Call of the Valley: David Reid's love of the mountains and conservation

Shelly Frome
Call of the Valley
David Reid of Swannanoa was honored with the 2022 national Sierra Club award for volunteer service.

Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, David Reid had no idea one day he would be presented with the coveted national Sierra Club award for volunteer service while residing in the woodsy setting of a home in Swannanoa, Western Carolina. At the time he had no firsthand knowledge of mountain ranges, streams and valleys and the preservation of open space. The land was flat in the Jacksonville area and the roadways and low-lying bridges took you past more commercial and residential structures and endless flatness.

During his teenage years however, he was offered the chance to experience entirely different vistas.

“At that particular time, the youth group from church brought kids up to the mountains to rock climb," Reid said. "As it happens, the associate minister, who was from up north and was a devotee of rock climbing, initiated the program. He made it sound challenging and a way to foster community in the church. He had us do rappelling on the side of the three-story church going from vertical to horizontal as you step off into space going down in preparation and to build up our leg strength. And that was when I fell in love with the opportunity to go on planned trips hiking up into real mountains and nature.

"It was such a strange and wondrous thing to actually discover that the land could have elevation and gain a feeling of expanse as you look out into space and a hundred foot drop while you’re rappelling. Finding myself high up in the national forests certainly fostered my attraction to this area of the world. The first trip we took was to West Virginia, but it was on the second trip to Linville Gorge and Table Rock when it all truly happened for me. Here, I discovered, is where I truly belong. I don’t know why I happened to be born in Florida.”

David Reid of Swannanoa has championed many conservation initiatives with the Sierra Club.

Later on, seeking a meaningful vocation and as an amateur musician, Reid attended the University of Georgia to obtain a degree in music therapy. He subsequently did an internship at a private psychiatric hospital in Asheville, moved to Swannanoa and, at long last, found himself living in the area he loved. He went on to work in long-term facilities as an activities director in various local nursing homes “doing some therapeutic good for people.” And then he became involved in the Sierra Club to preserve and nurture the ranges, streams and wildernesses in this region and beyond.  

In 1984, within the first month of living here, he and his first wife learned of a meeting of the Sierra Club, attended and decided to get involved because it was something they truly wanted to do — saving the environment, saving the national forests, promoting solar energy, etc. Like-minded members became longtime friends that have lasted to the present day.

One of the ventures Reid initially became involved in was promoting the candidacy of Jamie Clarke, who championed congressionally designated wilderness areas. Moreover, after he was elected, when a beloved river was threatened by the construction of a dam, Clarke had the site designated as a national scenic site. He also obtained the funding to acquire Catawba Falls and was instrumental in acquiring other sites that came up for sale that are now protected areas.

“Based on the Sierra Club’s references, we manned the phone banks to make sure people voted," Reid said. "Shortly afterwards, I wound up becoming the chair of the local group covering multiple counties centering on Asheville. One of our great concerns was the proposed deposits of high energy nuclear waste in Sandy Mush in Buncombe Country. A hundred and fifty people came to my first meeting, which was a trial by fire as far as I was concerned. We engaged in a  public opinion campaign. From that point I became involved in many national forest issues such as passing a Smoky Mountains wilderness bill. I’ve had various roles over the years with the local chapter and the national organization because issues are out there all the time. Presently, the existential threat of climate change and the continuous management of our national forests are my main concerns.”