Salamanders in the Swannanoa Mountains

Desmognathus-monticola - salamander close-up

Desmognathus monticola, photo credit Tom Ward.

Have you seen a salamander lately? These vibrantly speckled and spotted amphibians come bearing good news. If you’ve seen them in an area you have hiked or explored, the water quality and habitat of that area is probably pretty good! Salamanders are sensitive to environmental changes, so finding an abundance of salamanders means the land and water are healthy for other species, too — including humans. Conservationist Tom Ward has discovered that night is the best time to photograph these shy but enchanting creatures.

 

Desmognathus-quadramaculatus - salamander

Desmognathus quadramaculatus, photo credit Tom Ward.

“My great-grandfather built a cabin on the property 95 years ago, and the property has been in my family ever since,” recalls Tom. His family wanted to ensure that this special place was never developed, so they worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) to permanently protect 114 acres with a conservation easement in 2011. A mile and half of stream corridor through the property creates excellent habitat for salamanders. With a Masters degree in biology, Tom has a particular interest in documenting species on the property and has reported his findings to the NC Natural Heritage Program, contributing to citizen science in the state. So far he has identified 10 species of salamander on the family’s protected land. Read more

Hickory Nut Gap Forest

View of Orchard and Distant Mountains from HIckory Nut Gap Forest tractThe rolling route along Drover’s Road Scenic Byway from Fairview to Bat Cave affords beautiful views of mountain peaks, forests, and farmland protected by SAHC – from flat, fertile bottomlands to the top of Little Pisgah Mountain, Blue Ridge Pastures, and Strawberry Gap. Now, 26 more acres of the picturesque landscape at Hickory Nut Gap Forest have been permanently protected. This recently conserved land includes a heritage apple orchard, open area, and forest, partially surrounding the Sherrill’s Inn, a designated Historic American Building.

Horse in pasture at Hickory Nut Gap Forest “Although this new conservation easement is small in acreage, it adds to hundreds of acres at Hickory Nut Gap Forest, which SAHC began protecting in 2008,” explains Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “When I look at this conservation easement, I think about preserving the historic setting of places like the Sherrill’s Inn, protecting the natural land close to what it was like back when the inn was originally built and used as a stop-over for people traveling across the mountains. I’m excited that this project preserves the surrounding context of this historic site, as well as habitat and agricultural resources. This is a great example of how a smaller conservation easement can make a big impact.” Read more

Bowditch Bottoms – 87 Acres

Bowditch Bottoms with Celo Mtn in background

Bowditch Bottoms with Celo Knob in the background, photo by Catherine Pawlik, Carolinas’ Nature Photographers (CNPA)

The Bowditch Bottoms project has been a long time in the process – beginning in 2014 – and we are thrilled that it successfully closed in June! This 87-acre property in Yancey County contains important soils, farmland, undeveloped forested and non-forested habitat for wildlife, headwaters to the South Toe River, and intact wetland and riparian corridors. It is visible from the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway and several higher-elevation vantage points in the Black Mountains and the Highlands of the Roan. Read more

High Rock Acres – Catawba Headwaters

High above the Catawba Falls, headwater streams coalesce and cascade down the mountainsides, with pristine rivulets merging together to form the rushing river waters.

Map of High Rock AcresNow, more of these source streams have been permanently protected.

In July 2019, SAHC purchased 101 acres at High Rock Acres in McDowell County, adding to a contiguous network of protected lands that secure forested wildlife corridors and streams flowing into the Catawba River.

“Four headwater tributaries to the Catawba River and five headwater tributaries that empty into the Left Prong Catawba River originate on the property,” explains Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This property is situated just 2 ½ miles southeast of the Town of Black Mountain, near Pisgah National Forest and other land that SAHC has protected, including hundreds of forested acres around Montreat.”

The rocky, boulder-strewn slopes provide habitat for diverse species of mammals, birds, salamanders, and amphibians. SAHC’s acquisition of the land permanently protects this forest habitat, as well as connectivity to other important areas so wildlife can safely move in the landscape. The High Rock Acres property adjoins 329 acres that SAHC protected with conservation easements in 2003, connecting to our Glade Creek Preserve and Pisgah National Forest.

Elevations on the property range from 2,660 to 3,200 feet, including high points at Allison Ridge above the Upper Catawba Falls. SAHC purchased the land in order to own and manage it as a nature preserve for the long term.

“We are very grateful to philanthropic leaders Brad and Shelli Stanback for making a generous seed gift for this acquisition and for all our members who provide ongoing support to enable SAHC to permanently protect these important land and water resources,” says Pugliese.

2020 Waterfalls Calendar to Support Conservation

Waterfalls calendar coverDo you want to help support efforts to protect water resources which create the stunning, picturesque waterfalls we enjoy across the Blue Ridge? Check out the NEW 2020 “Giving” calendar from RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide — Waterfalls of NC. Calendar sales on our website support SAHC’s conservation work!

Montreat Wilderness Hike 2018

In 2018 the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 123 acres including the western flank and summit of Brushy Knob, one of the Seven Sisters near Black Mountain, NC. To celebrate the acquisition of this valuable conservation land we led an educational hike along the outer rim of the Montreat Wilderness. Participants learned about SAHC’s role in conservation in the Black Mountains and were able to see the new acquisition firsthand. The hike consisted of 3,000′ of elevation gain over 8.5 miles! The following is one participant’s reflection on the outing…

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Landowner Perspective: Elk Fork

 

Landowner Perspective: Russ and Stacy Oates on Protecting Elk Fork

“Stacy and I came from families that love the outdoors and feel deep connection with wild things and wild places. Growing up on opposite coasts (Stacy in the Napa Valley of California and me in eastern North Carolina), we were both fortunate to have many opportunities to get outside and enjoy the wonders of Nature. We were married in 1984 and, 4 months later, moved to Alaska where I worked as a Wildlife Biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Our two daughters were born in Fairbanks in 1986 and 1988, and we settled into family life.   In 1995, we decided it was time to get some financial advice to ensure that we could afford to send the girls to college and have a chance of being able to retire. The first thing our new financial advisor said to us was “What are your dreams?” Stacy and I shared an interest in wild lands conservation, so we told the advisor about our dream to protect some woodland. His immediate response was “Buy it now or you never will.” Read more

Brushy Knob in the Seven Sisters

In 2018, SAHC purchased 123 acres near Black Mountain, NC, permanently protecting the crest of one of the “Seven Sisters.” Brushy Knob is also known as “Big Piney.” It is the third Sister in the chain of summits straddling the Asheville watershed and Montreat, counting from the southwest to the northeast.

Our purchase of this tract will protect the western flank of Brushy Knob from ever being developed as real estate. Its eastern slopes are already protected by a conservation easement that we have held since 2004 on the 2,450-acre Montreat wilderness.

Brushy Knob is one of a tight cluster of peaks south of Greybeard Mountain that are officially named the Middle Mountains on USGS maps, but which are more commonly known as the Seven Sisters. These mountains form a prominent beloved part of the view from the Town of Black Mountain, the Craggy Mountains, and Swannanoa area east of Asheville. Read more

The Blackalachian Visits Asheville

Daniel visits with SAHC and Blue Ridge Forever staff.

Appalachian Trail thru hiker Daniel White grew up in the Shiloh community of Asheville and now lives in Charlotte. Last year, he set off hiking the AT to gain a new perspective on life. Unlike many who make the trek, Daniel started his journey without any backpacking experience. Now he’s become an ambassador for outdoor recreation.

“I hadn’t slept in a tent until three days before I started,” he says. “Growing up in Asheville, the trail was there all the time, but nobody introduced me to it. Once I got started, it was a learning experience. I was only planning to hike for a couple months, but then I really got into it and didn’t want to stop.”

Daniel hopes to use his own experiences to encourage others to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Read more

526-acre Swannanoa Conservation Easement

In 2018, SAHC accepted a donated conservation easement on 526 acres in Swannanoa owned by Chemtronics, Inc. The conservation easement permanently protects land adjoining Pisgah National Forest, as well as scenic views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I-40 and NC Highway 70.

“This landscape is important to the surrounding Swannanoa community, and we are pleased to be able to permanently protect these ridges,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “The conservation easement area provides important wildlife corridors and will create an undeveloped buffer adjoining other protected lands.”

The forested, steep slopes of the property rise to elevations over 3,580 ft. The tract adjoins a large block of contiguous, protected land in the Black Mountains that includes the Asheville Watershed, Pisgah National Forest, Mount Mitchell State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is located less than a mile away. The Audubon Society’s Black and Great Craggy Mountains Important Bird Area covers a portion of the property. This Important Bird Area provides habitat for a wide variety of species, including: Black-throated Blue warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Pine Siskin, and Dark-eyed Junco. Read more

Strawberry Gap, Stony Point Conservation

We purchased 170 acres in two adjoining tracts at Strawberry Gap and Stony Point near the Eastern Continental Divide  to protect water resources, plant and animal habitat, and scenic views from public trails and scenic byways. We plan to own these properties for the long term and manage the forests to promote resilience, diversity and longevity. Read more