Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has created a new nature preserve in the Highlands of Roan, which will permanently protect 151 more acres of mountain habitat and clean streams. It is very near other SAHC nature preserves and a 24,000-acre network of public lands! The new preserve is on Belview Mountain, and provides habitat for diverse amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, contributing to climate resilience in an important wildlife connectivity corridor.
Tucked away in the rugged mountains of Avery County, near the communities of Elk Park, Cranberry, and Minneapolis, distinguished NC State Forestry professor and tree geneticist Bruce Zobel invested in a legacy for his children — one of rocks and dirt and living organisms rather than paper stocks. Now, his children have secured that legacy for future generations to enjoy — for natural communities to prosper and for hiking enthusiasts to enjoy protected views from the Appalachian Trail, for years to come.
Landowners Julie Zobel and Kathy Ball sold 151 acres to SAHC on Belview Mountain, for SAHC to own and manage for the long term as a nature preserve. The property reaches elevations of 4,400 ft. and can be seen from the Appalachian Trail on Hump Mountain. It boasts 10 headwater tributaries and the main branch of Cranberry Creek. The pristine creek waters support populations of wild trout.
“This is an enormous win for conservation, and we hope to work with other landowners to preserve the rest of this iconic mountain,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This property adjoins the site of the proposed gravel mine that was the subject of Jay Leutze’s book Stand Up That Mountain. Like the proposed mine that was defeated, development of this property would have degraded views from the Appalachian Trail.”
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) awarded SAHC a $50,000 grant to help SAHC purchase the new preserve. The ATC Wild East Action Fund seeks to accelerate the pace of conservation within the Appalachian Trail landscape. The acquisition was made possible also through generous gifts from other SAHC philanthropic donors.
Landowner Perspective: Julie Zobel
“In my family, we have been so fortunate to be connected to the land,” shares Julie. “Our father instilled in us a love of land. He loved nothing more than being in the woods and walking among the trees.”
The youngest of four siblings, Julie was 2 years old when the family moved from California to North Carolina, where her father had accepted a position at NC State University. Dr. Bruce Zobel, a long-time Professor in the Department of Forestry and pioneer in the field of forest genetics, directed the Cooperative Tree Improvement Program until 1977.
“My father started buying mountain land in the 1960s,” says Julie. “I think he needed that kind of space, a place to go and decompress. He had grown up in central California during the Great Depression, and his mother would take him on walks in the hills behind their home. He developed a love of nature there, amongst the big trees up on the hill. He chose to purchase land in Avery County because that’s what he and my mother could afford, and my siblings and I are so grateful that they did that. The air there smells so clean, and the stream sources on the mountainside are so pure. He believed that the land was a sure thing; if you could pass that on to your children, that’s the kind of gift you should give.”
Reflecting on her time with her father, Julie shares “I spent so many happy hours and days in early adulthood on the property. It was really a special time that my father and I could spend together. We would walk the property line, hiking while I listened to my dad tell stories from his childhood and teach me the different names of trees. Whenever he found a new American chestnut sprout he’d go back and check on it; he was hoping to find one resistant to blight.”
“My father bought that property for us to enjoy,” continues Julie. “He knew that we might not hold onto it, but all of his training inspired us. My siblings and I all love gardening and being in the woods. I hope that more people can have that kind of experience – it’s an amazing experience when people feel connected to the land.”
In working with SAHC to permanently conserve a large part of the mountain, the family retained a portion that they will continue to own and enjoy, cherishing the legacy that Bruce Zobel created for them.
“It’s important that there’s something here for the family to continue to enjoy,” says Julie, “but we want to have the rest permanently protected. That’s what the planet needs to be healthier — a variety of plants and animals. We have to protect more of that.”
While the family continues to gather at their slice of paradise on the mountain, the surrounding land is preserved for plants and animals to thrive.
“It’s been really difficult to let it go,” shares Julie. “But I’m so happy that the conservancy has it. ”