Future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park

Volunteers clean up debris around Hominy CreekTrails are shaping up at the future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park in Haywood County! When SAHC purchased the 448-acre tract in 2020, we obtained a loan to complete funding for the acquisition. We will be able to retire the remaining loan in 2022 and complete the transfer of the property to the Town of Canton. The new park will tentatively open in spring of next year.

SAHC’s acquisition of the Chestnut Mountain property was made possible with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the NC Attorney General’s Office’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, many private donors, and a bridge loan from the The Conservation Fund.

We are grateful to partners at Haywood Waterways Association, Inc. and volunteers who helped clean up debris in and around Hominy Creek at the base of the property.  The large debris resulted from flooding from Tropical Storm Fred, which had a devastating impact on Haywood County and damaged property upstream.

Hanni and Jay accepting Dogwood Award in RaleighThe office of NC Attorney General Josh Stein honored Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy with a 2021 Dogwood Award for our work conserving land and water that will be enjoyed by generations as the future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Congratulations to our amazing team, gratitude to our partners the Town of Canton and Haywood County, and thank you to all the incredible conservation supporters who make this work possible!

Brown Family Farm

Cattle in pasture at forest edgeThe Buncombe County Farm Heritage trails winds through scenic farming communities in the Leicester, Sandy Mush, and Alexander areas of the county. Now, views of rolling pastures and forested hillsides along the farm trail at the Brown Family Farm have been permanently protected. Thank you to all the SAHC members and supporters who have made farmland preservation possible here and throughout the region!

“The Brown Family Farm is a great example of farmland protection working for conservation-minded landowners,” says Farmland Conservation Director Jess Laggis. “Margaret and Grover Brown wanted to retire from farming, and their twin sons, Robert and Stephen (and wife Angela), wanted to expand the existing cattle operation. The easement provides the means for this  farm operation to continue without the need to parcelize the land and inhibit the next generation’s farm use. AND, it’s just stunning, and anchors the viewshed on both sides of South Turkey Creek Road, a route beloved by motorists and cyclists for its scenery.”

The 175 acres now permanently protected at the farm contain important agricultural soils, undeveloped forested and nonforested habitat for wildlife, frontage along South Turkey Creek Road, and stream corridors. The land has been in agricultural use for as long as anyone can remember. The current Brown Family Farm was established in 1952, originally organized as a dairy farm. Read more

Full Sun Farm

fields and forest area at Full Sun Farm

Full Sun Farm, Sandy Mush, NC. Photo Credit Michael L. Pittman

Vanessa Campbell and Alex Brown have a passion for growing fresh, healthy produce. They enjoy being outdoors, and bring that joy to their farming endeavors at Full Sun Farm. Looking toward the future, they wanted to ensure that the land would continue to be available for farming for future generations. This year they donated a conservation easement on 32 acres of their farm in the Sandy Mush Community of Buncombe County, and plan to work with SAHC to protect the remainder of the farm as well.

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Crabtree Bald

Map of Chestnut mountain and surround conservation landsSouthern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 166 acres in northwestern Haywood County, including forested slopes of Crabtree Bald. The property is located in a region where we and partners have been conserving forested ridges and productive valley farms for more than two decades, preserving a network of undeveloped land in Sandy Mush, Crabtree, and the Newfound Mountains in order to protect wildlife habitat, water sources, and farmland.

“This property was listed on the real estate market and could have been purchased for development,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “SAHC’s acquisition of the land adds a large block of protected acreage to the growing network of protected land in this area and helps secure a corridor for wildlife to travel along the mountains. The mix of forested habitat support a variety of species.” Read more

Rogers Cove – 236 MORE Acres

view of farm and mountains from aboveMark and Laura Rogers worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to protect 236 more acres of beautiful farmland in the Crabtree community of Haywood County. These agricultural conservation easements join land that they and other members of the Rogers family worked with SAHC to conserve in 2017 – bringing the total of protected farmland in Rogers Cove to 620 acres! In addition to protecting productive agricultural land for future generations, farmland preservation in the cove protects scenic views from Crabtree Bald and Crabtree Mountain Road.

Farmland conservation projects can take many years to come to fruition. Mark and Laura had planned for this property to be permanently protected when they began working on conservation efforts with SAHC and other family members several years ago.

“Conservation of this land and the previous project were intertwined; they were really planned together from the beginning,” says Laura. Researching conservation options 15 years, Mark contacted SAHC in 2006 and embarked on an ambitious effort to secure farmland which had been in the Rogers family for generations and prevent future loss to subdivision and development. Read more

Beaverdam – 54 Acres

Google Earth image of 54-acre parcel on mountain slopeIn November, we purchased 54 acres in the Beaverdam community of Haywood County, protecting land adjoining the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed and other SAHC-protected properties in the Beaverdam and Newfound Mountains area.

“Permanent protection of this tract will help preserve scenic views from public trails in the adjoining Rough Creek watershed, as well as stream sources and habitat in an important wildlife corridor,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “These 54 acres add to a network of thousands of acres of protected land in Haywood County and western Buncombe County.”

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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

Community Farm Updates

SAHC’s 140-acre Community Farm hosts beginning farm businesses, educational workshops, and service learning experiences. The site includes a Farmer-Incubator Program, stream restoration and shortleaf pine reforestation projects, educational Discovery Trail (which can be visited by appointment), a bee yard, and indoor and outdoor space for special events. It’s a working model that blends productive agriculture with educational opportunities and community engagement.

Tamarya SimsWelcome Tamarya Sims, Community Farm Associate!

Tamarya (she/they) joined SAHC as full-time Community Farm Associate in June. They graduated from UNC Asheville with a degree in Environmental Studies, and after college pursued environmental education and learning how to grow food. They served at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through American Conservation Experience and at the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm through CTNC AmeriCorps. Tamarya loves teaching, photography, gardening, herbalism, beekeeping, raising chickens, and driving the SAHC tractor. Most of all, they are passionate about food justice and making farm and garden education accessible to all people. Read more

Young Pisgah Mountain

Map of Young Pisgah MountainThe Young Pisgah Mountain property adjoins Pisgah National Forest just a mile north of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Upper Hominy Creek Valley of southwest Buncombe County. This 102-acre conservation easement conserves habitat in an important wildlife corridor, in a network of other protected areas such as Chestnut Mountain and the tracts being secured for the new Pisgah View State Park.

“The tract at Young Pisgah Mountain is connected to a large block of protected land in the Balsam Mountains including Mount Pisgah and the Shining Rock Wilderness, which contain many biologically significant destinations,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It has been a long-term project and we are grateful for the landowners’ commitment in protecting this special place. They first approached SAHC in 2010 about potentially conserving the land, and we are thrilled to have purchased the conservation easement this summer.” Read more

Sandy Mush – 25 Years of Conservation

Sandy Mush conservation map 2020Mountain ridges, low-lying farms, beautiful streams and forested hills coalesce into a quiet rural community in the corner where Buncombe, Haywood, and Madison Counties meet. This idyllic haven has been the beloved home to generations of hard-working farmers as well as a treasured retreat to relative newcomers. We’ve been cultivating relationships and conserving land in this beautiful area for decades, and we are very grateful to all the partners, landowners, and supporters who make conservation in Sandy Mush possible.

Bee Branch viewWhat makes this area so unique for conservation? A combination of agricultural land and fertile farming soils, secluded coves and ridges that make excellent wildlife corridors, and a plethora of stream sources. All potentially under threat of development as the population and popularity of the region continues to swell. Unlike SAHC’s other five conservation focus areas, where we often concentrate on connecting to or filling in gaps within national forests or state parks, the French Broad River Valley focus area did not have an existing conservation skeleton on which to build. By conscientiously creating long-term relationships with landowners in the Sandy Mush area, we have established a framework of contiguous protected land, and we continue to work diligently to protect important tracts while the opportunity remains.

In its remoteness, Sandy Mush is a close-knit community with a shared appreciation for the beauty of the land, history, farming experience, and respect for nature. This land is steeped in history, and families with long-standing connections to the area who have farmed here for generations — with names like Duckett, Wells, and Reeves — have worked with SAHC to permanently protect their land. We are grateful to all the landowners who have built relationships with us over time and shared news about conservation in the community. Here are a few of
their stories. Read more