There is something invigorating about sunshine on early spring pastures in the mountains. With the sun shining brightly down, and the ridgelines of the Hickory Nut Gorge looming above, you might just feel inclined to twirl and sing a little “Sound of Music,” or plant down your feet to do some yoga. This past December, SAHC completed bargain sale conservation easements on two adjoining tracts at Blue Ridge Pastures, totaling 120 acres. The property is situated on the Eastern Continental Divide, adjacent to Strawberry Gap and Ferguson Knob, with an upper elevation of 3,740 feet.
The tracts are adjacent to a network of protected land in Hickory Nut Gorge, including SAHC’s Hickory Nut Gap Forest conservation easement and the Florence Preserve. The Blue Ridge Pastures project also adjoins property protected by another SAHC conservation easement project completed in December – the Hickory Nut Gap Scenic Byways project.
Portions of the Blue Ridge Pastures property are visible from Little Pisgah Mountain, Bearwallow Mountain, the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Drover’s Road Scenic Byway. Protection of the tracts will also protect scenic views from these public destinations.
In addition to preserving view sheds, the Blue Ridge Pastures conservation easements forever secure clean water sources and wildlife habitat. Pristine headwater tributaries originate on the property and flow into Hickory Creek, a tributary of the Broad River that flows into Lake Lure. Diverse habitats on the property include understory plant communities that support a range of native species, and the Chimney Rock-Hickory Nut Gorge Important Bird Area covers the entire property. Important Bird Areas are designated by the Audubon Society as sites that provide essential habitat for bird species.
Some migratory songbirds especially favor the most notable feature of these conservation easements – the open pasture at the top of the tracts. Long-range views of Hickory Nut Gorge and the Swannanoa Mountains are visible from here, and the open pasture provides a perfect setting for SAHC’s outdoor adventures, connecting people with nature.
Last fall, SAHC conducted a “night hike” to the pasture, guided by environmental educator Alexandra Meyer. Intrepid hikers started off on an old roadbed trail just before sunset, ascending in elevation as night fell. Voluntarily giving up flashlights, the group used night vision and other senses to experience the trail after dark. SAHC is planning a similar adventure this fall.
One of the major incentives for doing these new Blue Ridge Pastures conservation easements is a proposed regional trail network, which will connect publicly accessible hiking trails in the Fairview area with trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge.
“My extended family is so pleased to be a part of the new Hickory Nut Gorge Trail system, and protecting the Blue Ridge crest on the back side of Hickory Nut Gap Farm,” said landowner John Ager. “We also want to thank the SAHC extended family for a lot of hard work, and the multiple donors that made the transaction possible.”
This proposed regional trail could connect the Florence Preserve, Tater Knob, Ferguson Knob, and Bearwallow Mountain, and eventually extend all the way to Chimney Rock State Park to increase public access to outdoor recreation destinations. The proposed trail system would be made possible through collaboration between landowners and conservation organizations. The new Blue Ridge Pastures conservation easements would provide for public access only on the regional trail, but not on the remainder of the Blue Ridge Pastures property. As with all conservation easements, the landowners will retain ownership of the tracts.