Students and faculty rally behind Eustace Conway, Turtle Island

Joshua Farmer

Owner of Turtle Island Preserve, Eustace Conway, speaks in front of the Watauga County Health Department surrounded by a group of supporters. A group of community members and students organized the march, which began at Sanford Mall.  Olivia Wilkes  |  The Appalachian
More than 40 students and Boone residents protested and marched to the Watauga County Health Department on Tuesday in protest of Eustace Conway’s primitive-living educational camp being closed by county commissioners.

Participants of the protest picketed with signs that said “Private Property, Private Discretion,” and “I support Turtle Island,” among others. Conway carried a sign with a single red question mark.

Conway, an Appalachian State University alumnus, recently had to close his camp, Turtle Island Preserve, to the public after an inspection by the Watauga County Health Department and county commissioners.

The primary concern of the county is that visitors are in and out of these buildings, which were neither permitted nor inspected for compliance with N.C. building codes, according to the official statement from the Watauga Planning and Inspections and Economic Development.

Conway also spoke to university students and faculty Monday about how Watauga County officials recently came to Turtle Island for an inspection of the property. An anonymous tip was reported, detailing building code, health code and safety violations.

“The values of the natural world I teach at Turtle Island are important enough to me that I have gladly volunteered my entire adult life to running and maintaining it,” Conway said. “Since founding Turtle Island, I have yet to have a single person outright oppose what I do, until now.”

Adjunct instructor Harvard Ayers attended the protest. Ayers brought a group of students to Turtle Island in 1987.

“Eustace is an old friend of mine, and the way he is being treated today simply isn’t right,” Ayers said.

Watauga County sheriffs and Boone police officers stood outside their vehicles in front of the Health Department parking lot to observe the march in order to maintain the peace, said Captain Allen Reed of the Watauga Sheriff’s Department.

“I feel that a degradation of liberty has occurred in Boone’s backyard, and I frown on the idea of needing permits to continue living in the traditional ways of my ancestors,” Conway said.

Story: NOLEN NYCHAY, Intern News Reporter

Photo: OLIVIA WILKES, Senior Photographer