The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Falcons in flight: Gatlinburg couple earns top conservation honors from Tennessee Wildlife Federation

Written by

Worsham Conservationist of the Year1Arrowmont supporters Margit and Earl Worsham named Conservationists of the Year by Tennessee Wildlife Federation

This story was provided by Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

GATLINBURG Margit and Earl Worsham stood in front of family, friends, and fellow conservationists on stage in Nashville this spring and were presented with a unique award of mahogany shaped like a peregrine falcon in flight.

They were named the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s 2022 Conservationists of the Year at the federation’s 57th Annual Conservation Awards in May.

It’s a prestigious honor presented to nominees considered to have the most significant contribution to the cause of natural resources conservation in Tennessee. 

Arrowmont is proud to have Margit Worsham as a long-standing board member and Earl Worsham as a devoted friend and major supporter. Arrowmont appreciates their years of advocacy and support,” the arts center said in a release.

The Worshams are the latest addition to a notable list of Tennessee conservationists to earn the title, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, Commissioner James H. Fyke, and Sen. Lamar Alexander. 

“We honor the impact our Conservation Achievement Award winners have made across the state,” said Mike Butler, chief executive officer for the federation. “Dedicated conservationists and a collaborative approach are critical to safeguarding our great outdoors. Earl and Margit, you have contributed so much to conservation. We are grateful for your commitment and that Tennessee’s wildlife and places are beneficiaries of your generosity. 

The award is the most recent recognition of Margit and Earl’s long-standing positive impact. They share a dedication to improving the land and the lives of children and families, veterans, artists, and residents in Sevier County.

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation described fishing as their “love story” when presenting the award to the Worshams. Margit and Earl grew up fishing as children. As adults, they became deeply involved in conservation efforts, serving on the boards of renowned international organizations, including the Atlantic Salmon Trust, Iceland Atlantic Salmon Fund, Trout Unlimited International. Their passion for the outdoors drew them together when they met at a Norway salmon fishing lodge. They purchased Norton Creek 30 years ago and spent decades creating a haven for Smoky Mountain native plant and animal life.

Norton Creek is one of the top trout streams east of the Mississippi, with world-class trout fishing. Margit and Earl worked with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service to rehabilitate the property as a sanctuary for endangered Eastern brook trout, native to the Smokies. The couple established the Norton Creek Conservation Easement to protect the creek’s pristine waters and forested banks. This ensures the land will never be developed — it will be preserved as a safe place for native wildlife and plant species in perpetuity. Margit and Earl are committed to sharing their love of the land, and fishing, with future generations.

Norton Creek is a sanctuary for fireflies, fish, and flora. The Worshams share their property with nature-lovers, sportsmen, and in the past several years, veterans. Margit and Earl welcome veterans to experience the peace of the Smokies through Project Healing Waters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans overcome the pain of their past through fly-fishing.

Quiet bird calls and flowing water are the backdrop for veterans participating in a day of fly fishing at Norton Creek. For some, spending time in nature — alongside fellow veterans and volunteers — is lifesaving. Margit and Earl’s efforts to protect and maintain their beloved mountain home sustains more than wildlife. Their generosity of spirit helps many who would otherwise not be able to find the community or support they need.

Margit and Earl’s dedication to conservation was the beginning of a lifetime of serving their community. The couple devote time and service to East Tennessee organizations that benefit the entire region. In a 2020 Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Banquet ceremony, Margit and Earl were acknowledged for their profound commitment to the city, receiving the William C. Stevens Volunteer Spirit Award. Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau President, Mark Adams, said:

“It is hard to succinctly describe the Worsham’s contributions to the city and countless non-profit organizations, including our beloved Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Together they have worked quietly behind the scenes raising millions of dollars to support the advancement of the community.”

Margit and Earl served as board members for United Way of Sevier County, supporting local organizations to address children’s education, health care, and business development across the county. The Worshams raised $1.5 million for United Way. Arrowmont’s annual Souper Bowl event benefiting United Way of Sevier County is the result of Earl and Margit’s advocacy for the organization.

Margit and Earl love art and are committed to arts education. Earl served on the board of directors for the Knoxville Museum of Art, contributing to the economic development of the museum and downtown Knoxville. Margit became involved with artists in the community, revitalizing the Gatlinburg Arts Council. Through Margit’s efforts, the Arts Council broadened its reach and established exhibition opportunities with generous juried prizes and awards for artists of all ages. The organization established an annual Sevier County Juried Student Art Show and, over the course of 26 years, awarded more than $28,000 to Sevier County children in the arts.

The Worshams joined Geoff Wolpert and other community leaders to form the Gatlinburg Gateway Foundation in 2000. Their work led to environmentally sensitive projects that elevated the entryway to the city for visitors and community members. Power lines were relocated underground; handcrafted road signs were added; the Gatlinburg Fine Art Festival was hosted for the first of a ten-year tradition. Soon, Margit Worsham would join the Arrowmont Board of Governors. She has been a board member for the past 15 years, raising $2 million to benefit Arrowmont’s arts educational programming. Margit and Earl’s generosity and dedication to the community continue.

In early June, Margit and Earl Worsham opened their home to 50 guests for a unique and magical experience. As the sun set over the mountains, the party exited the comfortable lodge to experience something that is only found in the Smokies: synchronous fireflies. Margit and Earl support Discover Life in America by hosting this intimate, annual event. It is a further way they contribute to protecting our Smoky Mountain home.

Rate this item
(4 votes)

Related items

  • Dinosaurs released in Chattanooga to honor Earth Day 2022
    in News

    Director of Hospitality and Marketing Meredith Roberts, right, and her daughter Lucy release Lake Sturgeon.Tennessee Aquarium Director of Hospitality and Marketing Meredith Roberts and her daughter Lucy release a juvenile lake sturgeon during an Earth Day event on the Chattanooga riverfront.  Tennessee Aquarium

    Tennessee Aquarium releases endangered sturgeon on a fin and a prayer

    CHATTANOOGA Lake sturgeon are living fossils.

    They are dinosaur fish. They have no scales. They are protected by a tough skin with boney plates, and are unchanged for millennia. They are part of a widespread related group of fish, with 23 species worldwide, and are an endangered species in Tennessee.

    Tennessee Aquarium staff released some of these dinosaurs into the Tennessee River here on Earth Day, observed this year on April 22. Aquarium staff were joined by 30 students from Calvin Donaldson Elementary School and the public to release 65 juvenile lake sturgeon into the Tennessee River at Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park.

  • Part III: Clear-cut controversy in the Cumberlands
    in News

    Bridgestone Main 2048x1365

    Legal opinion cuts path for TWRA forest clearing in White County’s Bridgestone wilderness area despite local opposition

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

    A controversial plan by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials to clearcut forest in a popular hunting, hiking and recreation area in order to create habitat for Northern bobwhite quail has gotten a legal go-ahead, despite opposition from residents and local leaders in White County, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and environmental groups.

    The 16,000-acre Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area, a forested area adjacent to Fall Creek Falls State Park and Virgin Falls State Natural Area, was a late 1990’s gift to the state from the tire company that came with certain strings attached, including that state officials “preserve the property predominantly in its present condition as a wilderness area.”

    The Tennessee Wildlife Federation was charged with ensuring the state honors those conditions.

    On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Wildlife Federation confirmed that outside legal counsel hired to review the state’s clearcutting plan found it “meets the requirements” of the gift.

    “Speaking broadly as a conservation nonprofit, we have supported throughout our 75-year history the science-based, proactive management of lands to maintain or restore diverse habitats and diverse wildlife,” Kate Hill, a Tennessee Wildlife Federation spokeswoman, said via email. “The fact is savannas are an endangered habitat in the Southeast that were once common and provided essential habitat to many species across Tennessee.”

    Neither the Tennessee Wildlife Federation nor the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has communicated the outcome of the legal review to local residents, who have complained for months that they have been kept in the dark and offered no meaningful opportunity to weigh in on plans to radically alter a landscape that is both beloved and central to the local economy.

  • Limbless bears break hearts but donuts may be worse than leg traps

    83644084 179844060054345 4751008813274890240 n 705x550Courtesy of Help Asheville Bears 

    By any other name: From poaching to cars and traps, black bears face diverse human threats in Southern Appalachians 

    Activists and state agencies agree bear poaching is an age-old problem in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, but they diverge when it comes to some key aspects of the crime and its prevention.

    The non-profit Help Asheville Bears is raising awareness of threats to bears on both sides of the state lines and getting coverage on local media outlets like this piece on Knoxville-based WBIR. Its message has also appeared on a billboard in Sevierville. The Arden, N.C.-based group offers a tip line, rewards and also supports what could be described as a self-styled anti-poaching militia.

    “Bear poaching is a big deal. It happens anywhere where there are bears,” said Jody Williams, the founder of Help Asheville Bears, which is responding to what its members see as an increasing threat to the very symbol of wild Southern Appalachia. HAB is especially concerned about trapping that Williams said has left limbless bears limping throughout the mountains.

    The group is demanding Amazon quit selling leg-snare traps with a petition on Change.org that has gotten more than 220,000 signatures.

    A video at the top of the page shows images and footage of bears with missing limbs as sad flute music plays.

    “We currently follow 12 cases of bears missing limbs in a 25 mile radius of the Asheville area and 15 missing limbs within 90 miles of Asheville,” according to the Help Asheville Bears website.

    “Help Asheville Bears intends to help prevent illegal bear trapping in the South Asheville and Arden areas, where there has been much photographic evidence of illegal trapping, especially bears missing limbs.”

  • Biodiversity in crosshairs as burgeoning Middle Tennessee fears water shortage

    Duck RiverMarshall CoThis biologically rich stretch of the Duck River could soon be the site of a large municipal water intake facility.

    Duck River targeted by thirsty, growing municipalities in Nashville area

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout

    Marshall County, located outside what was once considered the boundary edge of growing suburbs circling Nashville, has seen explosive growth of its own in recent years — call it the Williamson County overflow effect, says County Mayor Mike Keny.

    Drawn by more affordable housing, jobs and the rural character of the county — about an hour from Nashville in the “heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor” (as local economic development officials call it) — the influx of residents, and some relocating business and industry, has brought new urgency to a long-standing reality.

    The county doesn’t have its own water supply. For decades, it has had to pay wholesale for drinking water from the cities of Murfreesboro and Lewisburg. That supply is no longer adequate.

    A new proposal by county officials calls for building a water treatment facility along the banks of the Duck River in northern Marshall County capable of siphoning up to 6 million gallons of water per day; establish a reliable local water supply for decades to come.

    The need for Marshall County,  to have its own water supply, which it has never had, is becoming more urgent with an influx of new residents. But environmental activists say the nearby Duck River, which is biologically diverse, may not be the best option.  
  • Tennessee Aquarium and partners are stocking another East Tennessee mountain stream with imperiled Southern Appalachian brook trout

    Juvenile Brook Trout swimming into the water of their new homeJuvenile brook trout swim into the water of their new home during a joint effort to return the species to its rightful range in the Tellico River watershed in the southeastern Cherokee National Forest. Photo courtesy Tennessee Aquarium.

    In a virtuous cycle of life, native brookies return to Tellico River watershed in southeastern Cherokee National Forest.

    (The writer produced this original piece for the Tennessee Aquarium).

    Navigating through a thicket of branches while clambering across slick boulders in a rushing mountain stream is a difficult task in the best of times. Doing so while attempting to balance 40-pound buckets of water filled with imperiled fish takes the challenge to an entirely new level.

    A team of scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute drove to one of the lush, high-elevation streams in the southern reaches of the Cherokee National Forest. During a brief lull between rainstorms, they were joined by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency representatives and the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate a homecoming for 250 long-lost residents of this gorgeous landscape: juvenile Southern Appalachian brook trout.

    Carefully navigating through a snarl of streamside vegetation, participants paused to release five or six trout at a time into pools with overhangs where the young fish could hide from predators and ambush floating insects that washed into the stream. The going was tough, but those involved in the effort to restock almost a kilometer of this pristine creek say the challenge was worth the reward of seeing Tennessee’s only native trout back in its ancestral waters.

    “The days when we release fish, especially brook trout, are really special moments,” said Tennessee Aquarium Aquatic Conservation Biologist Dr. Bernie Kuhajda. “We’re with these fish all the way from when we first bring adults into the Conservation Institute to spawn, to watching the eggs start to develop, to the juveniles that are just a few inches long and ready to release here.

    “It really is knowing that we get to help restore trout to the full circle of life. Days like today are the culmination of all that work to put trout back into the Southeastern streams where they belong.”

    Like many Appalachian streams, this tributary of the North River in the Tellico River watershed hasn’t hosted the brook trout for almost a century. Clearcutting of forests in the early 1900s made waters in the region too warm. Combined with the introduction of brown and rainbow trout, “brookies” were effectively lost from more than 75 percent of the waterways where they once thrived.

  • A whopper caught on camera
    WBIR: Man catches collosal fish on Cherokee Lake
    To his immense credit, he released the fish.