A regional environmental “hero” is seeking to raise her profile to a national level but to succeed she’s going to need your help.
Diana Christopulos this year won a $10,000 regional award on behalf of the nonprofit Virginia Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Cox Enterprises, the parent company of Cable-TV and internet provider Cox Communications, bestowed the grant. Now Christopulos is among nine entrants competing for a $50,000 national award from Cox.
Cox and The Trust for Public Land have presented the awards annually since 2008 to “unsung heroes” of conservation in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington. To date, the program has recognized more than 200 “heroes” and distributed $990,000.
“The Cox Conserves Heroes program highlights some of the great work happening in communities around the country,” said Maury Wolfe, senior director of corporate responsibility and public affairs at Cox Enterprises.
“It’s our 11th year supporting this program and giving these volunteers the recognition they deserve. It continues to be Cox’ honor to play a role in helping make the world a better place for the next generation.”
I learned a local was eligible this year thanks to an email from Guy Byrd, who’s soliciting votes in the national contest on behalf of Christopulos. Byrd’s involved with Pathfinders for Greenways, a nonprofit that raises money to expand the Roanoke Valley’s greenways system.
Although they’ve met, Byrd told me he knows Christopulos more through the reputation she’s gained in environmental activism throughout this region.
“She is well and favorably known,” Byrd said.
Former Roanoke Councilman Rupert Cutler nominated Christopulos in the 2019 competition.
“She’s been the leader of the environmental movement in western Virginia for the past 15 years she’s lived here,” Cutler said in a Cox-produced video about Christopulos.
Christopulos, 71, is president of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club and the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, which works to persuade local governments to reduced carbon emissions.
The former college history professor and management consultant also has been among the most tireless area activists fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile-long underground gas pipeline from northwestern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County.
Christopulos told me projects from California, where Cox has a big presence, typically win the national award. That’s because the Golden State has nearly 40 million people (compared to Virginia’s 8.6 million) and many more potential voters.
The honorees don’t receive the money themselves. Rather, it goes straight to the nonprofit of their choice. Christopulos said she strategically chose the Virginia Appalachian Trail Conservancy because she figures the Appalachian Trail’s national profile has the best chance for attracting the maximum number of votes.
The conservancy already has the $10,000 regional award, which it will use to buy and protect land around Virginia’s portion of the Appalachian Trail, Christopulos said. The big prize, if she wins it, will go for the same purpose, she said.
Among her competitors in the current contest are the founder of a beautification group in the city of Tucson, Arizona; a woman who started a conservation “bluebelt” to help restore sea wildlife and fisheries in Laguna Beach, California; and the leader of a group that’s created a 100-acre central park in the city of Lafayette, Louisiana.