Spruce-fir Habitat Restoration

Hiking in the Roan Highlands, you may have had the experience of leaving the sunny, open grassy balds to dip your head into the dark shade of adjacent spruce-fir forests. Like the grassy balds, these remnant, boreal forests host multiple federally engaged species. New efforts to conserve and restore high elevation spruce-fir forests complement SAHC’s decades-long program of restoration and habitat management of Appalachian grassy bald

Why is Spruce-fir Forest Special?

Youth volunteer planting spruce, with adult volunteer in background

For future generations… Volunteers helped plant more than 5,000 red spruce seedlings on SAHC preserves.

Southern Appalachian red spruce-Fraser fir forests are considered one of the top two most endangered ecosystem types in the U.S. and contain multiple federal and state listed rare species, including the federally endangered spruce-fir moss spider and Carolina northern flying squirrel, the rare Weller’s salamander, and Appalachian populations of Saw-whet Owl, Red Crossbills, and more. Cold water streams flowing from these forests support Appalachian brook trout and other rare aquatic species.

During the last ice age, red spruce and Fraser fir dominated the southern Appalachian forest. But as the climate warmed, the spruce-fir forests gradually retreated north to Canada and to the tops of the highest peaks in the Southern Appalachians, above 5,000 feet in elevation. Logging during the 19th and 20th centuries reduced the extent of spruce-fir forest in the southern Appalachians by up to 60%, as fast-growing hardwoods replaced forests which had been cut. These forests were further degraded by acid precipitation and the invasive balsam woolly adelgid. However, now the largest threat to these forests is climate change, with warming temperatures and changes in rainfall.

Read more

7,500 Acre Donation – Update

waterfall - photo credit Tim SweeneyA generous conservation philanthropist has committed to donate a 7,500-acre preserve in the Roan to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in 2022. Conservation of this globally-significant mountain preserve will significantly boost habitat conservation efforts in the region. We are honored and extremely grateful to have been chosen as the guardians of this biological gem, and look forward to telling you more about the creation of South Yellow Mountain Preserve in the next year!

The philanthropist assembled dozens of contiguous land holdings over the past decade, which will be combined into the new SAHC preserve. The boundary, which is more than 32 miles long, is being surveyed now. The land straddles the border of Avery and Mitchell counties in Western North Carolina, and rises to 5,300 ft. in elevation. Situated within the southern end of the planning boundary of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, a special conservation area designated by the NC General Assembly in 2008 to protect the exceptional natural features found there, the land supports numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species. The property includes one of the largest American Chestnut restoration projects in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heathbalds.

Map of donation area and national trailsTransfer of the gift is expected to be completed in the next year. SAHC will own the land and manage it as a nature preserve. If you’ve visited the Roan Highlands, you’ve probably enjoyed views of this 7,500-acre assemblage from popular vantage points within public lands — including Round Bald and the observation deck at the rhododendron gardens.

“This is the largest single gift in SAHC’s history, and the largest gift of land to a land trust in NC,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “Strategic acquisition of large parcels of land is  increasingly important for climate resilience and protection of water sources — and increasingly hard to accomplish as privately owned parcels continue to be subdivided and developed. These 7,500 acres include some of the most sought-after conservation acres in the eastern United States, including over 100 miles of pristine creeks and streams. We really are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility to steward this vast mountain complex.”

Even before his first acquisition here in 2012, longtime SAHC member Tim Sweeney envisioned assembling these parcels into a unified block of land with the intention of conserving the entire mountain ecosystem. With this gift the philanthropist’s dream has become a reality for the benefit of future generations.

What Happens Next?

As due diligence steps on the project continue within the coming year, SAHC staff will work with partners to create a management plan for the preserve and ensure that the fragile natural resources of the land are protected forever.

“Permanent protection of this vast unbroken area with diverse habitat areas secures connectivity for critical wildlife corridors,” says Jay Leutze, SAHC’s Advisor to the Board. “The scale of a conservation gift of this size is important on a global level and will be a benefit to the entire region. We look forward to continuing to work in  partnership with others in the landscape as we plan for managing this property.”

Find out more!

For an informative history of conservation efforts across the Highlands of Roan and more details about this incredible project in-progress, visit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s
YouTube channel and or watch the video below, which was presented in June 2021 as part of our annual June Jamobree —  “7,500 Acres in the Highlands of Roan – Virtual Lunch and Learn.”

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. Read more

Pyatt Creek

SAHC accepted transfer of 36 acres of conserved land, located at the headwaters of Pyatt Creek in the Highlands of Roan, from the North American Land Trust (NALT). This Pyatt Creek preserve is located in a network of land SAHC has protected in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.

The Pyatt Creek property in the Yellow Mountain State Natural area reaches 4,080 ft. in elevation and contains exemplary native habitat and pristine headwater sources, including a headwater tributary and portion of the main branch of Pyatt Creek.

map of Pyatt Creek tract and surrounding area“SAHC’s acquisition of this property continues our ongoing work in the Yellow Mountain State Natural area, securing high elevation habitat and water sources in a network of conserved land,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This tract is about a mile south of our Yellow Mountain Connector project, in which SAHC protected a  conglomerate of small, high elevation parcels in 2019. Land protection often reminds me of putting together a puzzle – we work with willing landowners whenever possible to protect tracts that contain important habitat and water resources. Over time, it is exciting to see these puzzle pieces come together in a connected network that permanently secures wildlife corridors, watersheds, and wide scenic views.”

The Pyatt Creek preserve is located within the NC Natural Heritage Program Yellow  Mountains/Raven Cliffs Natural Area, within the Grandfather Unaka Priority Amphibian Reptile Conservation Area, and state priority forest types identified on the property include Rich Montane Seeps, Northern Hardwood Forest, and High Elevation Red Oak Forest. Read more

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