Long horizontal view of South Yellow Mountain area

7,500 Acre Donation – Update

waterfall - photo credit Tim SweeneyA generous conservation philanthropist has committed to donate a 7,500-acre preserve in the Roan to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in 2022. Conservation of this globally-significant mountain preserve will significantly boost habitat conservation efforts in the region. We are honored and extremely grateful to have been chosen as the guardians of this biological gem, and look forward to telling you more about the creation of South Yellow Mountain Preserve in the next year!

The philanthropist assembled dozens of contiguous land holdings over the past decade, which will be combined into the new SAHC preserve. The boundary, which is more than 32 miles long, is being surveyed now. The land straddles the border of Avery and Mitchell counties in Western North Carolina, and rises to 5,300 ft. in elevation. Situated within the southern end of the planning boundary of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, a special conservation area designated by the NC General Assembly in 2008 to protect the exceptional natural features found there, the land supports numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species. The property includes one of the largest American Chestnut restoration projects in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heathbalds.

Map of donation area and national trailsTransfer of the gift is expected to be completed in the next year. SAHC will own the land and manage it as a nature preserve. If you’ve visited the Roan Highlands, you’ve probably enjoyed views of this 7,500-acre assemblage from popular vantage points within public lands — including Round Bald and the observation deck at the rhododendron gardens.

“This is the largest single gift in SAHC’s history, and the largest gift of land to a land trust in NC,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “Strategic acquisition of large parcels of land is  increasingly important for climate resilience and protection of water sources — and increasingly hard to accomplish as privately owned parcels continue to be subdivided and developed. These 7,500 acres include some of the most sought-after conservation acres in the eastern United States, including over 100 miles of pristine creeks and streams. We really are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility to steward this vast mountain complex.”

Even before his first acquisition here in 2012, longtime SAHC member Tim Sweeney envisioned assembling these parcels into a unified block of land with the intention of conserving the entire mountain ecosystem. With this gift the philanthropist’s dream has become a reality for the benefit of future generations.

What Happens Next?

As due diligence steps on the project continue within the coming year, SAHC staff will work with partners to create a management plan for the preserve and ensure that the fragile natural resources of the land are protected forever.

“Permanent protection of this vast unbroken area with diverse habitat areas secures connectivity for critical wildlife corridors,” says Jay Leutze, SAHC’s Advisor to the Board. “The scale of a conservation gift of this size is important on a global level and will be a benefit to the entire region. We look forward to continuing to work in  partnership with others in the landscape as we plan for managing this property.”

Find out more!

For an informative history of conservation efforts across the Highlands of Roan and more details about this incredible project in-progress, visit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s
YouTube channel and or watch the video below, which was presented in June 2021 as part of our annual June Jamobree —  “7,500 Acres in the Highlands of Roan – Virtual Lunch and Learn.”