us. We don’t take sides on issues. We have to be able to work with all sorts of people. We are non-advocacy based.
“I’m concerned about the future of Rowan … I think we need to radically redirect our economic development. We need new strategies. We have so much potential, especially in culture and the arts. … We have the amenities, we just” need to promote it more.