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Eustace Conway has lived off the land for over 35 years; for the last 20, the Gastonia native — who was the subject of a wonderful 2002 biography called “The Last American Man” and has been featured both on the History Channel’s “Mountain Men” and in the Wall Street Journal — has turned those skills into a thriving business nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mr. Conway’s Turtle Island Preserve teaches school and scouting groups the old ways of living in the wilderness, including how to build cabins with techniques such as those used by the legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone.
But unlike Mr. Conway, Daniel Boone never had to deal with pesky government bureaucrats.
Last year, Mr. Conway had his Watauga County business shut down after government officials raided the picturesque campground, claiming that he was in violation of all kinds of health, safety, fire, and building codes. Watauga County’s Planning Director, Joseph Furman, claimed that the primitive cabins built by the campers at Turtle Island should have bathrooms, fire sprinklers, and smoke detectors: “Does anyone sleep there? Then it has to meet the residential code,” he insisted. Local officials said that their hands were tied because the regulations were mandated by the state.
The government’s 78 page report also slammed Mr. Conway for his unauthorized use of outhouses, sawdust urinals, an open-air kitchen, and his failure to use county-approved “grade-marked” lumber, which specifies where the lumber was produced. The government required that Mr. Conway tear down all his primitive structures — including the cabins, barn, kitchen, blacksmith shop and sawmill — and put in an expensive septic system before he could rebuild or conduct anymore camping activities.
On April 11, legislation was introduced to address the situation. House Bill 774 — Building Code Exclusion/Primitive Structures — would protect unique entrepreneurs like Eustace Conway by exempting primitive structures like those on the Turtle Island Preserve from most of these codes. Representative McGrady was a primary sponsor of the bill.
HB774 addresses issues on behalf of primitive camps and wilderness learning facilities throughout North Carolina and directs the North Carolina Building Code Council, a 17 member Governor-appointed board, to exempt some primitive structures from certain provisions of the building code. The legislation has been assigned to the House Regulatory Reform Committee, chaired by Representative Tim Moffitt.