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Deep Passions Direct Life's Work

By: Theresa Hayes, JCSO Board Member

Artists are a special breed. Perhaps it is their exuberance for life that leads them to express their passions in various art forms, or perhaps their love of art allows them to experience life more deeply. Whatever the cause or effect, one such person is photographer and activist Jerry D. Greer.

Born in Honaker, VA, Jerry is an Appalachian American photographer and book publisher based in Johnson City. His lifelong love of photography began in high school and became his career. About the only time he was not taking photographs of this area was during his time served in the first Gulf War. Since then, his life’s work has been dedicated to telling the stories of the communities around him, most notably the environmental and social condition of the beautiful Appalachian region.

“Like the Hemlocks, and the Appalachian Chestnuts before them, the American Beech trees that are so much a part of the beauty of our region are suffering from a disease for which there is no cure,” reports Jerry. “At high elevations, pure stands of American beech trees are known as “beech gaps.” Beech bark disease poses a serious threat to this community. Most of the beech gap communities in and around the Great Smokies have succumbed to beech bark disease or a combination of the disease, pests, pollution, all exacerbated by the warming climate. This trend is being felt throughout the southern Appalachians, threatening the possible extinction of this forest community in the next few years. I've been documenting the slow decline and death of the beech gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina since 2007.”

The photograph Jerry has donated to the JCSO shows a stand of trees in the Craggy Gardens NC area close to Mount Mitchell State Park. The photo was taken on September 29, 2012, and Jerry estimates that this stand will be completely gone in another 10 to 15 years. Owning this photo will allow you to commemorate a time on the Blue Ridge Parkway that no longer exists. The hopeful news in this story is that only the Beech trees above 4500 feet in elevation are affected. Perhaps some cure for the blight will be discovered in time to save the rest.

To that end, Jerry does assignment work for the Southern Environmental Law Center, Earthjustice, The Conservation Fund, Pew Charitable Trusts, The Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy, and the National Park and Conservation Association. His long-form projects and books focus on conservation, and the environmental and social condition of the mid-Atlantic and southern United States, with an emphasis on Appalachia. He is currently working on two long-form photographic projects: What's Left Is What Is (2019 - present), and an untitled multi-year project documenting life in his home region of northeast Tennessee, and southwest Virginia.  Jerry is the owner of Platanus Editions, an imprint of MTPress & Offset Lithography Solutions. His current book is available at and his photography web site is

Jerry came to the attention of the JCSO through his friend Guy Mauldin whom he met when the two of them served on the Board of Trustees for The Friends of Roan Mountain. Their mutual love of the mountains and interest in preservation led to a lifelong friendship. When Guy asked Jerry to donate a photograph for the upcoming JCSO fundraiser.

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