April 7, 2016


Making a tree sanctuary

635944216534495162-Shelli-Stanback-003Shelli Stanback didn’t just want to write checks to worthy causes that help preserve our natural world or promote a healthier future. “It’s a different kind of commitment,” the long-time Asheville philanthropist said. “You don’t miss the view or the history, until it’s gone.”

Stanback purchased a 54-acre property to create the OM Sanctuary wellness and meditation retreat center. She has made sure the green woods won’t be lost.

Along with the city-owned Richmond Hill Park nearby, the OM Sanctuary’s woods represent the city’s largest protected tract of urban forest, just a couple of miles from the heart of downtown.

“Natural places are essential for human health,” Stanback said. “Once they have been lost to development they are gone forever. We must preserve them now for our sake, and for the sake of the future.”

Working with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, OM Sanctuary placed an easement on some 42 acres containing cove forest, oak forest and low mountain pine forest, with mixed hardwoods. The tract also contains pools in the river floodplain that provide habitat for salamanders, amphibians and reptiles.

“It is a rare gem containing an uncommon cluster of natural features near Asheville’s urban core,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. The forest provides ecosystem services and preserves a scenic view seen by many people every day: recreational users of the French Broad River and everyone who drives past it.”

Finding sanctuary

About five years ago, Stanback was attending a retreat for the Southern Law Environmental Center meeting at Richmond Hill. The Victorian landmark mansion built by U.S. Sen. Richmond Pearson had been razed by an arson in 2009. The inn had other buildings added in the 1990s but was facing bankruptcy.

She remembered standing under the willow tree outside when the decision came to her. “I could do this for the people of Asheville and beyond. I could create a sanctuary here.”

With funds from the Brad and Shelli Stanback Foundation, she formed a nonprofit to buy the property for $4.5 million in 2011.

Stanback has been interested in healing since she was a girl suffering from migraines and looking for relief. She was deeply interested in alternative medicines and environmental issues long before she met her husband, Brad.

His family had made money with the Stanback headache powders, invented in Rowan County in 1911, and familiarized by the slogan “Snapback with Stanback.”

Her father-in-law, Fred Stanback Jr., was roommates at Harvard with famed investor Warren Buffett. Stanback went on to became a private investor and influential philanthropist based in Salisbury. With his wife, Alice, he’s made millions of dollars in gifts, protecting vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway with conservation easements.

Shelli and Brad Stanback continue that family legacy through their own foundation. They recently gave $1 million to the American Chestnut Foundation, trying to restore the chestnut trees that were killed off in the Appalachians …

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