Ballard Cove – 63-acre Conservation Easement

A lot of good in this world is done by people who see a problem and say to themselves, “I’m going to do something to help with that.” Or, who take the time to thoughtfully examine a situation from different facets, consider changes over long periods of time, and then take action to create a positive impact – for the planet and their community.

Leonard Wiener is just such a person. A long-time resident of Western North Carolina, Leonard has watched the landscape change across the region over many decades. He and his wife Thais moved to the area from East Tennessee in 1968 and purchased acreage in the secluded, beautiful Ballard Branch Cove near Weaverville, NC in 1975. They built a home designed to sustainably use passive solar orientation and geothermal mass to meet much of their heating and cooling needs. Concerned about the impact of intense development on fragile mountain slopes and watershed drainages, Leonard wanted to ensure that the land they had loved and cared for could be preserved for future generations. In 2020, he contacted Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy about donating a conservation easement to protect the property.

“People have to live somewhere,” says Leonard, “but there’s got to be a better way than the intense development we see overtaking the valleys and ridges.”

As a retired geologist, Leonard has a deep connection with the land and the ancient rocks that make up these venerable mountains.

“To me, this place reflects much of what makes this region special,” says Leonard. “Each space has its own interesting perks and characteristics. We loved the location at the end of the cove; it’s very secluded. There are a fair number of boulder outcrops and rock exposures. Being a geologist, I’ve done a lot of bedrock mapping in WNC and East TN, and I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the rocks up here. Rocks are old friends.”

Protecting Forest, Water Resources

This year, Leonard completed the donation of a conservation easement on 63 acres in Ballard Cove in the Reems Creek watershed, permanently protecting the forest and mountain slopes. The property contains four intermittent headwater tributaries of Jimmie Branch, a trout stream that flows into Reems Creek, which is a major tributary of the French Broad River.

Reaching 3,400 ft. in elevation, the tract encompasses approximately 55 acres of mixed hardwood forest, rocky boulder areas, and almost two acres of open pastures once used for grazing bison. One of the former pastures is now in an early successional forest phase.

The donated conservation easement adds to a network of protected land and important wildlife habitat in the vicinity, which includes the Woodfin Watershed Conservation Easement, SAHC’s Snowball Mountain Preserve, Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other conserved land.

The Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board (LCAB) contributed $34,237 to help cover transaction costs (such as a survey and appraisal) for completion of the project.

“I’m so excited that we were able to help, and grateful that Leonard chose to protect this land,” says LCAB Vice-Chair Nancy Nehls Nelson. “Leonard is such a wonderful person and part of the community, and a great partner in conservation. I first met him many years ago at a meeting where folks were discussing how to stop the spread of invasive species. He embodies the essence of people that value the mountains, trees, and water.”

Both Leonard and Nancy describe the land as precious – and now these precious resources are permanently protected for the benefit of wildlife and future generations.

“The Ballard Cove project is a perfect example of a landowner that has made a lifelong commitment to land stewardship and natural resource conservation within Buncombe County,” says Ariel Zijp, Farmland Preservation Manager for Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation. “This project aligns closely with the Buncombe County 2025 Strategic Plan Environmental and Energy Stewardship Focus Area, Preserve Farmland and Environmentally Sensitive Tracts of Land Goal, and helps to continue to preserve our working lands and natural resources of Buncombe County.”

Memories of the Land

“This property was known locally because it was part of the Weaverville Art Safari, a self-guided event in which people are invited to tour artists’ studios and homes,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Leonard’s late wife, Thais, was a talented jewelry artist whose work was part of the tour, and the former bison farm on the property was an attraction for many people on the tour.”

Thais was one of the founders and first members of the Weaverville Art Safari, and her passion for American bison led to the creation of Blue Ridge Bison. Thais passed away in 2019, a beloved member of the community and brilliant artist.

“We raised bison here for over 22 years,” recalls Leonard. “At first, neither of us knew anything about raising them. We started by joining the National Buffalo Association and traveling to see other bison ranches, attending seminars, and learning from other people. We spent a couple of years learning before we got our first animals. Then, we grew from a couple of young cows and one bull to a herd of about three dozen. They were very popular with visitors on the Weaverville Art Safari and other folks who came to visit. In our later years, we phased out the herd and had the last buffalo here in 2014. I’ve planted a lot of hardwood seedlings in the old pasture areas, and this young reforested space will be good for different types of species.”