The story of the Wintergreen resort’s creation has been told in a new book by local author Mary Buford Hitz. “It looks like a coffee table book,” she said, because it’s full of pictures, “but it’s actually serious history.”
Written at the instigation of sponsors and contributors, For Love of the Land, the History of the Wintergreen Community, took Hitz three years to write. She’s already known for her biography of her mother, an advocate for the preservation of Richmond’s old houses. Never Ask Permission: Elizabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond came out in 2000 from U.Va. Later she published a novel, Riding to Camille, about a mounted trail ride that encounters Hurricane Camille.
“I got a call from Don Faulkner, who had owned The Big Survey [as the property was once known]. I was thinking of what to do next and Don and Doug Coleman came to me with this.
“Donnie had borrowed a horse and he and his wife had ridden over the property, 11,000 acres. It’s an extraordinary property for natural beauty. From Reids Gap to Rockfish Gap. It’s over several mountains.
“Don felt it could be a four-season resort. It needed a lot of water for a golf course and a ski area at 4,000-ft elevation. Lake Monacan was the main water supply and water was pumped uphill and then gravity fed. It’s really complicated. It’s very high-quality infrastructure.”
Sketching the project’s financial history, Hitz described how the project was handed off a few times by investors and was finally bought by L.F. Payne. “He sold the idea of the residents stepping up to buy the resort. They did reasonably well until Crawford Knob was put in easement. The state wanted a refund after it determined that it had paid too much for the conservation easement. Jim Justice brought it to an end and saved it from bankruptcy.”
Hitz said the book’s pictures are intended to get across the difficulty of the project, such as getting water across cliffs on ski lifts. Some things had to be done by helicopter.
The book has several themes, she said, one being Faulkner’s preoccupation with Sea Pines in Georgia, a resort development that related to nature with clustered houses and apartments. “The planners always wanted more land wild than developed,” she said.
Next is protecting the ancient ecosystem on the mountains. Hitz said the property had 2,000-year-old ferns growing on it. The protection principle turned out to be a selling point, Hitz noted. “Wintergreen won national environmental awards. Salesmen became proponents of environmentalism. One hundred thousand rhododendrons and ferns were transplanted. Residents joined the band wagon.”
Another theme picks up the number of workers who’ve worked there for their whole lives and their children too. “George Vest had a night job. He worked a second one at Wintergreen. They tamed huge mountains and made it viable to build. There’s huge esprit-de-corps. It’s like a big family. What the team was trying to do was record-breaking. The audacity of thinking you could do it . . . .”
Carolyn Barkley had started the book and done some interviews before she died, fearing that the memories she needed were aging. She left transcripts that Hitz took off from.
“Doug Coleman was my referee in cases where it wasn’t clear what happened,” said Hitz. Her main sources besides Faulkner and Coleman were manager Gunter Muller, Peter Farley, one of the first salesmen, and George Nicklas, who knew the golf course.
“Writing it was a trial by fire but it’s very satisfying when it gets done,” Hitz said. “When I was first asked about it I worried it might get boring. But it got amazing. What they were trying to do was astonishing. The finance arrangements were like a wild west show. And the number of people who fell in love with Wintergreen when it was needed repeated several times.”
The book, published by Blackwell Press of Lynchburg, sells through the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen and at Hitz’s website, “and out of the back of my car,” she said.