Accelerated soil erosion from human activity is a "national menace" proclaimed Hugh Hammond Bennett. Dr. Bennett's multi-faceted career labored toward the establishment of a national soil conservation program. After almost 25 years of experience in the field and vigorously crusading the impacts of "soil erosion", Hugh Hammond Bennett awakened the American public's concern for soil erosion. This occurrence was enhanced by the timing and devastating effects of the "American Dust Bowl" of the 1930s. In March of 1935, a bill was introduced in Congress to set up the Soil Conservation Service as a permanent agency of the government. The 74th Congress unanimously passed Public Law 46 which was "The Soil Conservation Act." This law was the first such act in the history of any nation and was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 27, 1935. With the passage of Public Law 46, the Soil Conservation Service became a permanent agency of the USDA, with Hugh Hammond Bennett as its first leader. His efforts led to demonstration projects and ultimately to a conservation partnership that the nation enjoys today of science-based technical assistance and support from local conservation districts, such as Gaston Natural Resources, for all-natural resource conservation assistance and support. In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the governors of all states to enact legislation that would allow landowners to organize Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The Districts would be responsible for the planning and carrying out of local soil and water conservation programs. North Carolina quickly responded to the president's plea. On March 22, 1937, the State Soil Conservation Committee was established with the passage of the Soil Conservation Districts Law of North Carolina. This group is now known as the Soil and Water Conservation Commission. Also in 1937, twenty-one other states passed similar laws.
On August 4, 1937, the first Soil and Water Conservation District in America was organized in North Carolina. The Brown Creek District was established. Historically this district included Union, Anson, Stanley, Montgomery, and Richmond counties. Today this district is made up of only Anson County. It is noteworthy to mention that Anson County is the home county of Hugh Hammond Bennett. By July 1, 1945, all 48 contiguous states had enacted Soil Conservation District laws.
On April 25, 1940, the Lower Catawba District was formed. This district included Lincoln, Gaston, and Mecklenburg counties. Each county had supervisor representation which comprised the District Supervisor Board. By 1953 the entire state of North Carolina was encompassed in Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Many districts included more than one county and were referred to as multi-county Districts. In the mid-1950s the multi-county Districts began to separate and form single-county Districts.
Originally the District's major responsibility was the control of soil erosion carried by wind and water on agricultural lands. But with growth, increasing population, and less farming, the District's efforts included solving complex natural resource problems caused by expanding suburbia. Soil and Water Conservation Districts are legal subdivisions of the State government with the responsibility of conserving and protecting the soil, water, and related natural resources located within the Districts boundaries. Each District is governed by a Board of Supervisors, which is a mixture of nonsalaried public officials both appointed and elected by the respective districts. Today in North Carolina there are 96 working Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
On October 25, 1963, the Board of Supervisors for the Lower Catawba District petitioned the North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Committee to divide the Lower Catawba District into three, county districts. The supervisors from the Gaston County area at this time were D. S Rhyne and R.A. Jackson. On December 23, 1963, the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District was chartered under Chapter 139, Section 14 of the General Statutes of North Carolina and constituted a governmental subdivision of the State of North Carolina.
Today the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District are called Gaston Natural Resources. This name change occurred when the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District employees became county employees on July 1, 1991. This state-mandated district administered by county employees continues to work with farmers in the field of agriculture to create and maintain productive environmentally friendly farming systems. In addition to assisting agriculture, Gaston Natural Resources has partnered with building contractors, graders, and engineers to balance rapid population growth and a healthy ecosystem of healthy soil and water utilization.
Through the years the Gaston Soil and Water Conservation District has received many awards and accolades. It was distinguished 3 years by the Goodyear Conservation Grand Award, and 12 years by the Conservation Honor Awards. These programs honor conservation districts nationally to encourage outstanding accomplishments in natural resources management. Dayne S Rhyne of Gaston County served as President of the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in 1945. In 1989 Rebecca H. Rhyne of Gaston Soil and Water became the first woman to serve as the President of the North Carolina Association of Conservation Districts.
Many government programs are implemented through this department to assist county residents in moving forward with sound conservation practices. Gaston Natural Resources plays a key role in finding answers to difficult natural resource management problems. By bringing together all concerned parties, facilitating needs to match programs, available funds, technical assistance, and education, local communities benefit from the wealth of information and support available from this county department. Gaston Natural Resources supports both the urban and rural populace.