Judy Murray Named Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for Environmental Work

Monday, July 25, 2022 | 03:04pm

Judy Murray, who has led an inspired life dedicated to conservation in Southern Appalachia, has been named winner of the 2022 Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award is part of the annual Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The announcement was made at the annual awards luncheon today.

Murray is one of the founding members of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), a nonprofit established in 1974 to protect the many treasures of the Roan Highlands and the Southern Appalachians.

“The Highlands of Roan is an enchanting area that is lucky to have had an advocate like Judy Murray,” said TDEC Commissioner David Salyers. “We are grateful to Judy for using her expertise, time and energy to support the protection of this part of Tennessee, and we know countless Tennesseans have been inspired by her deep and genuine affection for this land.”

“Judy has profoundly impacted conservation of one of Tennessee’s unique and priceless national treasures,” said SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “These high-elevation grassy mountaintops are home to rare plants and animals that thrive nowhere else in the world and are a beloved destination for people to enjoy hiking, camping, birding, fishing, hunting and other recreational activities. This award recognizes Judy’s monumental efforts in scientific study, management, and long-term preservation of the Highlands of Roan, and we are so proud of her legacy.”

Murray’s love for nature was first inspired by a family vacation in the 1950s through the Adirondack Mountains. Upon graduation from Florida State University, Murray accepted a chemist position with Tennessee Eastman Company (now Eastman Chemical Company) in Kingsport, TN. Within days, she was hiking and enjoying the spectacular vistas from the grassy ridges of the Highlands of Roan and was soon a member of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club.

Murray and six other members of the hiking club formed a working group to further protection of the Appalachian Trail and the magnificent grassy balds of the Roan massif. The group grew and was formalized in 1966 as the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee of the Appalachian Trail Conference, with the goal to preserve the views and landscape surrounding the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan.

During this time, Murray resigned her position with the Tennessee Eastman Company to return to school, graduating with a master’s degree in ecology from the University of Tennessee in 1974. In the same year, Murray became SAHC’s first Roan Stewardship Director – a position she held for 40 years until her retirement in 2014.

SAHC’s nonprofit charter was expanded to include North Carolina and now, nearly 50 years later, the organization continues to build on the foundational work laid by Murray. SAHC protected 1,644 acres of lands in 2021, including 1,050 acres in the Highlands of Roan, of which 150 acres have recently been added to Roan Mountain State Park.