Welcome, Summer 2023 Roan Stewardship Team!/in Highlands of Roan, Stewardship Stories, Trustee and Staff Stories /by sahcadmin
Hampton Creek Cove Trail Updates and Roan Visitor Use Management/in Highlands of Roan, Stewardship Stories /by sahcadmin
Our Highlands of Roan stewardship team is gearing up for a busy summer of active land management and education in this one-of-a-kind, ecologically important area. We encourage you to find out more about the challenges faced by SAHC and our partners as the Carvers Gap and grassy balds have exploded in popularity, and explore alternate places in the Roan for outdoor recreation — including updated trails at Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area. Read more
New Peakfinder Signage at Round Bald/in Highlands of Roan, Stewardship Stories, Volunteer Stories /by sahcadmin
Have you ever stood atop a gorgeous summit and wondered what you are viewing? New “peakfinder” signs on Round Bald in the Highlands of Roan will help hikers learn more about the surrounding summits and landscape. The Roan Massif straddles the border between TN and NC, so one sign provides info on the view into North Carolina while the other tells you what you’re seeing in Tennessee.
“The purpose of this project was to install two peakfinder maps, one on each side of the Appalachian Trail to help orient visitors and give them a “destination”, hopefully preventing further damage to the globally rare grassy balds,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “In addition, we hoped to repair, shorten, and formalize two short social trails to reduce off trail damage.” Read more
Roan Stewardship 2022/in Highlands of Roan, Species and Ecology Info Stories, Stewardship Stories, Volunteer Stories /by sahcadmin
Formed by a tight cluster of mountains straddling the NC and TN border, the Roan Massif (also known as the Highlands of Roan), requires commitment and coordination between federal and state agencies, widespread organizations, local clubs and landowners, and passionate volunteers. SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett leads partnership efforts in long-term management of this treasured place.
We hosted a successful -return to- group volunteer work this summer, with events including the annual Grassy Ridge Mow-Off, NC Bridge Crew work, and the inaugural Round Bald Rubus Round-Up, all of which focused on controlling blackberry and other woody encroachment into Appalachian grassy bald habitat that supports globally rare plants and endemic species.
“Thank you to our amazing SAHC volunteers who restored over 18 acres of Appalachian grass balds this summer,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “This work was supported by grant funding from our partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Forest Foundation, and we are very grateful for their support.”
SAHC and our partners at Appalachian Trail Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, and the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club continued to host a seasonal Roan Naturalist along the Appalachian Trail this summer. This year’s Roan Naturalist, Thomas Hatling, hiked back and forth across the stretch of the AT across the Roan to meet and educate hikers about the importance of Leave No Trace principles and the unique and fragile nature of the ecosystems found here. He also assisted with Roan management throughout the summer.
Gray’s Lily Monitoring
Early this year, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy staff and volunteers joined partners in the Highlands of Roan for training by Dr. Matt Estep and Ben Brewer of Appalachian State University in how to monitor Gray’ lily for lily leaf spot disease.
Gray’s lily is a rare wildflower endemic to the region which grows only at high mountain elevations and blooms in meadows, bogs, and forests in early summer. This rare – and striking – red flower was first identified by and named for prominent botanist Asa Gray. Over the past several years, Gray’s lily populations have been suffering from lily leaf spot, a fungal disease that may be spread by contact. Lily leaf spot disease kills juveniles and reduces reproduction in adults, creating a grim forecast for the future of these beautiful blooms. We look forward to gathering data this fall to see how the plants monitored this year have fared; teams will re-survey the Roan to look at long-term viability.
Birdathon – Thank YOU!
We extend enormous gratitude to our partners at Blue Ridge Audubon Chapter and to all the Birdathon 2022 participants for raising over $15,000 for restoring and managing bird habitat. This year’s Birdathon supports SAHC’s efforts in managing habitat for Golden-winged Warblers in the Highlands of Roan. The Golden-winged Warbler is a neotropical migratory songbird with populations in sharp decline, particularly suffering from loss of habitat. SAHC has been protecting and managing habitat in the Roan Highlands for more than 10 years to support Golden-winged Warblers along with associated species. The Birdathon contribution will help expand these efforts in the Roaring Creek Valley.
“We are looking forward to using these funds to manage habitat for Golden-winged Warblers in Roaring Creek this fall, and to surveying the results next spring” says Marquette. “Thank you for raising this generous contribution to support SAHC’s habitat management and restoration work for this climate sensitive species.”
Perspective: Roan Naturalist Thomas Hatling
Serving as the Roan Naturalist not only enabled me to spend the summer working in one of the world’s most gorgeous settings, it gave me the opportunity to help inform people about the importance of mitigating human impacts on the fragile ecosystems of the Roan. Through lack of awareness about the importance and fragility of the grassy summits, visitors may inadvertently cause negative impacts on Roan, despite feeling an innate love for the mountain. The Roan Naturalist position lets people know about the rare plants and animals of the Roan Highlands and how to reduce our impacts as visitors, answer people’s questions, and create signage in problem areas to encourage visitors to Leave No Trace. .
This summer I spoke to thousands of visitors about Leave No Trace principles. This is key to helping the rare plants and animals of the Roan thrive. Leave No Trace boils down to these straightforward principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts
(be careful with fire).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
I encourage everyone who enjoys the outdoors to remember these core principles and always put them into practice! A key part of enjoying the outdoors is respecting the environment around you and saving that beauty for others and generations to come.
Judy Murray Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award/in Awards and Honors, Highlands of Roan, Stewardship Stories, Trustee and Staff Stories, Volunteer Stories /by sahcadmin
2022 TN Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award Winner – Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Recipient: Judy Murray
Judy Murray, who has led an inspired life dedicated to conservation in Southern Appalachia, has been named winner of the 2022 Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is part of the annual Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).
There are few people who can truly be described as committing a lifetime of sacrifice and passionate hard work to an endeavor with modest monetary reward yet boundless benefit to the greater good of humankind and nature. Judy Murray, however, is just such a person. Judy was first inspired by nature on a quintessential family vacation in the 1950s when her family traveled by car from New York City to Canada. On the return trip, and especially as the family traveled through the Adirondack Mountains, Judy fell in love with nature and the mountains.
As a young lady, Judy joined and supported the Scenic Hudson organization in New York. Upon graduation from college in 1960, Judy sought a job that would enable her to further her interests in the outdoors and the mountains, accepting a chemist position with Tennessee Eastman Company (now Eastman Chemical Company) in Kingsport, Tennessee. Within days, she was hiking and enjoying the spectacular vistas from the grassy ridges of the Highlands of Roan and was soon a member of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club. An inspired life dedicated to conservation, Judy’s early experiences with the Hiking Club led to her lifelong work in the Highlands of Roan.
Early Work with the Appalachian Trail and founding Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
Judy and six other members of the hiking club formed a working group to further protection of the Appalachian Trail and the magnificent grassy balds of the Roan massif. The entire area was threatened by development for resorts and vacation homes. The group of seven hiking club members started meeting at members’ homes in Johnson City to discuss how to safeguard the vulnerable Roan lands for present and future generations. The group grew and was formalized in 1966 as the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee of the Appalachian Trail Conference with the goal to preserve the views and landscape surrounding the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan.
In 1974, the U.S. Forest Service and the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee created a landscape-scale “Highlands of the Roan Composite Plan”. The plan identified tracts needed to protect the bald areas and the Appalachian Trail, established alternatives for acquisition if the tracts were not available in their entirety, identified the fragile resources of the bald areas, and described broad management direction of these lands.
To accelerate the protection of critical land across the Highlands of Roan and along the Appalachian Trail, Judy, and other members of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee founded the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) as a Tennessee non-profit land trust. The organization was created to raise funds to purchase lands for which the Forest Service was not funded.
During this time Judy realized that she wanted to devote more of her time and energy to conservation. Judy resigned her position with the Tennessee Eastman Company to return to school. She knew that increased knowledge of the interaction of living organisms and their environment was key to protecting and managing the unique and fragile Highlands of Roan. Graduating with a master’s degree in Ecology from the University of Tennessee, Judy became SAHC’s first Roan Stewardship Director in 1974. A position she held for 40 years until her retirement in 2014.
SAHC’s non-profit charter was expanded to include North Carolina and now, nearly 50 years later, the organization continues to build on the foundational work of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee. SAHC protected 1,644 acres of lands in 2021 including 1,050 acres in the Highlands of Roan, of which 150 acres have recently been added to Roan Mountain State Park. SAHC, its members and donors, and in partnership with many organizations and agencies, has protected over 19,000 acres in the Highlands of Roan and over 75,000 acres throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains. SAHC is a leading land trust nationally and is fully accredited by the Land Trust Alliance.
Caring for the Ecologically Important Highlands of Roan
Judy has spent her life dedicated to preserving the beautiful and ecologically rare Highlands of Roan. This has been accomplished through hard work and personal sacrifice, vision and extraordinary communication skills, stubborn determination, and encyclopedic knowledge of the area and ecology. But perhaps more than anything, Judy was able to use her deep and genuine love and respect for nature and people to align interests and spur action. Continuing the early collaborative efforts of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee with the Forest Service and other organizations, Judy, as SAHC’s Roan stewardship director, established the Roan Stewardship Committee to bring together a larger community of interested parties. And through all of this, Judy was able to build trust and respect among landowners whose cherished land had been part of their families for generations, thus opening the door to conversations about conservation and ultimately protecting their land. Landowners have many fond memories of working with Judy and often ask about her years after her retirement. These relationships formed a bedrock of trust that has led to a conservation success story that was unimaginable when the small group of individuals met in Johnson City over 50 years ago.
Whether leading a day-long workshop, applying the power of persuasion, or rallying volunteers, Judy got results. Getting to shared goals and prioritized projects was just the start of Judy’s work. Once plans were developed and projects agreed-to, the hard work of implementation began. One of Judy’s strengths has been her ability to recruit and lead volunteers to carry out the many projects needed to protect and restore the Highlands of Roan. From restoration of Golden-winged Warbler habitat in the Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area, removing invasive Garlic Mustard from Roan Mountain State Park, to mowing blackberry and other woody growth from the grassy balds, legions of volunteers have accomplished herculean goals.
A wonderful example is the annual effort undertaken by multiple groups and agencies to remove blackberry and other woody plants slowly encroaching on the grassy balds, threatening not only the unique habitat but also the attractiveness of the region to many thousands of annual visitors. Volunteers use loopers, rakes, hand scythes, and heavy-duty power equipment to mow down the growth, manually replicating as best possible what was done for centuries by fire and grazing animals. Each summer dozens of acres of grassy bald are restored by these efforts. And for many, it is a cherished annual event.
Along the way, Judy has been repeatedly recognized for her tireless contribution to conservation and protection of the Highlands of Roan. She was twice awarded the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club’s Hiker of the Year Award and co-chaired the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s 50th anniversary biennial meeting. She contributed to Roan Seasonal Ecologists with mentoring and inspiration. She also added knowledge and guidance to numerous articles and scientific studies of the Highlands of Roan. Judy formally retired from her position as the SAHC Roan stewardship director in 2014, but her efforts to celebrate and protect the Highlands of Roan continue. And even at 84 years of age, she actively participates in strategy and planning activities as a member of the SAHC Roan Stewardship Advisory Committee. She’s always willing to share her knowledge, offer perspective and advice and lend a helping hand. Her legacy is also evident in the continuing success of SAHC.
A Lifetime of Partnership and Leadership on the Roan
As a founder, Judy was instrumental in shaping and leading the organization. Mentoring and inspiring staff members and scores of volunteers has insured that SAHC’s success is carried to other conservation challenges. This work has been accomplished using the same principles Judy embodied as she led stewardship of Roan – building trusting relationships with the community, partnering with state, federal, and other conservation organizations, and ensuring that the hard work gets done.
As a final testament to Judy’s lifelong commitment to conservation and the protection of the Highlands of Roan, she commissioned Jens Kruger, a member of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame and recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music, to compose a musical celebration of the Highlands of Roan and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of the Roan Mountain Preservation Committee. The result, the Roan Mountain Suite, premiered on October 15, 2016, at the Paramount Center for Performing Arts in Bristol, Tennessee. The performance of the Kruger Brothers and the Kontras Quartet was met with enthusiasm and multiple standing ovations. It was a thrilling evening that would not have been possible without Judy’s vision, powers of persuasion and patronage.
“Sometimes I like to be the last one to turn in for the night, when I have the stars, the wind, and The Rock to myself. A time for silent reflection from the place I love most in the world.” – Judy Murray
Thank you to everyone who joined us in Johnson City in November to celebrate Judy’s award and share memories about Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy!
Elk River and Little Horse Creek/in Highlands of Roan, Land Protection and Landowner Stories /by sahcadmin
We are grateful for the foresight of conservation-minded individuals, the generosity of our members and philanthropic leaders, and the dedication of a landowner to continue his family legacy, which enabled SAHC to acquire 128 more acres in Avery County in the Highlands of Roan. These two tracts — 87 acres on Elk River and 46 acres on Little Horse Creek — contain important water resources and habitat for wildlife.
Less than two miles upstream from the rushing torrent of Elk River Falls, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s new 87-acre preserve on the Elk River harbors rich plant and animal biodiversity.
“Elk River Falls, also known as Big Falls, is a spectacular 50 ft. high waterfall in Pisgah National Forest that draws visitors for its dramatic cascade and clear water,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “In addition to preserving the rich biodiversity of this beautiful forested tract, this project was an exciting opportunity to protect the water that feeds Elk Falls.”
Almost a half mile of the Elk River flows along the edge of the preserve, and the tract contains the point at which Cranberry Creek flows into the Elk River. Both watercourses are classified as Trout Waters by the NC Division of Water Resources. Read more
Big Horse Creek/in Highlands of Roan, Land Protection and Landowner Stories /by sahcadmin
Big trees, big streams, big open field — everything about Big Horse Creek is a big deal! This stunning 134-acre mountain cove harbors the cool cascades of a trout stream and plentiful places for birds and wildlife to thrive. Nestled amongst national forest land and SAHC conservation easements, the property had once been worked as a small farm and remained in the same family from the 1940s until it was recently listed on the open real estate market. Thanks to generous supporters, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased the tract to permanently preserve the pristine water and habitat resources, and views from the Appalachian Trail. We look forward to sharing the property as part of our outings and education programs in the future.
Tucked away on the southeast slopes of the Roan Massif, SAHC’s new Big Horse Creek Preserve borders the Pisgah National Forest. The acquisition preserves habitat adjoining the national forest and mountain stream headwaters that support wild trout.
“Over a half mile of Horse Creek flows along the edge of the property,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Its rushing wild trout waters, and those of its tributary Camp Branch, are now protected forever. These waters originate on the eastern slopes of Big Yellow Mountain and Little Hump Mountain. The Big Horse Creek property joins an extensive network of protected land in the Roan Highlands, with its high elevation 4,100-foot ridgeline lying in the shadow of the Appalachian Trail.”
If you’ve ever hiked along the AT at Little Hump Mountain, you’ve probably looked down on this property.
The Big Horse Creek Preserve is located within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. A former tree farm area and openings along the forest edge create early successional habitat that supports neo-tropical migratory songbirds, along with a variety of other wildlife that depend on young forests. The mixture of multiple springs and streams, forested mountainside, and sunny openings creates a variety of habitat for plants and wildlife to thrive. Securing this large-acreage tract with ridgelines, varied topography, and thriving habitat in an important network of conserved land helps preserve critical corridors for wildlife movement in the region.
SAHC is excited to be working with our new neighbors on Big Horse Creek to conduct a bioblitz to inventory the species onsite, and we will continue to manage the property to protect the natural resources in perpetuity. Thank you for continuing to help add to the permanently protected landscape in the Highlands of Roan!
Belview Mountain/in Highlands of Roan, Land Protection and Landowner Stories /by sahcadmin
Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has created a new nature preserve in the Highlands of Roan, which will permanently protect 151 more acres of mountain habitat and clean streams. It is very near other SAHC nature preserves and a 24,000-acre network of public lands! The new preserve is on Belview Mountain, and provides habitat for diverse amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, contributing to climate resilience in an important wildlife connectivity corridor.
Tucked away in the rugged mountains of Avery County, near the communities of Elk Park, Cranberry, and Minneapolis, distinguished NC State Forestry professor and tree geneticist Bruce Zobel invested in a legacy for his children — one of rocks and dirt and living organisms rather than paper stocks. Now, his children have secured that legacy for future generations to enjoy — for natural communities to prosper and for hiking enthusiasts to enjoy protected views from the Appalachian Trail, for years to come.
Landowners Julie Zobel and Kathy Ball sold 151 acres to SAHC on Belview Mountain, for SAHC to own and manage for the long term as a nature preserve. The property reaches elevations of 4,400 ft. and can be seen from the Appalachian Trail on Hump Mountain. It boasts 10 headwater tributaries and the main branch of Cranberry Creek. The pristine creek waters support populations of wild trout. Read more
The mission of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is to conserve the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic beauty, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, enduring for future generations. We achieve this through long-term conservation relationships with private landowners and public agencies and owning and managing land. We are committed to creating and supporting equitable, healthy and thriving communities for everyone in our region.
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372 Merrimon Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801