Brown Family Farm

Cattle in pasture at forest edgeThe Buncombe County Farm Heritage trails winds through scenic farming communities in the Leicester, Sandy Mush, and Alexander areas of the county. Now, views of rolling pastures and forested hillsides along the farm trail at the Brown Family Farm have been permanently protected. Thank you to all the SAHC members and supporters who have made farmland preservation possible here and throughout the region!

“The Brown Family Farm is a great example of farmland protection working for conservation-minded landowners,” says Farmland Conservation Director Jess Laggis. “Margaret and Grover Brown wanted to retire from farming, and their twin sons, Robert and Stephen (and wife Angela), wanted to expand the existing cattle operation. The easement provides the means for this  farm operation to continue without the need to parcelize the land and inhibit the next generation’s farm use. AND, it’s just stunning, and anchors the viewshed on both sides of South Turkey Creek Road, a route beloved by motorists and cyclists for its scenery.”

The 175 acres now permanently protected at the farm contain important agricultural soils, undeveloped forested and nonforested habitat for wildlife, frontage along South Turkey Creek Road, and stream corridors. The land has been in agricultural use for as long as anyone can remember. The current Brown Family Farm was established in 1952, originally organized as a dairy farm.

Brown family members and farmland conservation partners on site visit to farm“The farm is a 4th generation family farm,” says Angela Brown on behalf of the family. “The farm was a dairy farm until 1995 when the dairy industry in western North Carolina took a downturn. In 1995 the farm converted to beef, tobacco and hay production. We no longer grow tobacco, and the farm is now focused on beef cattle and hay production. Our hope is that Grover will be able to ease into retirement, but for the time being he is still actively farming as he has for years. Stephen and Robert have stepped in to help Grover to continue on the farm work into the future, and they plan to continue farming. Our goal of preserving our farmland is to keep it a farm from now on as our family and family before wanted.”

Conservation of the farm was made possible by a grant from the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture, Brad and Shelli Stanback, a grant from Buncombe County, and donation of a portion of the conservation easement value by the landowners. Mountain Valley RC&D helped SAHC secure grant funding from NC Dept. Agriculture to make this project possible.

“We are incredibly excited that through dedication from SAHC and partnership with Buncombe Land Conservation Advisory Board’s transaction cost funding, both Brown Family Farm and Full Sun Farm will be protected permanently as working farmlands,” says Ariel Zijp, Farmland Preservation Coordinator. “By protecting these two properties, SAHC will bridge gaps in designated priority regions of Farmland as well as strengthen relationships with conservation partners and land stewards in the community.”

Partner Perspective: Buncombe County Farmland Conservation, Ariel Zijp, Farmland Preservation Coordinator

Protected farmland in Sandy Mush community of Buncombe County“As Asheville grows as a tourist destination, and development soars, Farmland Preservation is a high priority for Buncombe County. Land Protection completed by our non-profit land trust partners aligns strongly with the Buncombe County 2025 Strategic Plan Goal: Preserve farmland and environmentally sensitive tracts of land. By protecting Farmland, we are not only protecting land from development, but we are also protecting farm family’s livelihoods, protecting fertile agricultural soils which took a thousand years to form, protecting scenic mountain viewsheds which draws millions of tourists a year, protecting Asheville’s vibrant foodshed on which the restaurant industry depends, and securing land access to farming generations to come. Thank you to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for continuing to move forward this imperative land protection mission.”

 

Full Sun Farm

fields and forest area at Full Sun Farm

Full Sun Farm, Sandy Mush, NC. Photo Credit Michael L. Pittman

Vanessa Campbell and Alex Brown have a passion for growing fresh, healthy produce. They enjoy being outdoors, and bring that joy to their farming endeavors at Full Sun Farm. Looking toward the future, they wanted to ensure that the land would continue to be available for farming for future generations. This year they donated a conservation easement on 32 acres of their farm in the Sandy Mush Community of Buncombe County, and plan to work with SAHC to protect the remainder of the farm as well.

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Rogers Cove – 236 MORE Acres

view of farm and mountains from aboveMark and Laura Rogers worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to protect 236 more acres of beautiful farmland in the Crabtree community of Haywood County. These agricultural conservation easements join land that they and other members of the Rogers family worked with SAHC to conserve in 2017 – bringing the total of protected farmland in Rogers Cove to 620 acres! In addition to protecting productive agricultural land for future generations, farmland preservation in the cove protects scenic views from Crabtree Bald and Crabtree Mountain Road.

Farmland conservation projects can take many years to come to fruition. Mark and Laura had planned for this property to be permanently protected when they began working on conservation efforts with SAHC and other family members several years ago.

“Conservation of this land and the previous project were intertwined; they were really planned together from the beginning,” says Laura. Researching conservation options 15 years, Mark contacted SAHC in 2006 and embarked on an ambitious effort to secure farmland which had been in the Rogers family for generations and prevent future loss to subdivision and development. Read more

Salamander Plots at the SAHC Community Farm

Child is crouched down, placing a label on a cross section slice of a small tree. There is a hammer to the right of the slice. The child is wearing a black raincoat and grey and orange sweatpants.

Student of French Broad River Academy installing salamander plots, courtesy of Tamarya Sims

There has been lots of buzz on the SAHC Community Farm about our new salamander plot program. This program was piloted by Tamarya Sims, our Community Farm Associate. Western North Carolina is often considered the salamander capital of the world. Despite this, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find salamanders in the region due to declining populations across all amphibian species. This is why Tamarya felt that the moist areas near the creek on SAHC’s Community farm would be perfect for salamander plots.

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7,500 Acre Donation – Update

waterfall - photo credit Tim SweeneyA generous conservation philanthropist has committed to donate a 7,500-acre preserve in the Roan to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in 2022. Conservation of this globally-significant mountain preserve will significantly boost habitat conservation efforts in the region. We are honored and extremely grateful to have been chosen as the guardians of this biological gem, and look forward to telling you more about the creation of South Yellow Mountain Preserve in the next year!

The philanthropist assembled dozens of contiguous land holdings over the past decade, which will be combined into the new SAHC preserve. The boundary, which is more than 32 miles long, is being surveyed now. The land straddles the border of Avery and Mitchell counties in Western North Carolina, and rises to 5,300 ft. in elevation. Situated within the southern end of the planning boundary of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, a special conservation area designated by the NC General Assembly in 2008 to protect the exceptional natural features found there, the land supports numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species. The property includes one of the largest American Chestnut restoration projects in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heathbalds.

Map of donation area and national trailsTransfer of the gift is expected to be completed in the next year. SAHC will own the land and manage it as a nature preserve. If you’ve visited the Roan Highlands, you’ve probably enjoyed views of this 7,500-acre assemblage from popular vantage points within public lands — including Round Bald and the observation deck at the rhododendron gardens.

“This is the largest single gift in SAHC’s history, and the largest gift of land to a land trust in NC,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “Strategic acquisition of large parcels of land is  increasingly important for climate resilience and protection of water sources — and increasingly hard to accomplish as privately owned parcels continue to be subdivided and developed. These 7,500 acres include some of the most sought-after conservation acres in the eastern United States, including over 100 miles of pristine creeks and streams. We really are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility to steward this vast mountain complex.”

Even before his first acquisition here in 2012, longtime SAHC member Tim Sweeney envisioned assembling these parcels into a unified block of land with the intention of conserving the entire mountain ecosystem. With this gift the philanthropist’s dream has become a reality for the benefit of future generations.

What Happens Next?

As due diligence steps on the project continue within the coming year, SAHC staff will work with partners to create a management plan for the preserve and ensure that the fragile natural resources of the land are protected forever.

“Permanent protection of this vast unbroken area with diverse habitat areas secures connectivity for critical wildlife corridors,” says Jay Leutze, SAHC’s Advisor to the Board. “The scale of a conservation gift of this size is important on a global level and will be a benefit to the entire region. We look forward to continuing to work in  partnership with others in the landscape as we plan for managing this property.”

Find out more!

For an informative history of conservation efforts across the Highlands of Roan and more details about this incredible project in-progress, visit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s
YouTube channel and or watch the video below, which was presented in June 2021 as part of our annual June Jamobree —  “7,500 Acres in the Highlands of Roan – Virtual Lunch and Learn.”

Salamanders in the Swannanoa Mountains

Desmognathus-monticola - salamander close-up

Desmognathus monticola, photo credit Tom Ward.

Have you seen a salamander lately? These vibrantly speckled and spotted amphibians come bearing good news. If you’ve seen them in an area you have hiked or explored, the water quality and habitat of that area is probably pretty good! Salamanders are sensitive to environmental changes, so finding an abundance of salamanders means the land and water are healthy for other species, too — including humans. Conservationist Tom Ward has discovered that night is the best time to photograph these shy but enchanting creatures.

 

Desmognathus-quadramaculatus - salamander

Desmognathus quadramaculatus, photo credit Tom Ward.

“My great-grandfather built a cabin on the property 95 years ago, and the property has been in my family ever since,” recalls Tom. His family wanted to ensure that this special place was never developed, so they worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) to permanently protect 114 acres with a conservation easement in 2011. A mile and half of stream corridor through the property creates excellent habitat for salamanders. With a Masters degree in biology, Tom has a particular interest in documenting species on the property and has reported his findings to the NC Natural Heritage Program, contributing to citizen science in the state. So far he has identified 10 species of salamander on the family’s protected land. Read more

SAHC to Accept Donation of 7,500 Acres in Roan Highlands

Press Release – April 22, 2021

 

SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN HIGHLANDS CONSERVANCY SIGNS LETTER TO ACCEPT DONATION OF 7,500 ACRES IN THE ROAN HIGHLANDS

Conservation of the globally-significant mountain adds to extensive land trust and public agency efforts in the region

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) announced today that they have signed a letter of intent to accept the donation of approximately 7,500 acres of land in the Roan Highlands landscape from a conservation philanthropist. The tract lies within the southern end of the planning boundary of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, a special conservation area designated by the NC General Assembly in 2008 to protect the exceptional nat­ural features found there. Read more

Roan Mountain Gateway

View of open areas on Roan Mountain Gateway

Roan Mountain Gateway, photo credit Dan Belanger, USDA Forest Service

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently transferred 91 acres to the USDA Forest Service, adding to public lands just south of the popular Carvers Gap area on the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Collectively known as the Roan Mountain Gateway, these 91 acres encompass the last privately-owned land on NC Hwy 261 before reaching Carvers Gap.

The Roan Mountain Gateway is prominent in views from Round Bald and Jane Bald, iconic locations along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the Highlands of Roan. The land contains high elevation habitat, including restored habitat for neo-tropical migratory Golden-winged Warblers and other species, as well as headwater tributaries that flow into local trout streams. Read more

Mathes Farm

Stewardship AmeriCorps member on site visit to propertyThanks to conservation supporters like you, 45 more acres of farmland and forest in Avery County in the Highlands of Roan have been permanently protected.

Mathes farm map with location in Highlands of Roan“Visitors and residents of the Roan enjoy stunning scenic views,which include portions of the Mathes Farm in Beech Bottom,” says Farmland Program Director Jess Laggis. “Development of this tract could have devastated views of Yellow Mountain from 19E and from Yellow Mountain, and from the motor route of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Now, these stunning views are protected, and the land can continue to be used for farming for future generations.”

The property owned by Rickie and Shannonrae Mathes hosts a Boer goat operation called “Sh-Nanny-Gans.” Shannonrae says that Boer goats are a particularly excellent, large breed of goats. Read more

Pyatt Creek

SAHC accepted transfer of 36 acres of conserved land, located at the headwaters of Pyatt Creek in the Highlands of Roan, from the North American Land Trust (NALT). This Pyatt Creek preserve is located in a network of land SAHC has protected in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.

The Pyatt Creek property in the Yellow Mountain State Natural area reaches 4,080 ft. in elevation and contains exemplary native habitat and pristine headwater sources, including a headwater tributary and portion of the main branch of Pyatt Creek.

map of Pyatt Creek tract and surrounding area“SAHC’s acquisition of this property continues our ongoing work in the Yellow Mountain State Natural area, securing high elevation habitat and water sources in a network of conserved land,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This tract is about a mile south of our Yellow Mountain Connector project, in which SAHC protected a  conglomerate of small, high elevation parcels in 2019. Land protection often reminds me of putting together a puzzle – we work with willing landowners whenever possible to protect tracts that contain important habitat and water resources. Over time, it is exciting to see these puzzle pieces come together in a connected network that permanently secures wildlife corridors, watersheds, and wide scenic views.”

The Pyatt Creek preserve is located within the NC Natural Heritage Program Yellow  Mountains/Raven Cliffs Natural Area, within the Grandfather Unaka Priority Amphibian Reptile Conservation Area, and state priority forest types identified on the property include Rich Montane Seeps, Northern Hardwood Forest, and High Elevation Red Oak Forest. Read more