The summits of the Craggy and Black Mountains cap the horizon of Reems Creek Valley just outside Weaverville, NC. It is a stunning backdrop that epitomizes what we love about the southern Appalachians. An important side ridge off the crest of the Craggies was recently for sale and could have been purchased for development, which would have detracted from Pisgah National Forest and conserved land just west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fortunately, this beautiful 229-acre tract is now an SAHC-owned nature preserve. Wildlife will continue to roam the mountainside, and headwater streams of Reems Creek will flow pristine while people enjoy the beautiful forested views for many years to come. Read more
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.”
A quiet, studious man intent on making a positive impact on the world, Bill Popper contacted Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in the early 2000s about permanently protecting his cherished land in Yancey County. Diagnosed with lymphoma, Bill wanted to ensure that the land he loved would be protected in the future. His passion for nature, and for doing good for people and the planet, are enshrined in the Prices Creek Preserve — his conservation legacy.
“Bill told me his love of nature began when he was a child,” recalls Dr. Marcia E. Herman-Giddens. “From the moment we knew him, he loved nature and wanted to preserve the environment. He was an intelligent, gentle person who loved hiking and loved the land.” Read more
A conservation-minded buyer recently purchased a significant parcel in the upper Cane River watershed of the Black Mountains in order to protect it permanently from development.
The landowner donated a conservation easement to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy on 60 acres of the property, which contain the main stem and a tributary of the Cane River, a pristine trout stream significant for its aquatic habitat. The property subject to the conservation easement will become part of a fishing club that stewards the Cane River headwaters. The conservation easement will permanently protect pristine streams and exceptional habitat in a stunning section of the Black Mountains.
Members of the Carolinas Nature Photographers Association donated their time and expertise to capture the stunning conservation values of this 60-acre tract in visual form.
Personal Perspective: Randy Hunter, Board Member
Miranda “Randy” Hunter’s husband Bud was a modest force of nature who worked tirelessly to preserve land and water resources for future generations. Randy knew that the conservation of land was important to Bud, but after his death she learned more about how deep that legacy stretched.
“He was so modest about it, I didn’t even realize some of the things that he had done,” Randy shares. Bud was a member of the Cane River Fishing Club and one of the first people to reach out to SAHC about permanently preserving land owned by the club. In researching SAHC after her husband’s death, Randy learned more about the different projects he’d been involved in — including the completion of a conservation easement on the Cane River.
“Bud was aware of conservation in a way that a lot of people were not,” shares Randy. “He was convinced that easements and conservation were the only way we would have any land left. So much land use is short-sighted, and I think it’s hard to convince people that conservation pays you back in a good way. Being able to protect the land that he loved was very important in Bud’s life. He had a passion for conservation.”
Randy recalls that when Bud joined the fishing club, he would take their sons to enjoy the area whenever he could. “It’s a beautiful place — gorgeous in the fall, full of wildflowers in spring. He wanted places like that protected. I think being out there was a special treat, to be able to fish in that wonderful place and bond together. Both boys are very reverent about the outdoors. I think he set a wonderful example for the children in terms of caring for the land and preserving it.”
Now, one of Bud’s sons has taken his place in the fishing club. “I think it’s neat that the grandchildren have learned to fish up there,” says Randy. “They are carrying on Bud’s legacy.”
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.
“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
The 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.
“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
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 above the Catawba Falls, headwater streams coalesce and cascade down the mountainsides, with pristine rivulets merging together to form the rushing river waters.
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
Do 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!
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…
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
The mission of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is to conserve the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic beauty, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, enduring for future generations. We achieve this through long-term conservation relationships with private landowners and public agencies and owning and managing land. We are committed to creating and supporting equitable, healthy and thriving communities for everyone in our region.
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372 Merrimon Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801