Millie, Ginny Burton and Jesse Pope celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Conservation Campus, which took place on September 2, 2019. Construction began this summer and is expected to be completed in the Fall of 2021. 

On a beautiful day in autumn, you might find Ginny Burton foraging for wild apples. It’s one of her favorite things to do because she gathers them for the bears and elk who live on Grandfather Mountain.  Of course, she could buy apples for them, and she has in the past when no local ones were available to pick, but she thinks that takes the fun out of it. Sometimes, she even takes some of the apples back to her horses in Florida. 

If you saw her in the grocery store, you might not realize that she’s foraging for the animals there as well. She likes to pick up cans of sardines, herring, tuna, kippers, and mackerel that can be used to enrich the diets of the otters, cougars, and bears.

“One of my favorite things about Grandfather Mountain is the behind-the-scenes tours where you can get up close and personal with the animals, especially the bears,” she says. “There’s nothing like being that close to them and having the opportunity to observe them and learn more about their habits and personalities.” 

Ginny has also expressed her love of the animals and her gratitude for the people who care for them by providing a major gift to support the construction of the new Animal and Habitat Office. 

“I was very inspired by the opportunity to be a part of the new Conservation Campus, and to leave a legacy, to be a part of the legacy. I think it’s wonderful that school kids will be able to go on these field trips and visit such a magnificent place as Grandfather Mountain and all the new state-of-the-art exhibits, the amphitheater, classrooms and all.”

Ginny loves the sense of history on the Mountain. She envisions generations of people across hundreds of years—children playing on Split Rock or people gathering to share a meal at Cliffside. Her curiosity is driven by her love of learning, and so you might also find her serving as a zookeeper for a day or attending a lecture on the Mountain.  

“If you’re lucky enough to spend any time with Jesse, in his magnificent outdoor office, every minute there’s an interesting learning experience as he explains everything you need to know about this bug or that bird or a new plant,” she says. 

“There’s not a more deserving group of people or a more beautiful setting for something like the Conservation Campus. I always feel welcomed and appreciated here, and that’s just so nice to experience. I feel honored, very honored, to be a part of it.”