Dry Creek – 67-acre Donation in Carter County

Mature forest on the Dry Creek property, with tall trees.When Margaret Robbins and Thomas Schacht wanted to purchase a forested tract southeast of Johnson City years ago, they set out to do so in order to permanently protect the land. Last month, the couple completed the donation of the tract to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), fulfilling their goal to preserve the land.

“This place is very close to my heart, and I’m so glad to have it protected,” shares Margaret. “It became very clear to me early on that we were the temporary custodians of this place – and I’ve done everything I could do to keep the land healthy. We were so glad that we were able to connect with SAHC to make long-term conservation of the land possible. Working with SAHC’s Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese was a joy.”

Dry Creek mapMargaret and Tom own a farm bordering the Dry Creek tract on the northwest slope of Little Mountain in Carter County, TN, less than a mile from The Laurels Picnic Area. Twenty years ago, they saw that the forested slope behind the farm was on a path to be subdivided and developed, so their family purchased it with the long term vision to conserve the property. In the ensuing years, they have cared for the land and set out on mindful projects to improve stewardship of the forest and wildlife habitat. In November, they donated the 67-acre parcel to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, with the intent that it would become part of Cherokee National Forest in the future.

“That was always our original purpose in acquiring the land, to protect it,” says Tom. “And now we’ve reached a point in life where we are downsizing and want to ensure that the land is protected going forward.”

The tract shares a boundary with Cherokee National Forest and can be seen by visitors going to The Laurels Picnic Area.  An ephemeral spring leading to Dry Creek runs along one edge of the property.

“A lot of water flows down into the creek from the mountain, especially in spring,” says Margaret. “There is an understory of rhododendron and a canopy of maple, hemlock, some pine, and oak coming through. The land was logged about 60 years ago, and the forest has been regenerating since then. I was able to secure Lari beetles (Laricobius nigrinus) to help protect the hemlock trees on the mountain from the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. We’ve seen a lot of wildlife getting pushed onto the tract as properties surrounding the area have been developed, so we set up wildlife cameras and have enjoyed watching the images of a mama bear with two cubs. We’ve also seen the usual wildlife – deer, skunks, raccoon, fox, and an occasional blue heron that comes through.”

Early Memories Foster Conservation Awareness

Thomas Schacht and Margaret Robbins“I was raised in New Jersey, in an area that had lots of open space and a dairy farm located behind our house,” continues Margaret. “We loved finding all the interesting and spooky things in nature. Now, there are no longer any farms there. When we heard that this tract was up for sale about 20 years ago with the potential plans for subdivision and development, we wanted to preserve it. Having seen and experienced that loss of open space in my childhood home, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of undeveloped land and wanted to make sure it is available for future generations as well. We’ve seen what that loss looks like and didn’t want it to happen here.”

Tom also has a deep appreciation for nature and environmental care, stretching back to childhood.

“I grew up on 600 acres in Connecticut organically farmed by my father – before organic farming was even a thing,” shares Tom. “He had seven children and taught all of us to respect the land and respect nature. One of his favorite sayings was ‘I see God in every blade of grass.’ That’s one of the values I grew up with, and Margaret shares that value as well.”

“It is a property I have used as an escape,” adds Margaret. “I am so glad that it all came together and we were able to donate the land for it to remain protected.”

Conservation and Public Lands Partnerships

As Tom and Margaret began the process for permanent conservation of the land, they contacted Cherokee National Forest and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy about the tract becoming part of the national forest. Because land transactions with our agency partners can take time, sometimes years to complete, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has a long-established reputation of working with landowners and forest service partners to assist in the addition of public lands. As a non-profit organization, we are often able to move more quickly to complete initial transactions – which can be an important factor for landowners. SAHC plans to own and manage the property as a nature preserve, until it can be transferred to become part of Cherokee National Forest.

“With gently sloping topography at elevations ranging from 1,900 feet to 2,100 feet, these 67 acres could have been lost to development if it were not for the generosity and dedication of Margaret Robbins and Tom Schacht,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “We are grateful to Margaret and Tom for having the vision to preserve this property, and to our partners in the forest service for working with SAHC in order to add to public lands. We deeply appreciate the generous contributions made by SAHC supporters to cover transaction costs so that this project could be accomplished.”

This is a story still in development, as we continue to research the history of the land. Be sure to check back for updates and look for the Dry Creek article in our upcoming View from the Highlands newsletter!

Interested in similar stories about how Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy helps conserve public lands in Tennessee?

Earlier this year, SAHC transferred 150 acres at Sugar Hollow to become part of Roan Mountain State Park in the largest expansion of the state park since its creation, and in October SAHC transferred 15 acres at Hollybush Gap in Unicoi County to become part of Cherokee National Forest.


Hollybush Gap

Stream on Hollybush Gap propertySAHC recently purchased 17 acres at Hollybush Gap, a privately owned in-holding surrounded by Cherokee National Forest. SAHC will transfer this tract to the national forest in the next year or so, closing a notable gap within our public lands. Springs and tributaries on the property feed into Big Branch, a trout stream. We are grateful to our supporters for helping to conserve this land for all people to enjoy!

“Helping our partners in the public land agencies preserve land and reduce management boundaries is a win-win for conservation, people, and wildlife,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Like putting together a puzzle, securing in-holdings within public lands helps complete the picture — improving our partners’ ability to manage land while creating more areas for public recreation.”

SAHC raised a portion of the purchase price from generous private donors, and borrowed funds from our internal revolving land acquisition loan fund for the rest of the cost of purchasing the land. The US Forest Service will eventually purchase the property from SAHC at a discounted price that will enable us to replenish the amount we borrowed from our internal revolving fund.

What’s wrong with this map?

Map of Hollybush Gap property surrounded by national forestDid you know that the large green shapes marked as “national forest” on many road or regional maps aren’t as solid as they appear? Federal legislation in the early 1900s established the U.S. Forest Service and authorized the creation of planning boundaries — which means that when privately owned tracts within those planning boundaries come up for sale (and funds are available), they can be purchased and added to the national forests.

These planning boundaries are often used on commercially produced maps to represent the national forests. But what you don’t see are the many small openings within the forest area which remain privately owned tracts. These inholdings — areas of private land surrounded by public land — can create difficulty in land management and confusion for people who are using  public forest land and accidentally cross into someone else’s property.

As a nonprofit organization with the ability to act quickly when these inholdings come up for sale, SAHC helps our public land partners by securing the tracts until the agency is able to work through their internal process to access funds and complete the transfer of property from us. This can even mean SAHC obtaining a loan when necessary to complete a high priority, time-sensitive acquisition. These transfers help ‘fill in’ the missing gaps on your map at home.

Update! In October 2022, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy transferred the Hollybush Gap property to become part of Cherokee National Forest.

Dark Ridge Assist

This year, the Trust for Public Land purchased a 482-acre tract at Dark Ridge, located near the Appalachian Trail in Avery County, just north of the Roan Highlands. The property shares a long boundary with the Cherokee National Forest and Pisgah National Forest. SAHC identified the Dark Ridge tract in our 2018 conservation planning process as one of our Top Priorities in the AT Countryside. We are proud to have been able to assist our partners at the Trust for Public Land in this acquisition.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) will own the property in the short term, until the US Forest Service is able to purchase it from TPL and add the property to Pisgah National Forest. SAHC assisted in the transaction by securing $300,000 gift from Fred and Alice Stanback toward the purchase price, along with previous gifts that enabled TPL to hold the property under Option until it was read to close on the purchase. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is also a supporter and funding partner in this project.

“This is a major land-conservation achievement that SAHC has played an integral role in bringing about,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We’ve been working on the project since July 2017, and we are pleased we have been able to help our partners at TPL secure this large acreage tract.” Read more

Rocky Fork, by David Ramsey

Do you know the story of Rocky Fork, TN?

SAHC is proud to have been a leader in protecting the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed. This stunning scenic watershed is a unique, fragile ecosystem with rare and endangered species. Former SAHC Trustee and nature photographer David Ramsey elaborates in his new book Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild.

David will donate 20% of each copy pre-ordered through his website using promo code SAHCRF by Nov. 30.

He says, “In this book, I’ve aimed to capture in words and images, along with fellow photographer Jerry Greer, the remarkable story of this 10,000-acre region. It is the story of how thousands of people who love these ancient mountains, including hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, fishers, horsemen and many elected leaders of the region found common ground and worked hard to save this treasured place for the common good.”

Be sure to use code “SAHCRF” for SAHC to get a donation from your book purchase. **This code also gets you 10% off the cover price** Please disregard any other promo codes on the website.


Special Note from the author:

“Greetings SAHC Supporter and Friend,

I’m David Ramsey, former SAHC Trustee and long-time fellow supporter. First and foremost, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to you for supporting SAHC. It is through your engagement and help that it has become one of the most effective and important mountain land protection organizations in America.
Since its organization in the early 1970s, SAHC has achieved some incredible conservation wins for the southern Appalachian Mountain region. One of the greatest of these victories was saving the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork Watershed from imminent destruction.
As a native resident of Unicoi County, TN, where Rocky Fork is located, I was very fortunate and proud to be part of that effort. In fact, when I first learned about the scope and seriousness of the threat to Rocky Fork in late 2005, I sounded an alarm to regional and national conservationists, the news media and the people of the region — and I’m proud to say the first call I made was to Carl Silverstein, SAHC Executive Director.
What happened next, in my view, is one of the great stories of the last half-century about the coming together of diverse people and groups to fight for the protection of a true Appalachian and American treasure. I hope you will choose to read my first-hand account of that story in my new book, Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild.
The Holiday 2018 release of the book honors SAHC’s key role in saving Rocky Fork through the donation of 20% of sales made to visitors to my website who use the code: SAHCRF.
Please visit www.ramseyphotos.com to learn more about the book and/or to make a purchase. The deadline for taking advantage of this opportunity to further support SAHC’s vital work is November 30, 2018.
Thank you again for all you do!
Best regards, David Ramsey “

A Golden Opportunity — NCWRC Researches Golden Eagle Wintering Grounds

The camera-trapping stations were baited with meat for the eagles to scavenge, secured to the ground with steel rebar. Photo credit NCWRC

Recent research conducted by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) reveals that the Southern Appalachians may be an important wintering ground for Golden Eagles, once considered rare visitors to the mountains of NC and TN. As part of the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group, NCWRC set up camera trap stations across Western NC through the winters of 2013, 2014 and 2015. They also captured and released five Golden Eagles fitted with GPS transmitters. Their research casts an intriguing new light on these magnificent birds. Read more

SAHC helps Rocky Fork State Park acquire tract for public access

RockyFork_triplefallsToday we celebrate Earth Day with the closing of an exciting new project which will enable more people to learn about and enjoy the incredible Rocky Fork region!

We worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to purchase a 1-acre tract to facilitate public access for Rocky Fork State Park.

“This 1-acre tract is a critical acquisition because it contains the only public access into Rocky Fork State Park,” said SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We are proud to have been able to work with the State of Tennessee and other partners over the past decade to conserve the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed. This recent acquisition is an integral part of these efforts, as it will afford public access for visitors to enjoy trails and trout streams in this stunning area.” Read more

Partnerships in Education & Stewardship – Tilson Homeplace Work Day

IMG_8180Conservation doesn’t end with recording a land protection document. Stewardship of protected lands extends in perpetuity, and sometimes requires remediation of past problems for a property. Dedicated East TN State Univ. students responded to our call for a “Service Saturday”, helping clean up debris from illicit dumping on a protected, historic TN property.

The benefits of working with these student volunteers extended far beyond the impressive mountains of trash pulled out of waterways and forests. Through our partnership, the students glimpsed some of the challenges of managing natural resources — in this case, hundreds of acres bordered by a public road. Read more

Ken and Lotta Murray: From DC to the AT, to the hills of TN

kenandlottaKen and Lotta Murray have transitioned from the hustle-and-bustle of Washington, DC, to the quiet coves of mountainous East Tennessee, carving out an idyllic home and garden on a tract where Ken’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 160 years ago. Introduced to SAHC while managing one of our conservation easement properties, they have become committed philanthropic leaders and engaged members, frequently exploring the Southern Appalachians through our guided group hikes.

Ken Murray became acquainted with SAHC when his mother, Katharine Tilson Murray, had the foresight to permanently protect the family homeplace with a conservation easement in 1999. Since retiring to the land in Unicoi County, where he often vacationed as child, Ken and his wife Lotta have become passionate supporters of SAHC, joining our Gray’s Lily Leadership Circle and frequently participating in guided outings on our other protected tracts. Read more

“For Love of Beer & Mountains” Lost Cove Excursion

IMG_2628Late this summer, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Highland Brewing Company were joined by The Aloft Hotel, Altamont Environmental, Traveling Chic Boutique and USA Raft to explore Lost Cove, where SAHC protected a 95-acre tract in 2012. We hiked into the gorge and rafted the Nolichucky River while learning about the historical significance of the area. Read more

Rice Creek – Protecting the View from the Appalachian Trail

tipton_peopleviewing.jpgLocated barely 500’ from the Appalachian Trail (AT), the beautifully wooded Rice Creek tract has been a conservation priority for the US Forest Service (USFS) and Appalachian Trail Conservancy for over 15 years. We purchased the 77-acre property near Rocky Fork in Unicoi County with the intent to later transfer it to the Cherokee National Forest. Read more