Cataloochee Gateway – Cove Creek Gap

cataloochee Divide Trail signYou know that feeling when you get ready to embark on an adventure? The building excitement… the thrill of the first moment you step foot on a trail… That setting is so important – it sets the tone and context for your experience. Unfortunately, many of the public lands and trails in the Southern Appalachians are bordered by forests and fields on private lands which, as an area increases in popularity, could be developed for residential or commercial uses – forever changing the experience for those seeking serenity in outdoor recreation.

Great Smoky Mtns National Park Cataloochee signThanks to generous conservation supporters, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently purchased 10 acres at Cove Creek Gap, the Cataloochee Valley entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The land borders the Cataloochee Divide Trail, rising from Cove Creek Road to the ridgeline and sharing a 0.3-mile boundary with the trail and national park. Although small in acreage, these 10 acres have the potential to make a big impact. In addition to sharing a boundary with the trail and national park, the tracts are located just across Cove Creek Road to the left of the park sign, highly visible to visitors entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the Cataloochee entrance. Read more

Hickory Nut Gap Forest

View of Orchard and Distant Mountains from HIckory Nut Gap Forest tractThe rolling route along Drover’s Road Scenic Byway from Fairview to Bat Cave affords beautiful views of mountain peaks, forests, and farmland protected by SAHC – from flat, fertile bottomlands to the top of Little Pisgah Mountain, Blue Ridge Pastures, and Strawberry Gap. Now, 26 more acres of the picturesque landscape at Hickory Nut Gap Forest have been permanently protected. This recently conserved land includes a heritage apple orchard, open area, and forest, partially surrounding the Sherrill’s Inn, a designated Historic American Building.

Horse in pasture at Hickory Nut Gap Forest “Although this new conservation easement is small in acreage, it adds to hundreds of acres at Hickory Nut Gap Forest, which SAHC began protecting in 2008,” explains Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “When I look at this conservation easement, I think about preserving the historic setting of places like the Sherrill’s Inn, protecting the natural land close to what it was like back when the inn was originally built and used as a stop-over for people traveling across the mountains. I’m excited that this project preserves the surrounding context of this historic site, as well as habitat and agricultural resources. This is a great example of how a smaller conservation easement can make a big impact.” Read more

2020 Conservation Review

Map of SAHC conservation projects in 2020Looking back as we head into the final stretch of 2020, we all know that this year has been far from ordinary. On a positive note, it has been a record-breaking year for local conservation efforts! Since the beginning of January, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has closed on the protection of more than 2,600 acres across the mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, with additional projects scheduled to wrap up by year-end. Several of these have been in the works for many years.

“It is a testament to the commitment of SAHC members, staff, and conservation-minded supporters that we have been able to complete these projects during extraordinary circumstances, and we are grateful to all the people who make this remarkable work possible,” says SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “There is something tangible and reassuring in preserving land – it’s something you can put your hand on. These conservation projects help preserve cultural connections to the past, places to connect with nature, and vital resources we rely on now, and which will be increasingly critical in the future.” 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.”

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

Big Creek – 110 Acres

Big CreekSAHC recently purchased 110 acres in Macon County to protect a headwater source of the nationally significant Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River. The property is just north of the North Carolina/Georgia border, surrounded by the Nantahala and Chattahoochee National Forests, and will be added to the Nantahala National Forest for the public to enjoy.

“Big Creek is an important tributary of the Chattooga River, a beloved river where people enjoy outdoor recreation like whitewater rafting, kayaking and fishing,” says Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. “Conserving this property permanently protects critical water resources and habitat.”

A long-time priority for protection, SAHC plans to own the Big Creek tract for several years and then transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service to become part of the surrounding Nantahala National Forest. Partner land trust Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT), which works in this geographic area, will help steward the property during SAHC’s ownership of the tract. Read more

Tanasee Ridge

Hiking at Tanasee Ridge

Working with trusted conservation partners, we recently protected 109 acres at Tanasee Ridge, adjoining Nantahala National Forest. The property could potentially provide an alternate gateway to popular outdoor recreation areas in Panthertown Valley. Thank you for helping to make this project possible!

“This tract has long been a priority for conservation,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter.  “Permanent protection of the Tanasee Ridge property will enhance the public experience of using the forest.” Read more

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

Bowditch Bottoms – 87 Acres

Bowditch Bottoms with Celo Mtn in background

Bowditch Bottoms with Celo Knob in the background, photo by Catherine Pawlik, Carolinas’ Nature Photographers (CNPA)

The Bowditch Bottoms project has been a long time in the process – beginning in 2014 – and we are thrilled that it successfully closed in June! This 87-acre property in Yancey County contains important soils, farmland, undeveloped forested and non-forested habitat for wildlife, headwaters to the South Toe River, and intact wetland and riparian corridors. It is visible from the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway and several higher-elevation vantage points in the Black Mountains and the Highlands of the Roan. 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