“One of the ‘infractions’ cited by Watauga County was the home for my intern had no electricity or running water, and had no sprinkler system in case of a fire…. That ‘home’ was my doghouse! The county was citing me because my dog house didn’t have a sprinkler system, and modern amenities!” Eustace Conway, 6-14-13
I had never seen Eustace Conway on the reality television show about “Mountain Men” and had actually never heard of him until my regional editor of Conservativefifty.com, Javan Browder, suggested I write about him. Javan told me Eustace had a historic preserve, called Turtle Island near Boone, NC, where he lived off the land and preserves a traditional way of life with no modern conveniences. He offers camps and internships to those who long to learn more about the source of their sustenance, food, shelter, and sustainable connection with the land.
Due to the enormous positive response from my first article, Eustace granted me an interview. I arrived for the interview along a graveled road that steeply descended into a secluded, heavily forested valley. Deer crossed in front of me. Indigo Buntings flashed their wings briefly, and then melted into the thick canopy of green leaves and spattered patches of gold sunlight. It was like entering another world. I felt like Eve, opening her eyes upon the world that was meant to be. The very air smelled like Life.
Not in the eyes of the regulatory officials, however.
The Watauga county officials decided that Eustace was operating an unsafe facility and descended upon his property ten months ago with armed guards, citing both building safety and health violations. No crashing building or tainted water or food poisoning precipitated this assault on Eustace’s life. No one had ever been hurt on his property from a single unsound building or hazardous food or disease-laden water. For thirty years he had lived in his traditionally made home on Turtle Island, and peacefully complied with all the county requests, even at times to the detriment of his mission to shun modern standards, and live as our ancestors had for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Just two days prior to my visit to Turtle Island, NC Governor McCrory signed into law an exemption for primitive/educational sites such as Turtle Island from modern building codes. Unfortunately, the battle with the health department has not yet been resolved, though Eustace is hopeful it will be. For nearly three decades he has compromised with the health department to meet any concerns they had with his facility. He cannot use the milk from his goats to feed his interns the yogurt and cheese they learn to produce, because it is not properly pasteurized in a modern facility. He cannot serve them the vegetables they grow because they are not properly inspected.
“That’s crazy!” he says, “A man can’t serve food he grows himself!” Eustace had recently returned from Wisconsin where he had gone to speak in support of an Amish farmer on trial for selling the food from his small farm.
“The state government put criminal charges on him. All he was doing was supplying food to the people who wanted what he grew. So basically, here in America, they were putting a farmer on trial for raising food! What is wrong with that picture, to put a man on criminal charges, a farmer for raising food?!” Eustace raged.
Eustace went on this trip despite his disdain of traveling into the modern world, to talk about how our rights, even our sanity, is being taken away from us. “Some government regulatory officials truly believe they are helping to bring about better health and safety…but in my opinion they are not only hurting the safety, they are destroying the health and safety, hurting the vitality, cutting at the core and foundation of our human existence.”
In Eustace’s own battle with the government, Joe Furman, head of planning and inspections in Watauga County saw Eustace on the television show and told him it was unacceptable to be showing people the natural building process, and additionally, he didn’t have the permits needed for his buildings. Furman came to Turtle Island to inspect Conway’s land, and pointed out problems such as rocks used for building foundations (as opposed to cement or cinder blocks.)
“Have you ever heard of rock solid foundation!” cried Eustace,”Where do you think that term comes from! My buildings didn’t meet code…they were BETTER than code but those inspectors couldn’t problem solve independently to figure that out because it didn’t meet their standard list!”
“What do you think is underneath every historic building? I can knock my fist through a cinder block, but I am not going to knock my fist through one of these rocks!” said Eustace, “I think he was getting political pressure from one of my neighbors…maybe some officials were being blackmailed…the issue was not what they said the issue was. There was a different agenda.” I asked if there were any specifics given to justify the order for Eustace to “cease and desist” from any more camps, or from even allowing his interns to live in the homes on Turtle Island. “Yes,” he said, “The inspector said my buildings were structurally unsound, which wasn’t even legal for him to say. He wasn’t a structural engineer or even an architect.”
Eustace hired his own structural engineer to assess the soundness of his buildings, and the finding was they surpassed the stability required in the NC building code! Then, the officials were concerned about the outhouses. “One outhouse has been used for over 150 years with no problem,” said Eustace, “We are miles from any neighbor. Think about that! People have been pooping since time began without government regulation!” They intimated that the outhouses were unacceptable but never gave direct reasons why. They said they were unpermitted, yet Eustace contends they were permitted every year. The county claimed it didn’t matter since they were not under permit when built, but “I’ve had these outhouses since before outhouse permits were required!” Eustace bemoaned.
Eustace said the inspectors did not use common sense, logic, or even minimal problem solving as they attacked his livelihood. “For example, the inspector called the doghouse, ‘intern housing’….According to the county since people were living there, it had to have a sprinkler system in case of fire, had to have indoor plumbing, and electricity. So basically the county was telling me that my dog house had to have modern amenities…and I’m just standing there thinking, ‘What level of insanity are we living with here, that these people are getting paid by taxpayers to assess my dog house?…”
“No one has ever gotten hurt by our buildings, none has ever collapsed. No health problems either. But Furman called every agency he could think of and had them all swoop down on me in one attack. We’ve had a good relationship with the health department for over twenty years, and they inspected us annually, and we never had any impasse, never failed inspection. We have written documentation of permits every year…Then they shut us down, for ten months now! We are allowed to have this (father/son) camp this week as long as we were working together (despite the as yet unresolved claims by the health dept.)…we have complied and compromised, jumped through hoops. Quit letting the children drink the spring water when we taught them about spring water, quit letting them have our milk, yogurt or cheese, and step by step we have gotten further away from what we want to teach, and less and less healthy. But we were willing to compromise…slowly boiling the frog. But then they came in one morning with armed guards, with a ‘cease and desist’ order, barred our roads, wouldn’t let anyone in or out…that’s too much, that’s like throwing the frog in the boiling water!”
One violation cited in the report was a sink drain for the water – a drain that the head of the health department himself had designed several years earlier! “It’s not about public safety…it’s about something else,” Eustace assured me.
Eustace was happy, contentedly providing a service that he felt was one the world needed. He never wanted to be involved in fighting the government or politics. He just wanted to be left alone to teach others how they could regain so much of what they have lost in modern life. Yet, due to the burdens of government regulation, Eustace’s message, living and reconnecting with the land, is being dissipated. The life he is convinced can bring back health, vitality, and purpose cannot be properly shared with people, even though by their choice, every one of them comes to Turtle Island knowing and accepting any risks.
“No one ends up here by accident,” said Eustace, “But the officials came under the umbrella of ‘public health and safety’, and it is politically incorrect to fight that…like ‘Oh no, I want the public to be unsafe and unhealthy’. It is hard to fight, and they have found it is a great refuge for their perspective. We are not really open to the ‘public’…in fact if the public shows up here, I call the sheriff and have them escorted off my land. The people at Turtle Island are visitors, friends…to my home, my private land. I understand some of the regulations,” said Eustace, “But we are talking about human rights. I am doing the same thing that all my ancestors have done for two or three million years!”
“People need to take risks. They need to make mistakes. If you idiot-proof everything, guess what you are going to raise? A society of idiots.” Eustace feels our society is becoming the most incapable group of human beings of all time. “Our system is creating incapable people. It is way beyond alarming. People aren’t allowed to think, to make mistakes…every wonderful invention we have is built on hundreds of incorrect tries…Yet, our entire regulatory system is devaluing, not allowing the entire cornerstone of the American experience of freedom to try things out. Now not only is it philosophically and spiritually devaluing of our natural experience, but now it’s economically destroying it. So if somebody is inspired to start a small business, economically, guess what? It’s impossible because of all the regulation! So we are destroying the spirit, the vitality, the economic ability for life. Can you please publish that?? That is something people need to hear!”
Shortly after my interview, the Watauga County Health Dept. insisted that Eustace Conway could run no more camps until he altered his septic system for the kitchen grey water. Eustace, after nearly a year of no income, is rushing to comply. Funds are depleted, and his usual dazzling smile has faded. If you would like to help, a special donation site has been set up for this purpose, with many supporters already eager to help. To learn more about Turtle Island Preserve, and the many exciting camps and educational opportunities, visit their web site. Additionally, please like and share this article with everyone on the planet who cares about reducing government intrusion on freedoms we can no longer assume will always be protected.
Written by Vicky Kaseorg
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