Mathes Farm

Stewardship AmeriCorps member on site visit to propertyThanks to conservation supporters like you, 45 more acres of farmland and forest in Avery County in the Highlands of Roan have been permanently protected.

Mathes farm map with location in Highlands of Roan“Visitors and residents of the Roan enjoy stunning scenic views,which include portions of the Mathes Farm in Beech Bottom,” says Farmland Program Director Jess Laggis. “Development of this tract could have devastated views of Yellow Mountain from 19E and from Yellow Mountain, and from the motor route of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Now, these stunning views are protected, and the land can continue to be used for farming for future generations.”

The property owned by Rickie and Shannonrae Mathes hosts a Boer goat operation called “Sh-Nanny-Gans.” Shannonrae says that Boer goats are a particularly excellent, large breed of goats.

“They are just beautiful,” she says. “We really do love the goats, and they actually help regenerate the land.” The Sh-Nanny-Gans herd has been used for rental to local landowners for  nvasive species management, as well as meat production and breeding. In the past, goats from the Sh-Nanny-Gans herd helped with habitat management on SAHC’s Elk Hollow Preserve.

Sh-Nanny-Gans goat herd on SAHC property controlling invasive species“The purchase of the conservation easement allowed us to put money back into improving the property,” says Shannonrae. “We purchased a couple of goats recently and are working to build the herd back up. ”

In addition to preserving working farmland and scenic views from around the Roan Highlands, this conservation easement also protects habitat and water resources. The property contains headwater seeps and streams feeding Puncheon Camp Branch, a tributary of the North Toe River. The farm adjoins the Roan Mountain Audubon Important Bird Area, and may provide potential habitat for Golden-winged Warblers and Gray’s lily.

We are very grateful to Brad and Shelli Stanback and to all our SAHC members for making this farmland conservation in the Roan Highlands possible!

Landowner Perspective: Rickie and Shannonrae Mathes

Shannonrae and Rickie Mathes on horsebackRickie and Shannonrae met on horseback, independently enjoying their passion for horses while riding in the Highlands of Roan area one day. Years later, their friendship flowered into romance, and they have created a special, beloved home and farm in the mountains.

“I have a strong tie to this place,” says Shannonrae. “It is the first place Rickie told me he loved me. We were married here and have built a beautiful life together. We’ve fought and struggled to make it here, and I feel so blessed.”

Rickie on horseback beside Shannonrae standingWhen exploring options for their estate and future plans, Shannonrae and Rickie wanted to ensure that their property would never be developed.

“We were looking into estate planning,” she said, “There is a considerable age difference between us, and with Rickie getting ready to retire, we asked ourselves ‘what we are going to do next?’ We have had to struggle [financially] to keep this place whole and were concerned about what would happen to it if something happens to us. We didn’t want to see it developed in the future and wanted to make sure it was here for my son or others to farm in the future.”

Rickie and Shannonrae Mathes standing on their propertyIn addition to the Boer goat herd the couple raise on the property, the farm is used for a home garden, which produces a variety of vegetables for their families and neighbors. For 20+ years, Rickie raised Fraser fir trees on the property. However, both Rickie and Shannonrae were employed in outside jobs in order to make ends meet. He retired this winter from lawn service work. Rickie’s family is from the Beech Bottom community of Avery County, and several of his family members are buried in a cemetery at the Mennonite church there. Rickie owned about 20 acres of the farm property and added to it over the years with purchases from neighboring landowners. Rickie and Shannonrae eventually purchased the 9-acre tract where they got engaged and built a house on it; they’ve been there together for 11 years.

“It’s such a beautiful place,” says Shannonrae. “The views are really astonishing, no matter which way you look. We are thrilled knowing that this place will always be preserved for future generations and that they will always be able to farm it.”

Sinkhole Creek Farm

In a picturesque landscape just south of the Roan Massif, farms with rolling fields, pastures, and forests contain a rich repository of stories and memories, along with agriculturally important prime soils and stream sources.  Sam and Ronda Silver, the seventh generation of a local farming family, wanted to make sure that their beautiful Century Farm would be passed down to future generations intact. So, they worked with SAHC to protect 111 acres with an agricultural conservation easement. Read more

Sandy Hollar Farms

row crops at Sandy Hollar FarmsIn June, you helped purchase a conservation easement on 49 more acres of productive farmland in the lovely Sandy Mush community of northwestern Buncombe County.  Sandy Hollar Farms is a Buncombe County attraction, with seasonal events like pick-your-own Christmas trees, pumpkins, and berries.

This idyllic slice of farmland is primarily used for row crops, fruits and berries, and Christmas tree production. According to landowner Curtis Hawkins, Sandy Hollar Farms is one of the biggest producers of blackberries in the county. They also grow squash, green beans, pumpkins, and other fresh produce, which goes to small retailers and farmers’ markets. There is a small herd of sheep and goats on the farm, along with llamas as pets, and landowner June Hawkins periodically gives natural dye and spinning demonstrations. 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

Byrd Farm – Mitchell County

Charolais cattle on Byrd farmByrd Charolais Farm – Mitchell County (Highlands of Roan Area)

The Highlands of Roan are known for rare and fragile ecological communities as well as magnificent, panoramic views studded with scenic mountain farms. At the end of 2019, SAHC permanently protected 127 acres of beautiful family farmland in Mitchell County, preserving bucolic views along NC Hwy 226. The Byrd Charolais* Farm is an agricultural gem, with water conservation practices in place and a long heritage of mountain farming. One of just a few farm preservation projects SAHC has completed in the Highlands of Roan, the property is now permanently protected for future generations.

* Charolais are a breed of cattle which originated in France in the historic Charolais region. Read more

Hogeye Bottomlands – 88 Acres

Farmland Preservation at Hogeye Bottomlands in Sandy Mush Community

In the Sandy Mush farming community, scenic views of fertile bottomland, rolling pastures, and distant mountain ridges create a stunning backdrop for those who work the land. Now, SAHC has conserved another tract of farmland here, adding to a network of protected agricultural lands and wildlife corridors throughout Sandy Mush.

Farmers Aubrey and Rieta Wells graze cattle and produce hay on the 88-acre Hogeye Bottomlands — now permanently protected through a conservation easement.

Sections of Sandy Mush Creek and Hogeye Branch run through the tract, which contains prime soils (a designation for soils of national importance) as well as soils of statewide and local importance. Almost half (45%) of soils on the tract are considered prime, locally or statewide important soils. Found along waterways and formed over long periods of time, these soils are important agricultural resources — and relatively rare in mountainous areas. Unfortunately, the low-lying, fairly flat bottomlands where we find these soils are also sought after for easy development. Both Aubrey and Rieta grew up in families with long farming traditions and wanted to see this farmland protected for future generations.

“We’d like to see the Sandy Mush area stay as undeveloped as possible,” shares Aubrey. “It’s one of the few places in the county you can still go to see the beauty of natural spaces and farmland.” Read more

139 Acres in Beaverdam Creek Watershed

Barn on protected propertySAHC recently purchased 139 acres in the Beaverdam area of Haywood County, connecting the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek watershed property with conserved land previously protected by SAHC. The acquisition will permanently protect wildlife habitat, scenic views from public trails, and water quality in streams.

“This 139-acre tract includes portions of Beaverdam Creek and its tributaries,” explains Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The property fills a protection gap within the watershed, directly connecting Canton’s Rough Creek watershed conservation easement to the west and an SAHC-owned preserve to the north. Together these properties form a 1,120-acre nearly contiguous protected assemblage within the Beaverdam watershed.”

Map of Doubleside Knob area conservationBeaverdam Creek’s water quality is considered to be on the decline, and SAHC’s purchase of the tract improves surface water quality by permanently protecting 2.5 miles of stream on the tract from development. We also plan to manage the property according to best management practices for water quality, which will help reduce sedimentation, bacteria levels, and runoff. This purchase directly supports the Beaverdam Watershed Action Plan, produced by Haywood Waterways and the Pigeon River Fund.

“SAHC’s acquisition of this property complements our work to prevent water quality degradation in Beaverdam Creek, which is considered to be on the decline,” says Eric Romaniszyn, Executive Director of Haywood Waterways Association. “Haywood Waterways works to maintain and improve water quality throughout Haywood County through voluntary initiatives. Our Pigeon River Watershed Action Plan specifically recommends conservation of critical headwater areas, such as the tract recently acquired by SAHC, for the long-term protection of water quality. We certainly appreciate SAHC’s and the partnership’s work to protect these lands and maintain the high quality of our watersheds.”

Former landowner David Ashe contacted SAHC about this property in the Beaverdam Creek watershed after reading about our purchase of the adjoining Doubleside Knob preserve last year. Both tracts were once part of a much larger parcel owned by his wife’s family. David wanted to permanently protect the land in order to honor her.

“She never wanted to see it developed,” he says. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone about selling it. She passed away about a year and a half ago, and I thought that it would be good to preserve it, so it will stay like it is. I think that’s what she would have wanted.”

This acquisition was made possible with a generous seed gift from private donors for the acquisition, support from SAHC’s members, and a $25,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

“This land has been passed down in the same family for over 150 years, and we are so grateful that the previous landowner wanted to see it permanently protected and reached out to SAHC,” adds Muerdter. “We look forward to managing this land for future generations.”

Photo credits: Johnny Davison

Ridgeview Farm – 118 Acres Protected

View of Ridgeview FarmBrandon Hensley has no illusions about farm life in WNC — it’s hard work, with sparse financial rewards. However, a deep connection to his family’s land kept him working with SAHC over the lengthy 5-year process to permanently protect a beautiful, productive farm in an area pinched by increasing residential development.

In March 2019, we closed on the conservation easement protecting the 118-acre Ridgeview Farm in Buncombe County. Located just 2 miles from our Community Farm, this historic homestead farm contains a high percentage of agriculturally important soils. Brandon, a young farmer in his mid-30s, is carrying on his family’s legacy as the 5th generation to work this land. Read more

Rogers Cove – 385 Acres

Hugged by mountains and tucked away in the scenic Crabtree community of Haywood County, Rogers Cove contains beautiful rolling pastures and forested hills that stir the imagination. We have permanently protected 385 acres of productive, scenic farmland in this cove through agricultural conservation easements.

“The Rogers family has farmed this land for at least four generations and wanted to see it stay farmland forever, which is why they protected their land with SAHC through agricultural easements,” says Jess Laggis, SAHC’s Farmland Protection Director. “Beyond all the beauty and ecosystem services this land protection provides, it also supports some of the kindest farmers you could meet in maintaining our mountain farming heritage.” Read more