Longtime local politician Herb Kirsh, who died this past week, was a fascinating figure whose life seemed to be filled with intriguing contrasts.
He and his family were the only Jews living in Clover, yet he managed to get elected to term after term in the state legislature by voters in a bastion of the Bible Belt.
He proudly carried the banner of the Democrat Party, yet consistently took positions, especially on fiscal matters, which ran contrary to most of his fellow Democrats.
He carried out the duties of his office, and did so wonderfully well, without any reliance whatsoever on modern technology.
Similarly, Herb showed a human, distinctly compassionate side which seems to me to be pretty well absent in today’s politicians.
Numerous times over the years I received handwritten notes from Herb, sometimes accompanied by a newspaper clipping, congratulating me for having won a writing award or some other professional recognition. I wasn’t one of his constituents, and certainly there was no potential for political or other advantage in such touches. That was just Herb, and I know that dozens of folks who read this column have been the recipients of similar selfless acts of kindness.
For anyone who cared about how taxpayer dollars were spent, or adhered to fiscal conservatism, it was impossible not to think highly of Herb. He read annual state budgets with a discerning eye, and immediately noticed any “pork,” questionable expenditures, or areas where he felt cost savings were possible.
It was through similar vigilance, as it applied to wildlife-related funds, that I first came to appreciate the qualities of the man. The first time we talked about state monies as they related to sportsmen, Herb immediately replied, “I’m not a fisherman or hunter and I don’t know anything about these sports.”
I doubt if Herb ever wielded a fishing rod, and I would virtually guarantee he never hunted. Those considerations notwithstanding, over the last 30 years area sportsmen have had no finer friend than Herb Kirsh.
He was a firm believer in the phrase, variously applied to Mark Twain and Will Rogers, which states: “Buy land, they ain’t making any more of it.”
Herb was a visionary in that regard. He recognized that as population growth and urban sprawl continued apace in York County, places where residents could have access to public land for hunting and fishing would diminish.
He created a quasi-official group of concerned sportsmen to advise him on such matters. Much of their interaction revolved around land acquisition and expenditure of funds which were controlled by the local legislative delegation. This money came primarily from sales of out-of-state hunting and fishing licenses, and since York County borders North Carolina and shares Lake Wylie, the funds were appreciable.
The Wildlife Department (later renamed the Department of Natural Resources) consistently wanted a large portion of those funds for new equipment such as boats.
Herb would listen carefully to their requests, but his basic view was that they received appropriations elsewhere in the state budget and should live within their means.
He was much more amenable to spending money to acquire public land locally, especially if it could be done in partnership with other groups such as York County Forever and nonprofit conservation organizations. The two most important examples of this are the Draper Wildlife Management Area near McConnells and the Worth Mountain Wildlife Management Area in the western part of the county. Together they comprise more than 2,000 acres which offer not only a place to hunt and fish, but also appeal to birders, hikers and those interested in wildlife photography.
Although other groups were part of the acquisition process, Herb worked quietly behind the scenes, regularly consulting sportsmen he knew and had come to trust, to make these Wildlife Management Areas become reality.
In a richly deserved tribute, the Herb Kirsh Wildlife Conservation Area, part of the Draper tract, was dedicated and named for him in 2007.
His reaction was of a low key, “aw shucks” nature. Yet the honor was singularly appropriate as it recognized his tireless dedication and a staunch determination to do what he felt was best for York County’s citizens.
Herb’s efforts have already had tangible meaning to thousands of sportsmen and nature lovers – through youth dove shoots, fishing rodeos, draw hunts, or simply individuals wandering trails and open lands when hunting seasons are closed. So it will be for generations to come.
Every area sportsman and every person who loves and cherishes the good earth and the natural world should pause and tender a heartfelt “thank you” to Herb Kirsh. I will remember him with great fondness, and his legacy is an endearing and enduring one.