"A stunning river system. "
That's how Hildegard Ryals described New Hope Creek in a 1994 story, five years after helping to found Friends of the New Hope to protect the creek and its tributaries from growth.
"The birds, the fish, the furry creatures: they can move from the top of the creek all the way down, along the connected river system," Ryals said. "We need a firm political will to stand up against inappropriate development."
I can't remember where I met Ryals, a regal lady who never let attention on herself take precedence over her cause; and she had many. In 1985-86 she was part of a group that led to the Durham County Inventory of Natural and Cultural Resources used by city planners and developers. She served on the Durham Open Space Commission, a group that works to protect habitats for rare and endangered plants and animals. And of course she was a member of the Friends of the Eno.
In an email, Chapel Hill Town Council Ed Harrison says Ryals died Thursday. She was 81. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 15 at St, Philips Episcopal Chuch in downtown Durham. All are invited.
"Hildegard was a force of nature on behalf of the environment, in particular for lands deserving protection," harrison writes. "She led the first New Hope Creek corridor preservation efforts, and corralled any number of us to help. I recall that Hildegard could sometimes be hard on the younger me, but I knew she wanted me to do the best that could be done.
"Hildegard Ryals was, simply put, a superb role model for those who need to practice persistence in the face of obstacles, which would include all of us."