Scott’s Ridge – 139 Acres

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently closed on purchasing 139 acres for permanent conservation, adjoining the Pisgah National Forest Bent Creek Experimental Forest in Enka, south of Asheville. The property is known as Scott’s Ridge after its mile-long ridgeline bordering the national forest. SAHC will own and manage the property for the long term as a nature preserve.

“The property was being marketed for residential real estate development, and developers were making offers to buy the property,” explains Executive Director Carl Silverstein.  “But thankfully, the seller Enka Land Development One LLC, sold the property to SAHC instead. With development continuing to intensify around Asheville, conserving these 139 acres is a major  ‘win’ for wildlife habitat, water quality and scenic views.” Read more

Strawberry Gap Trail Opening

New Strawberry Gap Hiking Trail

Mike Leonard speaking in front of trailheadThe newest section of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail System opened to the public in September, creating a connection to Blue Ridge Pastures and the Trombatore Trail from a gravel parking lot on Drover’s Road Scenic Byway (US 74) in Gerton. seated guests gathered for trail opening ceremony

This newly opened trail was made possible by partnership between Conserving Carolina, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, and generous conservation-minded landowners.

A small group of guests gathered for the trail dedication and ribbon cutting, honoring the many partners and supporters who have worked for years to bring this trail opening to fruition. The trail is dedicated to the memory of Susie Skinner Clarke Hamilton, who passed away in 2020. 


About the Trail:

This segment of trail stretches a strenuous 3 mile climb from the parking lot at Gerton to the top of Blue Ridge Pastures. Plan for a total of 6 miles if you’re looking to do an out-and-back, or link up with the Trombatore Trail at Blue Ridge Pastures and continue onward for a longer trek. The Strawberry Gap Trail climbs a total 1,200 ft. one way, 1,450 ft. round trip. You’ll want to take a pause about halfway up the trail (at 1.5 miles) to enjoy a scenic vantage point atop Ferguson Peak looking back towards Fairview, Asheville, and distant mountain ranges. Read more

50-Acre Farm Donation in Sandy Mush

Rolling farm hills surrounded by mountainsThe Sandy Mush community has played an important role in conserving productive farmland – for SAHC, Buncombe County, and Western North Carolina. Building trust with landowners in Sandy Mush has enabled us to protect rich bottomland soils designated as important for agriculture and productive farmland across varied terrain in this gem of an Appalachian  community. This year, Jim Gibson generously donated his 50-acre farm in the heart of Sandy Mush to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

Jim has long been interested in farmland preservation and helping young farmers overcome obstacles, and it is fitting that his farm – now permanently protected by SAHC – anchors our conservation work in Sandy Mush. Read more

Reems Creek Bowl

The summits of the Craggy and Black Mountains cap the horizon of Reems Creek Valley just outside Weaverville, NC. It is a stunning backdrop that epitomizes what we love about the southern Appalachians. An important side ridge off the crest of the Craggies was recently for sale and could have been purchased for development, which would have detracted from Pisgah National Forest and conserved land just west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fortunately, this beautiful 229-acre tract is now an SAHC-owned nature preserve. Wildlife will continue to roam the mountainside, and headwater streams of Reems Creek will flow pristine while people enjoy the beautiful forested views for many years to come. Read more

Stanback Fellows from Duke University

This summer we welcomed two Stanback Fellow interns from the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, Claire Elias and Annabelle White. The Stanback Fellowship Program is a partnership between the Nicholas School of the Environment and non-profit environmental organizations. The purpose of the program is to provide students with significant project-based learning experiences in energy, conservation, advocacy, policy, research and applied resource management. The program is made possible by the generous support of Fred and Alice Stanback. Read more

Dutch Cove – 157 Acres in Haywood County

Near the head of Dutch Cove in Haywood County, only a few miles south of the heavy traffic on I-40, but seemingly a world away, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently purchased a secluded cove with sweeping mountain views, forested slopes, and historic log structures in a pastoral setting. We are grateful for the many generous supporters who enabled the preservation of the natural and cultural resources of this special place! Read more

Robinson Creek – Family, legacy, mountain coves and memories

Photo by Courtland White

In the northwest corner of Buncombe County, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has been working for decades to preserve a network of protected farmland and forests for future generations. Families with long-standing history in the area have spent generations loving, working, stewarding and being sustained by the land. They feel a sense of commitment to the land because it connects them with the people that they love, and we are grateful they have partnered with SAHC in permanently protecting this special place.

This year, Fred and Donna Pratt worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to protect 82 acres of land in Sandy Mush through a conservation easement. Fred inherited the land from a much larger tract his grandfather once owned – much of which has already been protected by his uncle and aunts – Bill and Mabel Duckett, and Myrtle Duckett. The tract connects to SAHC’s Robinson Rough Preserve and other conserved lands, helping to secure an unfragmented landscape in this beautiful corner of the county.

Photo by Michael Fredericks

“As you get more generations in the same family, the land tends to be split up and sold off,” observes Fred. “I think that it’s great work that SAHC is doing. It had to be a pretty good organization for my uncle [Bill Duckett] to get involved; there had to be trust and understanding built before he conserved his property. My uncle was one of my best friends. He’d talk with me about a lot of things, and that was one of the things we talked about – the conservancy and protecting the land.”

The recently protected tract contains a portion of the main branch of Robinson Creek and one of its headwater tributaries. Robinson Creek flows into Sandymush Creek, a tributary of the French Broad River.

“Establishing connections among conservation lands is a critical factor in protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “The ridgelines along Sandymush Bald and Little Sandymush Bald, and the mountainsides and coves laying in their shadow, exemplify SAHC’s dedication to securing these connections. The Robinson Creek property is part of over 1,800 acres of protection there, including conservation easements completed with Bill & Mabel Duckett and Myrtle Duckett. Our work in this landscape expands on the impressive Duckett and Pratt family legacy of conservation, and I am personally proud to be a part of it.”

Photo by Michael Fredericks

Although all of this 82-acre property is wooded, with some steep areas, it was once part of a family farm totaling several hundred acres which provided sustenance and livelihood for the Duckett family. Fred fondly remembers his experiences working on the farm with his grandfather and uncle. He plans to keep the property in the family and pass it on to someone else, but is glad that the conservation easement means it will remain protected in the future.

“Conserving the beautiful Robinson Creek property in Sandy Mush adds to the contiguous protected landscape of the Sandy Mush Community and helps to further Buncombe County’s Land Conservation Goal of protecting 20% of Buncombe County by 2030,” says Ariel Zijp, Soil and Water Conservation Farmland Preservation Manager.

The landowners donated a portion of the value of the conservation easement to accomplish permanent conservation of the land, and SAHC was awarded a grant from Buncombe County to cover a portion of the transaction costs. We are grateful to all of our members and philanthropic leaders for helping to secure another important piece of this landscape!

Connection to Farming and Family – Landowner Perspective: Fred Pratt

Fred says that preserving his family’s legacy was one reason he wanted to do a conservation easement with SAHC. The other reason, he adds, is that “Here in Buncombe County there is a lot of pressure on landowners, particularly farmland owners, to sell for development, and I think we should try to save some of that property so it’s not all built on.”

Fred recalls how connected he felt to the land because of frequent experiences visiting his grandparents’ farm and home place, although he mostly grew up in the Oakley community east of downtown Asheville close to where his father and mother both taught school.

“My grandfather farmed for a living, and my uncle Bill Duckett was the same way – he loved it,” remembers Fred. “They grew tobacco, corn, beef cattle, and hay. Their cash crops were mostly beef cattle and tobacco, but they were pretty well self-sufficient. They always had a garden for produce and would put up all kinds of beans, corn, and stuff from the garden. They had chickens for eggs and meat, milk cows, and a couple of hogs. The old house where my grandparents lived didn’t have a bathroom in it for most of their lives; they always had an outhouse. My grandmother cooked on a wood cookstove and used the old ringer type washing machine to wash clothes. They would go to the store for flour, sugar and coffee, and there was a store at the junction of Ball Creek and Willow Creek where people would bring their corn once a week to grind into corn meal.”

“As a little boy, I remember grandfather and Bill driving cattle from around where they lived up Robinson Cove to where they could go on up the mountain, to Sandy Mush Bald, so the cattle could eat the grass on the mountain,” recalls Fred.  “They went up every week or so to check on them. They’d carry up salt – the cattle loved the salt – and call them in to check them over and treat any illness or injury, and make sure they were all there. It was a good day when they would all come when you called. But if not, you’d have to go and find them – there might have been two or three that became separated from the rest, and you’d have to walk all over those 200+ acres until you found them.”

Fred helped on many occasions. His legs weren’t as long as his uncle’s and grandfather’s, and when hunting for lost cattle he remembers it felt like “they walked me to death.”

As the oldest grandchild, Fred admits his grandparents “spoiled me a bit.”

“I’d go out there and stay, and even stayed all one summer with them,” he remembers. “I thought it was wonderful and that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. Then I realized what I thought was fun at the time was really hard, hard work – and I went a different direction with my career. But we had regular family gatherings out there. When my grandparents were still healthy we would go out every Sunday afternoon to have a meal and sit out on the big porch, talking and enjoying the visit.”

“Farming was a hard way to make a living,” says Fred. “But 60 years ago or so things moved more slowly. It was hard work, but at the end of the day you could see what you had accomplished. I enjoy talking about the property out there and the family, keeping those memories and feelings alive.  Honoring them, that history, that legacy is important.”

Ballard Cove – 63 Acres

A lot of good in this world is done by people who see a problem and say to themselves, “I’m going to do something to help with that.” Or, who take the time to thoughtfully examine a situation from different facets, consider changes over long periods of time, and then take action to create a positive impact – for the planet and their community.

Leonard Wiener is just such a person. A long-time resident of Western North Carolina, Leonard has watched the landscape change across the region over many decades. He and his wife Thais moved to the area from East Tennessee in 1968 and purchased acreage in the secluded, beautiful Ballard Branch Cove near Weaverville, NC in 1975. They built a home designed to sustainably use passive solar orientation and geothermal mass to meet much of their heating and cooling needs. Concerned about the impact of intense development on fragile mountain slopes and watershed drainages, Leonard wanted to ensure that the land they had loved and cared for could be preserved for future generations. In 2020, he contacted Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy about donating a conservation easement to protect the property.

“People have to live somewhere,” says Leonard, “but there’s got to be a better way than the intense development we see overtaking the valleys and ridges.”

As a retired geologist, Leonard has a deep connection with the land and the ancient rocks that make up these venerable mountains.

“To me, this place reflects much of what makes this region special,” says Leonard. “Each space has its own interesting perks and characteristics. We loved the location at the end of the cove; it’s very secluded. There are a fair number of boulder outcrops and rock exposures. Being a geologist, I’ve done a lot of bedrock mapping in WNC and East TN, and I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the rocks up here. Rocks are old friends.”

Protecting Forest, Water Resources

This year, Leonard completed the donation of a conservation easement on 63 acres in Ballard Cove in the Reems Creek watershed, permanently protecting the forest and mountain slopes. The property contains four intermittent headwater tributaries of Jimmie Branch, a trout stream that flows into Reems Creek, which is a major tributary of the French Broad River.

Reaching 3,400 ft. in elevation, the tract encompasses approximately 55 acres of mixed hardwood forest, rocky boulder areas, and almost two acres of open pastures once used for grazing bison. One of the former pastures is now in an early successional forest phase.

The donated conservation easement adds to a network of protected land and important wildlife habitat in the vicinity, which includes the Woodfin Watershed Conservation Easement, SAHC’s Snowball Mountain Preserve, Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other conserved land.

The Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board (LCAB) contributed $34,237 to help cover transaction costs (such as a survey and appraisal) for completion of the project.

“I’m so excited that we were able to help, and grateful that Leonard chose to protect this land,” says LCAB Vice-Chair Nancy Nehls Nelson. “Leonard is such a wonderful person and part of the community, and a great partner in conservation. I first met him many years ago at a meeting where folks were discussing how to stop the spread of invasive species. He embodies the essence of people that value the mountains, trees, and water.”

Both Leonard and Nancy describe the land as precious – and now these precious resources are permanently protected for the benefit of wildlife and future generations.

“The Ballard Cove project is a perfect example of a landowner that has made a lifelong commitment to land stewardship and natural resource conservation within Buncombe County,” says Ariel Zijp, Farmland Preservation Manager for Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation. “This project aligns closely with the Buncombe County 2025 Strategic Plan Environmental and Energy Stewardship Focus Area, Preserve Farmland and Environmentally Sensitive Tracts of Land Goal, and helps to continue to preserve our working lands and natural resources of Buncombe County.”

Memories of the Land

“This property was known locally because it was part of the Weaverville Art Safari, a self-guided event in which people are invited to tour artists’ studios and homes,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Leonard’s late wife, Thais, was a talented jewelry artist whose work was part of the tour, and the former bison farm on the property was an attraction for many people on the tour.”

Thais was one of the founders and first members of the Weaverville Art Safari, and her passion for American bison led to the creation of Blue Ridge Bison. Thais passed away in 2019, a beloved member of the community and brilliant artist.

“We raised bison here for over 22 years,” recalls Leonard. “At first, neither of us knew anything about raising them. We started by joining the National Buffalo Association and traveling to see other bison ranches, attending seminars, and learning from other people. We spent a couple of years learning before we got our first animals. Then, we grew from a couple of young cows and one bull to a herd of about three dozen. They were very popular with visitors on the Weaverville Art Safari and other folks who came to visit. In our later years, we phased out the herd and had the last buffalo here in 2014. I’ve planted a lot of hardwood seedlings in the old pasture areas, and this young reforested space will be good for different types of species.”

Chestnut Mountain Nature Park

SAHC and HandUp Gloves tents displays

Vendors and organizations participated in the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park Grand Opening on April 23.

On Saturday, April 23, 2022 the  Town of Canton hosted a public opening for the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park on Hwy 19-23. Situated as a park-within-a-park, the mountain biking Berm Park simultaneously opened the public. The family-friendly grand opening event included live music, outdoor retailers, and more. A wide variety of visitors, including local residents and folks who had traveled from other states for the opening, enjoyed the park with bright skies on a sunny, warm spring day!

Ribbon cutting, group assembled at gateway

Ribbon cutting at opening ceremony April 22. Photo by Michelle Pugliese.

The busy public grand opening day followed a formal ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, April 22, which celebrated the many partners and funders whose work over several years led to the successful park opening. The ribbon cutting ceremony included guest speakers: Canton Town Mayor Zeb Smathers, Town Manager Nick Scheuer, SAHC Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter, Senator Kevin Corbin (NC Senate, District 50), Representative Mark Pless (NC House of Representatives, District 118), NC Land and Water Fund Western Field Representative Damon Hearne, Berm Park founder Seth Alvo  (Berm Peak YouTube channel), and The Wildlands Network NC Project Manager Nikki Robinson.  NC Rep. Mark Pless, NC Sen. Kevin Corbin, and NC Sen. Chuck Edwards were recognized for their role in helping with the creation of the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park and the future Pisgah View State Park, both in Haywood County.

Chestnut Mountain Nature Park ribbon cutting (video)

We are grateful to all the generous supporters, dedicated partners, and thoughtful leaders who have guided and contributed to the creation of this special place. This success story was made possible by the efforts of many helping hands, including public input into park plans and volunteer work days. We look forward to sharing future developments over the coming years!

For more info, including park open times and visitor info, visit theChestnut Mountain Nature Park Facebook page or ChestnutMountainNaturePark.com

View Media Coverage of the park opening at:

Smoky Mountain News

The Mountaineer

WLOS

About Chestnut Mountain Nature Park:

Chestnut Mountain stone and wood gateway

Gateway into Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Photo by Michelle Pugliese.

“We cannot think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than the opening of this incredible conservation and recreation project,” says Nick Scheuer, town manager. “The importance of Chestnut Mountain Nature Park cannot be overstated and its impact on wildlife protection, quality of life improvements and economic development will impact generations to come.  None of this would be possible without our incredible partners at Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.”

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased the 450-acre Chestnut Mountain property in 2020 in an ambitious endeavor to pair permanent protection of habitat and water resources with creation of a conservation-friendly, community-centric space for outdoor recreation.  The Town of Canton engaged Equinox Environmental to lead a master planning process for the park, including community input sessions, and Elevated Trail Design worked on trail design for the property. Seth Alvo, creator of the Berm Peak YouTube channel and Seth’s Bike Hacks, galvanized his followers to support development of Berm Park — a mountain biking oasis and park-within-a-park at Chestnut Mountain Nature Park.

Michelle Pugliese and Brad Kee at Berm Park signs

SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese and Brad Kee, of Kee Mapping and Surveying, at the Berm Park entrance.

“Berm Park is a free, public bike park,” says Alvo. “While it’s just a tiny part of Chestnut Mountain, it will be a big part of the community. Funds to build Berm Park were provided by sponsoring companies and crowd-sourced from Patreon and YouTube followers, who watched the park come to life, week by week and stage by stage, on the internet. The collaboration between recreation and conservation here at Chestnut Mountain will remain an example for other communities in how working together can make big projects come to life. Chestnut Mountain and Berm Park now serve as assets to the area, strengthening the community’s health through recreation, and enriching the lives of many.”

bear tracks in mudLocated in an important wildlife corridor, the large property includes diverse ecological communities, streams that flow into Hominy Creek, and the top of Chestnut Mountain. A portion of the tract was once slated for a motorsports speedway. Although that project never developed, grading work done for the speedway created a space well-suited for mountain bike and hiking trails. Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy partnered with the Town of Canton and an excited group of partners and funders to bring to fruition this vision — a nature park in which habitat and water resources are permanently protected by conservation easements, with areas open for people to enjoy, explore, and learn about nature.

Chestnut Mountain view

The 450-acre Chestnut Mountain property contains a variety of natural communities. Photo by Adams Wood.

“Forested ridgelines and coves provide diverse habitat for plants and animals,” says Hanni Muerdter,  Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s conservation director. “This land contains a mosaic of habitat types, with pockets of 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. We look forward to continuing to study patterns of wildlife movement across the land with our partners at The Wildlands Network. We’re also excited about the potential for the property to be an educational outdoor classroom. The Berm Park biking skills course was placed in a good location because that area was already disturbed, and the majority of the rest of the property will be reserved for forested habitat and single-track trails.”

In 2022, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy transferred ownership of the land to the Town of Canton, but the nationally accredited nonprofit land trust will continue to monitor the conservation easements permanently protecting the tract in perpetuity. Conservation easements held by the State of NC and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy ensure that the natural resources of the land will remain protected for future generations.

Chestnut mountain peak

Chestnut Mountain photo by Stephanie Long.

At the grand opening, approximately 35 acres of the total 450-acre tract opened to the public. This area includes the mountain biking skills course at Berm Park and a mixed use (hiking and biking) trail that climbs approx. 350 ft. from the parking lot and pedestrian bridge which forms a gateway into the property. The Town of Canton continues to secure funding and plan for infrastructure development outlined in the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park master plan along with other pertinent information. Future hiking trails, recreation areas, and park amenities will open over the next two years.

“While we are excited to open up Chestnut Mountain in its first phase,” continues Scheuer, “this park is very much a work in progress, and we look forward to unveiling trails and amenities throughout the park that every user will be able to enjoy. The Town of Canton is partnering with Haywood Waterways Association on a stream restoration project along Hominy Creek. The next phase of park development will include hiking and biking specific trails, picnic pavilion, kids bicycle playground, scenic overlooks and more. There’s a lot to be excited about this month and in the future.”

Town of Canton:

Town of Canton logoNestled in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains on the Pigeon River and a mere 20 miles from downtown Asheville is Canton, NC, a historic mill town with unmatched character and pride. The Town of Canton boasts a relatively mild climate, a fascinating history & picturesque surroundings full of recreation opportunities for the young or the young at heart. More info at www.CantonNC.com.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy:

SAHC logoThe Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is a nationally accredited, non-profit land trust conserving land and water resources in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Since 1974, SAHC has protected over 80,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic views, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation. SAHC’s acquisition of the Chestnut Mountain property was made possible with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the NC Attorney General’s Office’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, many private donors, and loans from the The Conservation Fund and from Hudson Land and Timber LLC. More info at Appalachian.org.

Berm Park:

Berm Park is a free, public bike park made possible by the town of Canton, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and most critically, people from all over the world who donated to fund the park. Half of funds to build Berm Park were contributed by sponsors: Diamondback Bicycles, Competitive Cyclist, Athletic Brewing, Dror Bezalel, and Park Tool Company. The other half of funds to build Berm Park were crowd-sourced from Patreon and YouTube followers, who watched the park come to life, week by week and stage by stage, on the internet. Berm Park was designed and built by local professional trail contractor Elevated Trail Design. More info at Youtube.com/c/SethsBikeHacks

Crabtree Bald Donated Conservation Easement

Photo by Michael Fredericks, Carolinas Nature Photographers Association

We are grateful to Ann and John Geers for donating a conservation easement on 120 acres of their property on the northwestern flank of Crabtree Bald — including high quality open spaces and forested natural communities. And we thank all our generous conservation donors and to the Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of WNC for supporting this project. The donated conservation easement is located within a growing network of land protected by SAHC in Haywood and western Buncombe County. Preserving habitat connections along these mountain ridges is important to provide corridors for wildlife to move and resilience to climate change.

Photo by Michael Fredericks, Carolinas Nature Photographers Association

The property encompasses a scenic cove with numerous types of hardwood trees and rocky outcrops on the western slope of Crabtree Bald massif. It is visible from the Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway (NC-209). Landowners Ann and John Geers loved nature and wanted to preserve the landscape, so they volunteered to donate a conservation easement to permanently protect their land.

“It is unique when landowners want to fully donate a conservation easement in an area of this significance,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “This donation helps leverage our resources. Putting our time and energy into full donations in priority areas makes for good projects and organization effectiveness.”

The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of WNC awarded a grant to pay for conservation easement survey. Read more