Hogeye Bottomlands – 88 Acres

Farmland Preservation at Hogeye Bottomlands in Sandy Mush Community

In the Sandy Mush farming community, scenic views of fertile bottomland, rolling pastures, and distant mountain ridges create a stunning backdrop for those who work the land. Now, SAHC has conserved another tract of farmland here, adding to a network of protected agricultural lands and wildlife corridors throughout Sandy Mush.

Farmers Aubrey and Rieta Wells graze cattle and produce hay on the 88-acre Hogeye Bottomlands — now permanently protected through a conservation easement.

Sections of Sandy Mush Creek and Hogeye Branch run through the tract, which contains prime soils (a designation for soils of national importance) as well as soils of statewide and local importance. Almost half (45%) of soils on the tract are considered prime, locally or statewide important soils. Found along waterways and formed over long periods of time, these soils are important agricultural resources — and relatively rare in mountainous areas. Unfortunately, the low-lying, fairly flat bottomlands where we find these soils are also sought after for easy development. Both Aubrey and Rieta grew up in families with long farming traditions and wanted to see this farmland protected for future generations.

“We’d like to see the Sandy Mush area stay as undeveloped as possible,” shares Aubrey. “It’s one of the few places in the county you can still go to see the beauty of natural spaces and farmland.” Read more

SAHC Honored with Pigeon River Award

On Tuesday December 3, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Haywood County Agricultural Advisory Board, and The Conservation Fund received Haywood Waterways Association’s Pigeon River Award, an award honoring individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to protecting land and water resources in Haywood County. SAHC has been conserving land in the county since the early 1990s — from the first conservation easement at Cataloochee Ranch to recent protection of 139 acres in the Beaverdam watershed and 50 acres in Crabtree.

“Haywood County is such a special place, and we are lucky to have so many great organizations, landowners, community leaders, and funders working to permanently protect its land and water resources – it takes all of us,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “We’re honored to receive the Pigeon River Award along with wonderful partners at Haywood County Agricultural Advisory Board and The Conservation Fund. SAHC will continue to team with partners and willing landowners to protect the scenic vistas, wildlife corridors, fertile soils, and land securing clean water in Haywood.”

To date, SAHC has protected 38 properties in Haywood County, totaling over 12,100 acres. Some of the organization’s most notable conservation projects in the county include: SAHC’s first conservation easement project, which was accomplished at Cataloochee Ranch on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1993; the addition of 240 acres to the Cold Mountain Game Lands; 7,300 acres of the Waynesville Watershed, a NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund project in partnership with the Conservation Trust for NC; and 874 acres in the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed, another Clean Water Management Trust Fund project, which provides miles of hiking and mountain biking trails for public use.

In the past 12 months, SAHC has purchased 187 acres behind the I-40 rest area in the Pigeon River Gorge near Hurricane Ridge to protect animal habitat in an important wildlife corridor; 139 acres in the Beaverdam Watershed area of Haywood County, linking the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek watershed property with an existing SAHC preserve at Doubleside Knob; and 50 acres in Crabtree near the Buncombe/Haywood county line in order to protect corridors for wildlife movement, water quality, scenic views, and farmland. Last December, SAHC also completed agricultural conservation easement projects protecting 385 acres of multi-generational family farmland in Rogers Cove in Crabtree.

“Permanently protecting areas of low-impact use reduces land use pressure, stormwater impacts, and the consequent degradation of water quality,” says Eric Romaniszyn, executive director of Haywood Waterways Association. “We appreciate and support SAHC’s work and all our Haywood County partners to protect these lands, and in turn, maintain the high quality of our watersheds.”

SAHC is grateful for the support of many partners and contributors who make these projects possible, including our members, private donors, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North CarolinaN.C. Clean Water Management Trust FundN.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services.

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). 

Hidden Valley – 50 Acres in Haywood County

Mountaintop pasturesIn fall 2019, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 50 acres at Hidden Valley in Haywood County in order to protect corridors for wildlife movement, water quality, scenic views, and farmland.

The tract adjoins the 146-acre Little Creek Headwaters preserve that we purchased in 2016, providing connectivity for wildlife corridors. Conserving the land also protects scenic views from the Crabtree area and the agricultural community in Bald Creek valley.

“A scenic gem, the Bald Creek area of Crabtree is a quiet farming community tucked between the iconic Crabtree Bald and the Haywood/Buncombe County line,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “The Hidden Valley property expands SAHC’s protection of a concentration of over 1,400 permanently protected acres within Crabtree and nearby Sandy Mush (Buncombe & Madison Counties). This chain of protected land follows ridgelines that are important for wildlife movement and dip into fertile valleys that provide water resources and soil for productive agricultural land.” Read more

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.

139 Acres in Beaverdam Creek Watershed

Barn on protected propertySAHC recently purchased 139 acres in the Beaverdam area of Haywood County, connecting the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek watershed property with conserved land previously protected by SAHC. The acquisition will permanently protect wildlife habitat, scenic views from public trails, and water quality in streams.

“This 139-acre tract includes portions of Beaverdam Creek and its tributaries,” explains Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The property fills a protection gap within the watershed, directly connecting Canton’s Rough Creek watershed conservation easement to the west and an SAHC-owned preserve to the north. Together these properties form a 1,120-acre nearly contiguous protected assemblage within the Beaverdam watershed.”

Map of Doubleside Knob area conservationBeaverdam Creek’s water quality is considered to be on the decline, and SAHC’s purchase of the tract improves surface water quality by permanently protecting 2.5 miles of stream on the tract from development. We also plan to manage the property according to best management practices for water quality, which will help reduce sedimentation, bacteria levels, and runoff. This purchase directly supports the Beaverdam Watershed Action Plan, produced by Haywood Waterways and the Pigeon River Fund.

“SAHC’s acquisition of this property complements our work to prevent water quality degradation in Beaverdam Creek, which is considered to be on the decline,” says Eric Romaniszyn, Executive Director of Haywood Waterways Association. “Haywood Waterways works to maintain and improve water quality throughout Haywood County through voluntary initiatives. Our Pigeon River Watershed Action Plan specifically recommends conservation of critical headwater areas, such as the tract recently acquired by SAHC, for the long-term protection of water quality. We certainly appreciate SAHC’s and the partnership’s work to protect these lands and maintain the high quality of our watersheds.”

Former landowner David Ashe contacted SAHC about this property in the Beaverdam Creek watershed after reading about our purchase of the adjoining Doubleside Knob preserve last year. Both tracts were once part of a much larger parcel owned by his wife’s family. David wanted to permanently protect the land in order to honor her.

“She never wanted to see it developed,” he says. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone about selling it. She passed away about a year and a half ago, and I thought that it would be good to preserve it, so it will stay like it is. I think that’s what she would have wanted.”

This acquisition was made possible with a generous seed gift from private donors for the acquisition, support from SAHC’s members, and a $25,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

“This land has been passed down in the same family for over 150 years, and we are so grateful that the previous landowner wanted to see it permanently protected and reached out to SAHC,” adds Muerdter. “We look forward to managing this land for future generations.”

Photo credits: Johnny Davison

High Rock Acres – Catawba Headwaters

High above the Catawba Falls, headwater streams coalesce and cascade down the mountainsides, with pristine rivulets merging together to form the rushing river waters.

Map of High Rock AcresNow, more of these source streams have been permanently protected.

In July 2019, SAHC purchased 101 acres at High Rock Acres in McDowell County, adding to a contiguous network of protected lands that secure forested wildlife corridors and streams flowing into the Catawba River.

“Four headwater tributaries to the Catawba River and five headwater tributaries that empty into the Left Prong Catawba River originate on the property,” explains Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This property is situated just 2 ½ miles southeast of the Town of Black Mountain, near Pisgah National Forest and other land that SAHC has protected, including hundreds of forested acres around Montreat.”

The rocky, boulder-strewn slopes provide habitat for diverse species of mammals, birds, salamanders, and amphibians. SAHC’s acquisition of the land permanently protects this forest habitat, as well as connectivity to other important areas so wildlife can safely move in the landscape. The High Rock Acres property adjoins 329 acres that SAHC protected with conservation easements in 2003, connecting to our Glade Creek Preserve and Pisgah National Forest.

Elevations on the property range from 2,660 to 3,200 feet, including high points at Allison Ridge above the Upper Catawba Falls. SAHC purchased the land in order to own and manage it as a nature preserve for the long term.

“We are very grateful to philanthropic leaders Brad and Shelli Stanback for making a generous seed gift for this acquisition and for all our members who provide ongoing support to enable SAHC to permanently protect these important land and water resources,” says Pugliese.

2020 Waterfalls Calendar to Support Conservation

Waterfalls calendar coverDo you want to help support efforts to protect water resources which create the stunning, picturesque waterfalls we enjoy across the Blue Ridge? Check out the NEW 2020 “Giving” calendar from RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide — Waterfalls of NC. Calendar sales on our website support SAHC’s conservation work!

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