Rolling Ridge Property

gratitude for our forbearers

Friends Wilderness owes a deep debt of gratitude to all those, known or unknowable, who came before, who cherished and labored on this land. We are further indebted to the following generations who must entrust us to steward this space for the future.


Indigenous peoples traversed and hunted in the land occupied by Friends Wilderness for millennia, guided perhaps by the natural navigational contours of river and ridge, relying on the mountain streams and artesian springs. 

Friends Wilderness honors the memory of the Manahoac people, who were identified as inhabitants of this land on maps drawn by early European explorers. We carry the burden and grief that their people did not survive to the time of colonial expansion. 


Many of their language group, Souian, shared the wider region as seasonal hunting grounds, transit routes, and trading areas for generations with peoples of the Algonquin and Iroquoian (Haudenosaunee) language groups to the West and North. We hold profound gratitude for the legacy of earthcare and cooperation lived by the generations of indigenous peoples who valued this land before us.


Friends Wilderness appreciates that the land we have the privilege of occupying was not–nor could be–ceded to our colonial predecessors, who imposed a European construct of property ownership to unfairly claim indigenous territory. Although our circumstance is unearned, we humbly accept our role and responsibility within this continuum to share the land to honor the memory of its past caretakers and steward its gifts for the generations that follow. 


Friends Wilderness further expresses sorrow for the unnamed men, women, and children who were unjustly claimed as property by colonial settlers and forced to labor on this land without compensation, freedom, or personal autonomy. We lament their trials and suffering and mourn those who succumbed while enslaved and may lie at rest on this land. In meager recompense for their unjust subjugation and the generational injury inflicted by disadvantage perpetuated in  our social, cultural, and economic systems, we share our privileged circumstances on this land, welcoming all freely and openly as equal benefactors to its gift


Thanks to the foresight and generosity of a unique Quaker couple, Henry and Mary Cushing Niles, the Blue Ridge forest Friends Wilderness occupies has been preserved for future generations. 


In 1952, the Niles family purchased their first parcel on the mountain: land, which includes the current Niles Cabin. As adjacent property became available, the Niles increased their holdings. Originally intended as a family retreat, during the 1960s, the Niles began inviting their community of civil rights and peace activists to restore and recharge in the natural environment.


Rather than hold the land for their personal benefit, the Niles family dedicated the land in service to society in 1974, establishing the Rolling Ridge Foundation (now Rolling Ridge Conservancy). Stewardship of the conserved lands (eventually 1500 acres) was entrusted to three nonprofit groups that developed from their activist community. In doing so, the Niles embraced an expansive vision of conservation: protected wilderness serving to promote healing within humanity, as well as nature. 


Henry and Mary continued to live simply in the Niles Cabin into their nineties, departing each year only to escape the winter weather. Friends Wilderness is honored to carry their legacy forward, welcoming all and sharing this gift of nature for rejuvenation and healing.  

Rolling Ridge Conservancy

Established in 1974,  Rolling Ridge Conservancy protects and preserves 1600 acres of Blue Ridge forest stretching from the Appalachian Trail to the Shenandoah River. It is the largest, privately-owned nature conservancy along the length of the Appalachian Trail. 


Friends Wilderness shares access and stewardship responsibility for this natural treasure with two other nonprofits, our stewardship partners: