Roan Mountain Gateway

View of open areas on Roan Mountain Gateway

Roan Mountain Gateway, photo credit Dan Belanger, USDA Forest Service

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently transferred 91 acres to the USDA Forest Service, adding to public lands just south of the popular Carvers Gap area on the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Collectively known as the Roan Mountain Gateway, these 91 acres encompass the last privately-owned land on NC Hwy 261 before reaching Carvers Gap.

The Roan Mountain Gateway is prominent in views from Round Bald and Jane Bald, iconic locations along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the Highlands of Roan. The land contains high elevation habitat, including restored habitat for neo-tropical migratory Golden-winged Warblers and other species, as well as headwater tributaries that flow into local trout streams. Read more

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

Wiles Creek

Wiles Creek close-upImagine a verdant forest with lush ferns growing underneath full, mature canopies. The slushing rush of stream waters echoes all around, lulling you into a state of calm relaxation. Nearby, wildflowers in meadow openings flush with sunlight set the stage for busy activity from pollinators (and their predators), hinting at the array of wildlife which call these places home. Damp earth and plentiful rocks harbor a healthy population of salamanders. Fortunately this stunning oasis in the Highlands of Roan – SAHC’s new Wiles Creek Preserve – is now permanently protected. We are grateful to the committed conservation-minded folks – including SAHC members, a former landowner, Brad and Shelli Stanback, and the Carolina Bird Club – who made protection of this beautiful sanctuary possible.

Wiles Creek mapSAHC recently purchased 166 acres in Mitchell County, NC adjoining Pisgah National Forest, within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. The undeveloped tract is highly visible from the public overlook at Roan High Knob. Part of a landscape of protected lands with other SAHC-conserved properties, the Wiles Creek Preserve will be owned by SAHC in the long term as a nature preserve and will be managed for priority bird habitats, water quality, and other natural features. Read more

Roan Naturalist Kalie Pierce

KalieAs Roan Naturalist, I am thankful to have become so intimate with this unique habitat. The Roan Highlands have been a special place for me to visit throughout my years as a student at East TN State University, and as I passed through the area during my AT thru-hike last year. I am proud to have served in this position working with the many different organizations and volunteer groups that protect this land. Read more

Roan Stewardship Updates 2020

balds management volunteersFrom seasonal bird surveys to trail management, education, and habitat restoration, the Roan Stewardship crew continues to care for our flagship conservation focus area. We are grateful to our partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for their support in this work!

Like many things in our world, SAHC’s grassy balds management looked different in 2020. We hand-mowed a total of 7.5 acres from Round Bald to Grassy Ridge, which is about the typical acreage mowed by our Grassy Ridge Mow Off and Roany Boyz events. Our first priority was to keep staff and volunteers safe and comfortable, so we scaled back the number of folks allowed to be out each day to less than ten people, total. We relied on long term volunteers, who knew what to expect and didn’t mind following safety protocols set by both SAHC and the U.S. Forest Service. However, due to state regulations, we were not able to cooperate with the NC BRIDGE program this year. NC BRIDGE has been doing the “heavy lift” of balds management for more than 15 years, mowing every day for two weeks and carrying out equipment for our volunteers. Read more

Smith Family Volunteers

smith family youth volunteersDavid and Melissa Smith and their children Otto, Clyde, and Asa spent a weekend managing grassy balds habitat at Grassy Ridge and camping under the stars together. It’s become something of a family tradition. Otto has been helping with the Grassy Balds Mow-Off since he was 5 years old and understands the importance of habitat management; now in high school, he asks about it every year before it’s even on the calendar. Read more

Tiger Creek

lower meadow at Tiger CreekThanks to supporters like you, in May 2020 we purchased 54 acres surrounded by Cherokee National Forest in the Highlands of Roan, within 2,000 feet of the Appalachian Trail. SAHC will own and manage the property to protect habitat and water resources until it can be added to Cherokee National Forest.

The Tiger Creek property rises in elevation from 3,400 feet to nearly 4,400 feet, just a short distance from the Clyde Smith Shelter on the Appalachian Trail. This stunning tract features an open field and early successional habitat for songbirds, beautiful tributary stream of Tiger Creek, and large, high elevation rock outcrop. Read more

Roaring Creek Valley

Roaring Creek conservation mapTwo new acquisitions in Roaring Creek join our network of protected land in the Highlands of Roan. These two tracts adjoin other SAHC preserves on the slopes of Big Yellow Mountain, together protecting hundreds of acres of northern hardwood and high elevation red oak forests, rising up to the boundary of the Big Yellow Mountain Preserve, co-managed by SAHC with our partners at The Nature Conservancy.

Most of these properties are within the Big Yellow Mountain Natural Area and are part of the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. They contain thousands of linear feet of tributary streams and headwater seeps, feeding into Roaring Creek. The North Toe River and Roaring Creek have been identified as critical to protecting water quality in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and the watershed supports a host of rare species, including the Federally Endangered Appalachian Elktoe mussel. Read more

30 Years of Roan Stewardship!

SAHC and USFS Botanist Gary Kauffman surveying Gray's lily

SAHC and USFS Botanist/Ecologist Gary Kauffman survey Gray’s lily populations in the Roan, 2019.

You may already know that SAHC has been working for more than 45 years to protect and conserve our mountain home. And, you may also know that we trace the origin of our organization to the Roan Highlands, where SAHC’s founders first began efforts to conserve the land and views surrounding the Appalachian Trail. But, did you know that our efforts to actively steward and manage those lands started 30 years ago, with the formation of what is now known as the Roan Stewardship Committee?

Roan field crew in 1987

1987 field crew doing gassy balds surveys for the development of the first balds management plan. Photo by Paul Sommers

The Roan Stewardship Committee is an ambitious collaboration of multiple partners including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, recreation clubs, scientists, and individuals passionate about conservation of the unique ecological communities found in the Roan Highlands. It began with a handful of individuals concerned about long-term stewardship of Roan’s unique ecosystems.  Now 30 years later, the Roan Stewardship Committee consists of more than 15 agencies and organizations. Some groups, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, are long time partners, while others – like the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture – are new to our collaboration. From the beginning, SAHC has formed the nexus of this collaboration, facilitating the Roan Stewardship Committee meetings and partnership efforts.

Judy Murray, retired SAHC Roan Stewardship Director, led those stewardship efforts with an unwavering focus for more than 25 years, and handed over a vibrant and focused Roan Stewardship program to Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett in 2014. In January this year (2020), Marquette facilitated the 30th meeting of the Roan Stewardship Committee.

“Digging through previous meeting notes this winter, I found the agenda from the first Roan Stewardship Committee meeting,” shares Marquette.

From Paul Somers, 1989:

“….I have reserved two cabins (number 19 and 20) at Roan Mountain State Park, for the evening of February 15, 1990 and the following day February 16. The purposes of the meeting, as I see them right now are to:

1. Review any completed sections of the Balds Management Plan

2. Formulate positions on pesticide use on the Roan Mountain (balds and spruce-fir particularly)

3. Review the status of the Hampton Creek Cove Management Plan

4. Discuss plans for the upcoming field season.

5. Discuss alternatives to AT relocation onto Grassy Ridge.”

SAHC and USFS staff plan for balds management.

SAHC and USFS Staff Planning for Grassy Balds Management. (Marquette Crockett left, Sue Fruchey right).

When the Committee met this year, similar items dominated the agenda. The Roan Stewardship Committee is reviewing the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan and about to embark on an update of the Balds Management Plan. This winter, we’ve been working with the TN Division of Natural Areas to update the management plan for Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area to include new priorities and address new threats. The Roan Stewardship Committee also shared reports about various partners’ work and discussed the upcoming field season — including red spruce-Fraser Fir restoration and grassy balds management.  

“Similarities between the 1990 and 2020 meeting agendas illustrate a very important point – at SAHC, forever really does mean forever,” says Marquette. “Before coming to SAHC, I had worked for different entities (including the government) and witnessed initiatives come and go — people move on, directives change. But, that hasn’t happened on the Roan. Many wonderful people have committed entire lifetimes to conservation of the Roan Highlands, and more importantly, they have handed down their knowledge and commitment to new generations.”

“I am thankful for all the quirky, brilliant, and absolutely dedicated people who have made the Roan Highlands what they are today,” adds Marquette. “The conservation and ecological management of the Roan is a complex task spanning generations, and it simply would not be possible without the support of SAHC’s members and partners.”

Cheers for 30 years of Roan Stewardship!

Get Involved — Outings and Volunteer Opportunities

Curious about what makes the Highlands of Roan so special? Each year we host a full day of outings and social gathering in the Highlands of Roan to enjoy and introduce people to the wonders of this special landscape. This year, our annual June Jamboree will be held on Saturday, June 13.

Want to help with caring for Roan’s unique grassy bald habitat? We also host an volunteer weekend each year — the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off — which presents an opportunity for people to help with hands-on habitat management. Come for the day or backpack to the work site and camp with us to enjoy stunning sunset/sunrise on Roan’s “sky islands.”

Save the Date! The Grassy Ridge Mow-Off this year will be Saturday-Sunday July 18-19.

About the Highlands of Roan

Straddling the border of Tennessee’s Carter County and North Carolina’s Mitchell and Avery Counties, the Roan Mountain massif (also known as the Highlands of Roan) is a series of mountain peaks and ridges that rise above 4,000 feet in elevation. They are renowned for their exceptional biological diversity and magnificent beauty.

The grassy bald communities of the Roan were once kept open by a combination of weather conditions and grazing by prehistoric “megaherbivores”. Imagine a herd of elephant-sized mastodons grazing these mountaintops! In the recent past the balds have been maintained by natural herbivores (elk, bison, deer, etc). Farmers later grazed their livestock on these same slopes. Currently the balds are maintained through livestock grazing and mowing. Many rare plants, including the beautiful Gray’s lily, are found growing on the balds. Management of the balds is accomplished through partnerships between the U.S. Forest Service, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club, and numerous volunteers and researchers.