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

Yellow Mountain Connector

Aerial photo of Yellow Mountain Connector by Dennis Oakley and Southwings

Aerial photo of Yellow Mountain Connector, photo credit Dennis Oakley and Southwings

In 2019,  Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) completed the purchase of an assemblage of properties in the Cane Creek Mountains totaling 456 acres, to permanently protect an important ridgeline corridor through the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. SAHC’s acquisition of the land protects habitat for rare plants and animals, clean water sources and scenic mountain views from public lands.

“Together we protected a critical 456-acre chain that links previously unconnected sections of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area,” says Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s land protection director. “This one project made historic, landscape-scale strides in achieving the vision of the state natural area: to protect a long distance scenic and wildlife corridor from the Appalachian Trail south along the Cane Creek Mountains. It is one of the most impactful land acquisitions in the region.”

SAHC staff visit open areas on Yellow Mountain Connector tractsThe properties are situated along the high-elevation ridge that forms the boundary between Mitchell and Avery Counties south of Grassy Ridge. The tracts reach 4,600 ft. in elevation and adjoin SAHC’s Cane Creek Mountain and Little Hawk Mountain preserves, connecting sections of the North Carolina Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. The property is within five miles of 13 North Carolina Natural Heritage Significant Natural Heritage Areas, and SAHC’s acquisition of the land protects significant water resources and habitat for rare and threatened species.

“This transaction is especially important because our southern Appalachian mountains create a critical corridor for species to migrate in response to impacts from climate change,” says Pugliese. “This ridgeline is a crucial pathway for plants and animals to move for survival, and protecting this ridgeline contributes meaningfully to climate resiliency in our mountains.”

Waterfall and trilliumThe NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) awarded $1.2 million in grant funds toward the acquisition. In total, the acquisition protects over five miles of stream corridor and 304 acres of stream buffer. Permanent conservation of the land preserves portions of Soapstone Branch, Hawk Creek, Little Henson Creek and Big Spring Creek, as well as 24 headwater tributaries of Henson Creek and Cane Creek, which both flow directly into the North Toe River. A popular area for trout fishing, the North Toe River also provides high quality habitat for federally listed aquatic species.

Assembling multiple properties for protection at a landscape and watershed scale is a difficult but worthwhile process, according to Walter Clark, Executive Director, CWMTF. “The success of this complex project is the result of hard work and coordination by the land protection staff of SAHC and CWMTF.”

Large portions of the project area falls within two Audubon Society Important Bird Areas – the Roan Mountain and Roan-Cane Creek Mountains Important Bird Areas. Elevated ridgelines in these areas provide passage for substantial numbers of neotropical birds during migration, and several rare species breed in the area, including Common Raven, Golden-winged Warbler, and Northern Saw-whet Owl. High elevation rocky summit habitat on the undeveloped tracts provides home for a plethora of rare plants and animals. The project connects 22,000 acres of protected land on the Roan Massif with 838 acres of protected land in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. SAHC plans to own and manage the land as a nature preserve.

“We are deeply grateful for the generous support of philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, SAHC supporters, and a grant from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina for making this critical conservation work possible,” adds Pugliese. A generous conservation partner also donated years of effort and transaction costs to acquire the multiple parcels in this package.

CWMTF Damon Hearne visits property

Damon Hearne, Western Field Representative of CWMTF, visits property.

About Clean Water Management Trust Fund:

The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was established by the General Assembly in 1996 as a non-regulatory organization with a focus on protecting and restoring the State’s land and water resources. It awards grants to non-profit and governmental organizations to protect land for natural, historical and cultural benefit, limit encroachment on military installations, restore degraded streams, and develop and improve stormwater treatment technology. www.cwmtf.nc.gov

Haw Orchard Ridge – 51 Acres Protected

SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese on Haw Orchard Ridge

SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese on Haw Orchard Ridge

In November 2019, SAHC purchased 51 acres on a prominent ridge near the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan. The Haw Orchard Ridge property adjoins Pisgah National Forest, rising to over 5,400 ft. just south of Roan High Knob. It is visible from the Appalachian Trail at Round Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald.

“Haw Orchard Ridge protects a portion of the well known red spruce-Fraser fir stand which stretches from Roan High Knob to Carvers Gap,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “This spruce-fir stand is used by numerous rare high elevation species including Red crossbill, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and Pygmy Salamander. It is also inhabited by federally endangered species including the Carolina Flying Squirrel and the Spruce-Fir Moss Spider.  We hope that our protection of this property and restoration work will help to create a safe haven for these climate sensitive species.”

Haw Orchard Ridge and Roan Highlands mapSAHC will manage the land as a nature preserve, restoring conifer habitat for birds with a recently awarded grant from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative.

“Protecting Haw Orchard Ridge has been a priority of SAHC’s for decades,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Securing the rare high elevation habitat found on this property, bordering Pisgah National Forest and just down the mountain from the Appalachian Trail, is a great conservation achievement. We are so grateful to all of our supporters, philanthropic leaders Fred and Alice Stanback, and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina for providing funding to make this acquisition possible.”

Scenic view photo above taken from Jane Bald on the Appalachian Trail, by Travis Bordley. Haw Orchard Ridge sits just below Roan High Knob, sandwiched between Round Bald (foreground) and Roan High Bluff (background). 

ETSU Student Volunteers

Thank you to East Tennessee State University’s Service Learning Program for volunteering to assist with land management at SAHC’s Bird House Preserve in the Highlands of Roan. Student volunteers helped remove old structures and continued Golden-winged Warbler habitat management on the property. In the process we salvaged roughly 50 black locust posts that will be used for future trail maintenance.

135 Acres Adjoining Pisgah Nat’l Forest

Gutches Creek mapIn September 2019, SAHC secured 135 acres of important high elevation habitat in the Highlands of Roan. This tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and existing SAHC preserves, creating a contiguous swath of permanently protected, botanically rich forests on the slopes of Fork Mountain. We are incredibly grateful to all of our supporters for helping to conserve this remarkable place!

When SAHC’s founders first laid plans 50 years ago to preserve the landscape of the Roan, they didn’t have the technology we use today in Google Earth or Geographic Information System mapping. However, they certainly possessed keen intuition and first-hand familiarity with the land. Now, another of the priority parcels they identified has been permanently secured for future generations.

homestead cabin on Gutches Creek tractThe newly acquired Gutches Creek property joins our Fork Mountain and Yellow Spot preserves to create an SAHC-owned area of more than 563 acres on the southeastern slopes of Fork Mountain, adjoining thousands of acres of National Forest in the Roan. It is just two miles west of the beloved Roan Rhododendron Gardens.

“With elevations rising above 4,700 feet and numerous springs, seeps, and streams, the Gutches Creek property is a biological gem,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett.

boulder and stream photoAt least 10 state-listed rare plants and 6 state-listed ecological community types exist on the property, according to initial surveys. The  land’s high elevation red oak forest, northern hardwood forest, and rich cove boulderfields are all high quality examples of rare natural communities. The preserve creates a haven for forest interior birds.

“Gutches Creek rushes boldly down the mountain through massive boulders, evoking a sense of wonder,” continues Marquette. “This property forms a stunning, natural amphitheater surrounding Gutches Creek, made out of some of the largest boulder fields that I have seen on any of SAHC’s conservation properties. With a historic homestead and sections of rock wall that have been here for more than 100 years, this place really does give the impression that you have stepped into another time.”

SAHC plans to own and manage the property for the long term as wildlife habitat.

Doll Branch – 62 Acres Protected

Doll Branch Tract, photo courtesy Southwings

Doll Branch tract, aerial photo courtesy Southwings and Dennis Oakley of Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association

Trout and AT hikers can rejoice – another piece of the Roan has been permanently protected!

We purchased 62 acres at Doll Branch in the Highlands of Roan this summer, protecting exceptional habitat and scenic mountain views in Carter County, TN. The land adjoins Cherokee National Forest and is less than ½ mile from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT). Read more

Roan Recreation Updates 2019

We are working with Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), and Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club (TEHCC) to address recreational impacts in and around Carver’s Gap and Grassy Ridge. This area, with easy access to stunning scenic views along the Appalachian Trail, has experienced significant increases in visitation. We joined these partners for two work days this summer, to repair and restore a section of the trail going up Jane Bald. In addition, new signage and interpretative materials are planned for 2020.

Over the course of the summer, Roan Naturalist Sarah Jones interacted with more than 8,500 people on the Appalachian Trail. Sarah taught visitors about the ecology of the Roan Highlands and the role that SAHC and other partners play in protecting the landscape.  She shared Leave No Trace ethics and provided support for hikers of all levels. We are very appreciative to our friends at the ATC and the TEHCC for their support of this position.

College Students Volunteer in the Roan

Students from Mars Hill University and Warren Wilson College joined us this spring for a Golden-winged Warbler habitat management workday and camping trip along the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan.

The energetic volunteers cleared downed tree limbs and lopped saplings to create ideal breeding ground for this threatened species of neo-tropical migratory songbirds. Read more