Wilkins Creek – 187 Acres Protected

Wilkins Creek property near I-40

Wilkins Creek property near I-40, photo courtesy Jake Faber and Southwings

Just beyond the rush of traffic on Interstate 40 near the Tennessee-North Carolina line, steep hillsides and forested knolls shelter a vibrant community of wildlife.

We recently purchased 187 acres in this part of Haywood County near the Pigeon River to protect a corridor for wildlife grazing and movement.

Map of Wilkins Creek and nearby conservation landsEncircled by the Pisgah National Forest and adjoining the NC Welcome Center on I-40, the Wilkins Creek property is very near a large box culvert under the Interstate, which provides a way for wildlife to travel safely from one side of the interstate to the other. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and other partners identified this property in the Pigeon River Gorge as a conservation priority because it provides a key corridor for elk and other animals to move in the landscape.

“This Wilkins Creek property has a unique role in connecting wildlife habitats across the landscape,” says SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Unlike many tracts SAHC has protected, this one has some areas of sparse forest cover resulting from past timber harvest. There are some species, such as elk, that require such openings along with intact forest. The Wilkins Creek property falls within an important wildlife corridor in the Pigeon River Gorge and contains open areas that may provide grazing habitat for elk.”

Following the successful reintroduction of elk in Cataloochee Valley in 2001 and 2002 the elk herd has grown from the initial 52 animals to about 150 today. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, Wildlands Network, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC Wildlife Federation, and other conservation partners have been conducting research and strategic planning focused on the survival and movement of elk, bear, and deer in the Pigeon River Gorge. They found that animals traveling in the vicinity of Cataloochee Valley and the Smokies regularly cross I-40 in search of openings where they can graze, resulting in significant animal fatalities.

The large box culvert under I-40 serves as a passageway for wildlife, enabling animals to safely reach the forest openings on the Wilkins Creek property. The land that SAHC purchased plays an important role for elk to live and move, and the property will serve as a research site on wildlife habitat crossings.

Box Turtle, photo by Jeff Hunter

Eastern Box Turtle on property, photo by Jeff Hunter

“Protecting the Wilkins Creek tract represents a long-term, important investment in the well-being of wildlife throughout the Southern Appalachians,” says Jeff Hunter, Senior Program Manager with National Parks Conservation Association. “Ongoing wildlife monitoring by National Parks Conservation Association and Wildlands Network indicate that black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, and migrating bird species including a variety of wood warblers frequently use this property. Protecting the land also advances wildlife connectivity efforts throughout the Pigeon River Gorge, between Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We will continue to support progress in restoring landscape connectivity and reducing wildlife-vehicle conflicts  by working in partnership with groups like SAHC.”

This acquisition expands our work in securing habitat and wildlife corridors in the region. In 2017, SAHC acquired 147 acres to the south at Stevens Creek, a quiet cove on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Stevens Creek tract contains important habitat and water resources near the remote Cataloochee Valley area of the national park.

SAHC plans to own the Wilkins Creek property for the short term, managing it for habitat and working with partners to monitor the presence and movement of wildlife on the property. We hope to transfer the Wilkins Creek tract to public agency ownership in the future.

We are incredibly grateful to all of our supporters for making this exciting project possible!

 

Ridgeview Farm – 118 Acres Protected

View of Ridgeview FarmBrandon Hensley has no illusions about farm life in WNC — it’s hard work, with sparse financial rewards. However, a deep connection to his family’s land kept him working with SAHC over the lengthy 5-year process to permanently protect a beautiful, productive farm in an area pinched by increasing residential development.

In March 2019, we closed on the conservation easement protecting the 118-acre Ridgeview Farm in Buncombe County. Located just 2 miles from our Community Farm, this historic homestead farm contains a high percentage of agriculturally important soils. Brandon, a young farmer in his mid-30s, is carrying on his family’s legacy as the 5th generation to work this land.

Landowner farmer and NCADFP representative at closing.“I owe it to my family,” he shares. “My main goal was just to keep the heart of the farm together. My grandparents’ homeplace is here.”

Although the original log cabin is long gone, Brandon remembers it as a child, growing up with a close connection to his grandparents and the land.

“I think my grandfather would be very happy,” he continues. “My grandparents farmed for a living – that was their life. I wanted to do the conservation easement so that this land will stay this way – it will be protected forever. ”

Cattle at Ridgeview FarmCurrently used for hay and cattle production, the NC Century Farm was formerly the site of dairy operations. The family contacted SAHC about a conservation easement because they wanted to keep the land in the family, continue to farm it, and protect it from development.

“In the next few years, if building keeps going as it is, there won’t be any farms left around Asheville,” adds Hensley.

The protected farm tract contains 93% important agricultural soils, which are a precious commodity in the mountains.

Alternate view of Ridgeview Farm“Alexander is a rare gem in WNC, containing a much higher concentration of important agricultural soils than the surrounding region,” says Farmland Program Director Jess Laggis. “But it is also disproportionately under development pressure due to its ease of access from Asheville, the relative ease of development on low-lying bottomlands, and the undeniable beauty of the mountain views from its rolling hills.  And yet, despite these pressures, Alexander remains a relatively intact farming community.  Only time can tell, but Alexander has the potential to provide a model for sustainable food production with residential areas in close proximity to productive farms.  All of these factors make it an important and fascinating place to focus farmland preservation efforts.  I am deeply grateful to Brandon Hensley and the Bridges family for their commitment to conservation and their decision to protect this property forever.”

This project was made possible with grant funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, NC Agriculture Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, Buncombe County, and the Conservation Trust for NC, in addition to support from SAHC members, a generous gift by Brad and Shelli Stanback, and donation of a substantial portion of the easement value and stewardship contribution from the landowners.

Thank you to all our members for making this farmland conservation success possible!

Rogers Cove – 385 Acres

Hugged by mountains and tucked away in the scenic Crabtree community of Haywood County, Rogers Cove contains beautiful rolling pastures and forested hills that stir the imagination. We have permanently protected 385 acres of productive, scenic farmland in this cove through agricultural conservation easements.

“The Rogers family has farmed this land for at least four generations and wanted to see it stay farmland forever, which is why they protected their land with SAHC through agricultural easements,” says Jess Laggis, SAHC’s Farmland Protection Director. “Beyond all the beauty and ecosystem services this land protection provides, it also supports some of the kindest farmers you could meet in maintaining our mountain farming heritage.”

Highly visible from scenic drives along Crabtree Mountain Rd and Upper Crabtree Road, as well as from hikes on Crabtree Bald, conserved land in this picturesque cove is made up of multiple adjoining tracts owned by members of the Rogers family. The family has farmed this cove for more than 150 years. The Rogers Cove properties include a mixture of high elevation cattle grazing pasture and prime agricultural bottomlands, and both the Mark Rogers and the Terry & Fran Rogers properties have been designated as Century Farms by the state of NC.

“Rogers Cove makes time travel possible,” says SAHC Farmland Protection Director Jess Laggis. “Walking through Rogers Cove feels like a step back in time, but in it, I also see the future. I know that in 10 years, or even 50, when I look back at the farmland protection work SAHC has accomplished, Rogers Cove will always stay a vibrant memory.  This is one of the first farmland protection projects that I was lucky enough to get to work on, and I am so grateful to be able to play a small role in protecting it.”

Family members Edwin & Lucene (Cenie) Rogers, Mark & Laura Rogers, and Terry & Fran Rogers worked together with us to protect their adjoining properties. Sadly, Edwin passed away in 2017, before he saw completion of this effort; we are deeply grateful that the family was able to continue working with SAHC to permanently protect the land.

Edwin Rogers, who was designated a River Friendly Farmer by the Haywood County Soil & Water Conservation District, farmed in Rogers Cove his whole life. Edwin and his son Mark worked closely together to keep the farm in excellent condition by installing stream-side fencing and water tanks and using rotational grazing practices. Terry Rogers also installed best management practices on his farm to protect water quality of streams in the Pigeon River watershed. The Pigeon River Fund, a grant program administered by The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, provided support for this project.

Terry — who has been president  of the Haywood County Farm Bureau, Treasurer of the Haywood County Cattlemen’s Association, and president of the WNC Beef Cattle Commission — has also farmed in Rogers Cove his whole life. Terry inherited the property from his parents Cassius McCracken Rogers and Pauline Noland Rogers who worked the land all their lives. His mother was the granddaughter of famed community doctor and banker Rachel Eleanor Ferguson Noland, a pioneering woman who traded livestock, farmed, and worked in her loomhouse to make a living for her family. Eleanor served as a community doctor, taking her little black satchel with her when neighbors asked her to come and “doctor” their sick. She also served as a community banker, loaning money out to neighbors so they could buy a farm, build a house, or pay their bills, collecting a little interest in return. Most of these folks had no collateral, so could not qualify for a formal loan from an established bank. Eleanor enabled many families to have their own home.

The Rogers Cove land in Crabtree Community was originally purchased by family ancestor John H. Rogers almost 200 years ago. Son of Revolutionary War soldier and pioneer Hugh Rogers and Nancy Thornton Rogers of Fines Creek, John married Mary “Polly” McCracken of Upper Crabtree. He purchased property which became known as Rogers Cove in the Crabtree area, and the land was later passed on to various descendants.

“I’ve worked this land all my life,” Terry said, “working with both my paternal and maternal grandparents, as well as my own parents. I’ve seen the hard work my ancestors put into being good stewards of the properties, never holding a public job, but depending on  the farm and woodland to make a living for their families. Like them, I have tried to be a good steward of what God has blessed me with, and I don’t want this beautiful property turned into a housing development in the future. Now that its protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, that won’t ever happen.”

We are grateful to all of SAHC’s members, the Rogers family, The Pigeon River Fund, Brad and Shelli Stanback, and the NC Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund for protecting this historically important, thriving farm. Thank you!

Landowner Perspective: Mark Rogers

“There were three basic things which prompted our family to preserve this farm land. Foremost, the belief that protecting farmland is important for future generations. Also there is the sentimental factor for protecting property that has been in the family for a long time. And last, just the aesthetics’ of farm land vs. a subdivision.

This land today is a summation of all of what my ancestors have invested into it over the past 4+ generations. I think of the clearing of the timber to make areas to seed into hay fields and pastures for their livestock. You try to understand how that supported their milk cows and horses, which in turn supported their existence. Also the hard work with axes, cross cut saws, horses, etc. — “the good, hard old days”.

This land is still used as it was with my early ancestors and I would hate to see that change to another use that would not complement and build on what’s already gone into it. I am also sensitive to farmland reduction in the past 100 yrs and how that can effect food sustainability. When I came along, horses were still used for light work like cultivating tobacco but tractors had taken over the heavy work like plowing the corn land. I remember the talk about how you had to feed a work horse “a plenty” if you expected it to plow all day. Thus a lot of the corn grown was used back as feed fuel for the work horses. Conservation of energy makes sense considering it takes the same amount of corn energy as diesel energy to plow a furrow. I think of how hard it was to plow up and rotate crops every other year with legumes to get nitrogen into the soil because there was no petroleum based fertilizer. So if there continues to be less acreage and petroleum (being a finite resource for plant food); farmland will only continue to be more important in the future.

I truly relished the lifestyle offered by growing up on a farm and having relatives and good neighbors all around. As children we were free to roam without any concerns of safety. When I was 4 yrs old I remember deciding to run away from home — for no apparent reason. It was a sunny winter morning where the overnight frost was just melting as I trudged through the woods to the ridgeline between our house and my grandparents. I walked down to a barn where my uncle was sacking up silage and when I told him I was running away he did not even look up but told me to go by and say goodbye to my grandmother before I left. So when I walked up to her house and told her, all she said was to have a sausage biscuit before I left. Somehow, I forgot that I was running away.

Also I watch as adjacent farms are sold and developed. I see how the dynamics of “community” of the people change with it.

I want my actions to continue to be a good steward of this property in the same fashion my ancestors did.

Farmland Conservation and Clean Water

Site visit in Rogers Cove (L to R): Alison Davidson (Pigeon River Fund committee member), Laura Rogers (Landowner), Jess Laggis (SAHC), Tara Scholtz (CFWNC), and Dyatt Smathers (Pigeon River Fund committee member).

“One focus of the Pigeon River Watershed Plan is reducing development density on steep mountain slopes,” says Tara Scholtz, Senior Program Officer with The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC).

“Reducing development density means fewer roads, house sites, driveways, and other structures and infrastructure that negatively affect the watershed. Reducing density also reduces the number and size of impervious surfaces in the watershed and the associated stormwater runoff.  Farmland conservation is one of the plan’s specific strategies for reducing development density, but transactions to conserve farmland often take time. The Pigeon River Fund was pleased to assist SAHC in protecting hundreds of acres of Rogers Cove agricultural land that would otherwise undoubtedly be a target for future development.”

Hump Mtn Transfer to Cherokee Nat’l Forest

Close-up of fall leaves on the meadow on the Hump Mountain conservation property.

We have transferred 324 acres on the TN slopes of Hump Mountain to the Cherokee National Forest in the Highlands of Roan, the upper edge of the property extends just 500 ft from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT). Nearby, the AT passes across the grassy balds atop Hump Mountain, affording hikers breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.

“This is an outstanding example of how federal, state and private partners can work together to achieve common goals,”said JaSal Morris, Forest Supervisor, Cherokee National Forest.  “The purchase is a great addition, not only to the Cherokee National Forest land base, but to the entire National Forest System. It will be managed for protection of its exceptional natural resources and the public’s enjoyment of its scenic beauty.”

Read more

Landowner Perspective: Elk Fork

 

Landowner Perspective: Russ and Stacy Oates on Protecting Elk Fork

“Stacy and I came from families that love the outdoors and feel deep connection with wild things and wild places. Growing up on opposite coasts (Stacy in the Napa Valley of California and me in eastern North Carolina), we were both fortunate to have many opportunities to get outside and enjoy the wonders of Nature. We were married in 1984 and, 4 months later, moved to Alaska where I worked as a Wildlife Biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Our two daughters were born in Fairbanks in 1986 and 1988, and we settled into family life.   In 1995, we decided it was time to get some financial advice to ensure that we could afford to send the girls to college and have a chance of being able to retire. The first thing our new financial advisor said to us was “What are your dreams?” Stacy and I shared an interest in wild lands conservation, so we told the advisor about our dream to protect some woodland. His immediate response was “Buy it now or you never will.” Read more

Brushy Knob in the Seven Sisters

In 2018, SAHC purchased 123 acres near Black Mountain, NC, permanently protecting the crest of one of the “Seven Sisters.” Brushy Knob is also known as “Big Piney.” It is the third Sister in the chain of summits straddling the Asheville watershed and Montreat, counting from the southwest to the northeast.

Our purchase of this tract will protect the western flank of Brushy Knob from ever being developed as real estate. Its eastern slopes are already protected by a conservation easement that we have held since 2004 on the 2,450-acre Montreat wilderness.

Brushy Knob is one of a tight cluster of peaks south of Greybeard Mountain that are officially named the Middle Mountains on USGS maps, but which are more commonly known as the Seven Sisters. These mountains form a prominent beloved part of the view from the Town of Black Mountain, the Craggy Mountains, and Swannanoa area east of Asheville. Read more

Yellow Spot – 234 Acres Protected

This summer we purchased 234 acres in the Highlands of Roan, securing high elevation wildlife habitat and permanently protecting a corridor linking our Tompkins Preserve with Pisgah National Forest in Mitchell County. This acquisition at Yellow Spot protects rare plant and animal habitat, wildlife corridors, scenic views, and sources of clean water along an important high elevation ridgeline.

“This property contains a remarkable combination of features that have made it a conservation priority for decades,” explains Marquette Crockett, SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director. “We conserve some properties to preserve exceptional water quality and native trout habitat and we protect others because they contain rare, high elevation open areas or exceptional forest habitat – but Yellow Spot has everything. It’s a microcosm of the Roan Highlands. SAHC’s acquisition of this tract secures a perfect puzzle piece, surrounded by National Forest and protecting the main spine of the Roan Massif.” Read more

526-acre Swannanoa Conservation Easement

In 2018, SAHC accepted a donated conservation easement on 526 acres in Swannanoa owned by Chemtronics, Inc. The conservation easement permanently protects land adjoining Pisgah National Forest, as well as scenic views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I-40 and NC Highway 70.

“This landscape is important to the surrounding Swannanoa community, and we are pleased to be able to permanently protect these ridges,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “The conservation easement area provides important wildlife corridors and will create an undeveloped buffer adjoining other protected lands.”

The forested, steep slopes of the property rise to elevations over 3,580 ft. The tract adjoins a large block of contiguous, protected land in the Black Mountains that includes the Asheville Watershed, Pisgah National Forest, Mount Mitchell State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is located less than a mile away. The Audubon Society’s Black and Great Craggy Mountains Important Bird Area covers a portion of the property. This Important Bird Area provides habitat for a wide variety of species, including: Black-throated Blue warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Pine Siskin, and Dark-eyed Junco. Read more

Strawberry Gap, Stony Point Conservation

We purchased 170 acres in two adjoining tracts at Strawberry Gap and Stony Point near the Eastern Continental Divide  to protect water resources, plant and animal habitat, and scenic views from public trails and scenic byways. We plan to own these properties for the long term and manage the forests to promote resilience, diversity and longevity. Read more

Marshall Watershed – 541 Acres Protected

In northwest Madison County, 541 secluded acres of forest filter miles of clean mountain streams that once provided drinking water to town residents. We worked with the Town of Marshall to permanently protect the Marshall Watershed property with a conservation easement — our sixth project to conserve municipal watershed lands. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund awarded SAHC a grant to protect this tract and its outstanding water resources.

“The Town of Marshall has been committed for years to preserving the Marshall Watershed from development,” said town attorney Jamie Stokes, on behalf of the Town of Marshall. “We are proud to have finalized this project, with the assistance and dedication of SAHC, so that this beautiful landscape and the natural resources thereon will be preserved for many generations to come.” Read more