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
Unique habitat and clean water conservation project paired with exciting potential for outdoor recreation! We have purchased 448 acres at Chestnut Mountain near the Town of Canton, permanently protecting sources of clean water and forested habitat in an important wildlife corridor. SAHC plans to give the conserved property to the Town of Canton, after we finish raising funds that are needed to re-pay a bridge loan we took out to buy the property. This will create the possibility for easily accessible outdoor recreation just off US Hwy 19/23 and Interstate 40.
“This property is dynamic, with a mosaic of habitat types – which is really good for wildlife – and different settings for people to enjoy various types of experiences on the land,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The property starts at 2,360 feet elevation at Hwy 19/23 and then rises to 3,400 feet at the peak of Chestnut Mountain. At the higher elevations, forested ridgelines and coves situated in an important wildlife corridor provide exceptional habitat for plants and animals. It contains pockets of gentle mature hardwood forest with laurel and rhododendron, forested slopes facing a variety of directions, and an open field and early successional edge area beneficial for birds. The amount of wildlife activity on the tract is truly impressive!” Read more
Two new acquisitions in Roaring Creek join our network of protected land in the Highlands of Roan. These two tracts adjoin other SAHC preserves on the slopes of Big Yellow Mountain, together protecting hundreds of acres of northern hardwood and high elevation red oak forests, rising up to the boundary of the Big Yellow Mountain Preserve, co-managed by SAHC with our partners at The Nature Conservancy.
Most of these properties are within the Big Yellow Mountain Natural Area and are part of the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. They contain thousands of linear feet of tributary streams and headwater seeps, feeding into Roaring Creek. The North Toe River and Roaring Creek have been identified as critical to protecting water quality in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and the watershed supports a host of rare species, including the Federally Endangered Appalachian Elktoe mussel. Read more
Byrd 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
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
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 Carolina, N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services.
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.”
The 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.”
The 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.
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
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.”
SAHC 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).
Virtual Tour of Haw Orchard Ridge
SAHC and our partners at the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative are working to restore spruce-fir forests on this preserve, with support from a small grant program from the Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative and the Land Trust Alliance. On a bright spring morning, our staff was thrilled to do the initial bird point count surveys for this property. How many species can you hear calling in the video?
PLEASE NOTE: The camera could not pickup all the bird calls that were being heard at that time. For example; at 0:28 Marquette identifies a ruffed grouse off in the distance while the camera only detects the call of a dark eyed junco. Similarly at 2:10 Marquette identifies a Canada Warbler visually while you can hear the song of a veery.
In 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
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