Roughing it? Sorry, you’re not up to code.

UPDATE: Since the time this blog post was written, there has been legal movement on this situation. Eustace Conway’s issues with the North Carolina Building Code Council received considerable publicity, thanks in part to a Wall Street Journal article on him. The North Carolina General Assembly decided to take up the case and proposed an exemption to building code requirements for primitive structures. The state’s House and Senate agreed with this exemption, voting for it unanimously. Once Governor Pat McCroy signed the bill into law, Conway was able to exercise his God-given freedom as an American. Fox News even produced a special on Conway’s dramatic battle titled “War on the Little Guy.”  Score one for the good guys!

There aren’t too many true pioneers left in this country, and certainly even fewer who teach young people what it was like to live off the land before electricity came along. Pretty soon, we may lose another one.

Fifty-one-year-old Eustace Conway has been living in the wilderness for 30 years, making his own shelters and growing his own food. Living on land he owns in Boone, North Carolina, Conway operates Turtle Island Preserve as a not-for-profit educational organization. He teaches groups of scouts, teens and adults how to make stone tools by breaking rocks, bend bark to fashion baskets, spin sticks to start fires and much more.

Well, at least that’s what he has been doing for many years. Recently, “The Last American Man,” as he’s become known, was shut down by the Watauga County planning department. Why? Because his primitive structures don’t meet code. That’s pretty much the point, Conway counters. The whole lure of the place is its primitive nature and the fact that you can be taught by a guy who makes his own pants out of buckskin and stitches his own wounds.

Sorry, say county officials, who in their 78-page report of his facility declared his sawdust urinal and outhouses as “unpermitted,” labeled the wood he’s used to construct 20-plus buildings as “not grade-marked,” and stated that his open-air kitchen is “not protected from insects and animals.”

Check out this Wall Street Journal article to get the full story.

Watauga County officials have told Conway that he must rebuild or tear down the cabins, barn, kitchen, blacksmith shop and sawmill he’s built with his own hands, as well as create a septic system before hosting any more classes and camps.

How do you feel about this decision? Is the county protecting visitors from unsafe conditions, or is it overstepping its bounds? Should Conway be allowed to continue doing what he’s doing, as long as he lets all potential visitors know that his camp and classes don’t meet county standards, or is it up to the government to shut down anything they consider unsanitary?  I’d love to hear from you about this.


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