Jim and Bess Murray of Charlottesville are being honored this month by the Campaign for America's Wilderness and The Wilderness Society as “Wilderness Heroes” for their nearly 40 years working to protect the state's special wild places.
Former lab partners at Oxford University, Jim and Bess have spent the last four decades in Virginia camping, hunting and enjoying the natural beauty of the state.
The Murrays' initial involvement in conservation came in 1969, when they attended a meeting to discuss a potential wilderness bill for Shenandoah National Park. A year later, Jim served as the second president for the newly formed Virginia Wilderness Committee. Over the years, the Murrays have been active in surveying, studying, and writing about wilderness areas, and speaking to groups, civic clubs, local officials, and Forest Service and National Park Service staff to build support for wilderness.
Lynn Cameron, a Virginia Wilderness Committee board member and veteran local activist, has the highest praise for the couple. “For nearly four decades the Murrays have worked steadily and effectively to protect special places in Virginia. They are really quite a pair. As a hunter and former biology professor, Jim has been a particularly credible and articulate voice for wilderness. Bess has always been at his side, contributing in a host of ways -- from incorporating wilderness in her radio show to feeding her home grown food to wilderness advocates and Congressmen, alike.”
The Virginia Wilderness Committee has had much success over the years. In 1975, the passage of the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act gave Virginians their first designated wilderness -- the James River Face. Since then, the Murrays' efforts have helped protect many of their favorite places as designated wilderness areas -- from the Shenandoah National Park to the George Washington National Forest.
Currently, the Virginia Wilderness Committee is in the process of trying to protect special places in the Jefferson National Forest. The bipartisan Virginia Ridge and Valley Act of 2007 has been introduced by Congress by Rep. Rick Boucher (D) and Sen. John Warner (R). To the Murrays' delight, the bill has received broad support from conservationists, sportsman, and county officials. Included in the legislation is a place called Hunting Camp Creek, Bess' favorite spot in the state. “I told them that if it's not in the bill, I'm going to leave the country,” said Bess.
The Wilderness Hero program highlights the work of everyday Americans making a difference in the effort to protect some of the nation's last wild places for future generations.