HALIFAX, Va. -- Standing the middle of nowhere, on part of the 9,000 acres owned by his foundation, Ward Burton finds himself right at home.
“This is, uh, this is coyote poop,” Burton casually explains scanning literally every inch of the land. “You can tell because it has little deer bones or rabbit fur in it.”
Burton and his foundation use this land to help promote conservation and to teach other landowners and forestry students why protecting natural land and resources is so important.
“Each individual property, however big or however small, has got it's own voice” Burton explains. “You're giving that land a voice.”
His foundation has planted up to 2 million trees in Southside Virginia each year and has examples of how diversity in habitats benefits all kinds of wildlife species and can protect entire ecosystems.
And maybe get the next generation interested in the environment at the same time.
“Get your kids outside,” Burton implores. “Give them the opportunity to have fun like my generation did. Get them off the video games and the phone. Get them connected to the outdoors.”
It may not be exactly where you'd expect to find a former Daytona 500 champion, but Burton feels his career ended unceremoniously when he was in his prime.
“I had been loyal to a particular organization,” Burton says without emotion. “That same loyalty wasn't repaid.”
But he readily admits much of what he does today would not be possible if his racing career had never happened. And to him, what he's doing now is far more important.
“It's my passion to be a part of something that at the end of the day, I feel like it's going to make more of a difference than a NASCAR career. This is a lifetime endeavor.”
One for which he is not being paid. He does not, and will not, take a paycheck for his efforts.
Burton's foundation also works with the military and their Army Compatible Use Buffer, managing land around bases like Fort Pickett in Blackstone and making sure the surrounding land isn't developed to the point where the base cannot properly train their soldiers and pilots.
“They need black skies at nighttime to train,” Burton explains. “They need areas where there's not going to be a lot of encroachment when they fly low. Those same helicopter pilots are the same ones that come for national disasters like hurricanes or flooding. They're there for us as well.”
This is the kind of work that might go somewhat unnoticed, especially with today's focus on social media. That's where the snake videos come in. The videos have thousands of views and at least one critical comment from his brother, Jeff.
Burton has developed a following on Twitter and gained recognition for his foundation and it's efforts with his snake charming tactics that are not always so successful, but something he's been working on since grade school.
“I had a black snake in the backyard that was about 6 foot long” Burton recalled. “One day I was bored, I don't know why, I took it in the house. Everybody scattered. I was like, 'What the hell, what's going on?' Nobody told me you were supposed to be petrified of a little creature that doesn't have legs.”
He didn't get the message back then, but he's carrying it out now. The foundation's message is to conserve America's land and wildlife through land stewardship while educating everyone about the importance of all our natural resources.
“We have to protect our natural resources because if we don't, we won't survive," Burton said. "I'm not an environmentalist, but I'm certainly a conservationist. We all play a role in this. “
Burton’s NASCAR legacy is being carried forward by his son, Jeb, who recently secured his first full-time ride in the Xfinity Series. His environmental legacy will hopefully last even longer.
Click here to learn more about the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation and it’s programs.
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