Future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park

Volunteers clean up debris around Hominy CreekTrails are shaping up at the future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park in Haywood County! When SAHC purchased the 448-acre tract in 2020, we obtained a loan to complete funding for the acquisition. We will be able to retire the remaining loan in 2022 and complete the transfer of the property to the Town of Canton. The new park will tentatively open in spring of 2022.

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 a bridge loan from the The Conservation Fund.

We are grateful to partners at Haywood Waterways Association, Inc. and volunteers who helped clean up debris in and around Hominy Creek at the base of the property.  The large debris resulted from flooding from Tropical Storm Fred, which had a devastating impact on Haywood County and damaged property upstream.

Hanni and Jay accepting Dogwood Award in RaleighThe office of NC Attorney General Josh Stein honored Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy with a 2021 Dogwood Award for our work conserving land and water that will be enjoyed by generations as the future Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Congratulations to our amazing team, gratitude to our partners the Town of Canton and Haywood County, and thank you to all the incredible conservation supporters who make this work possible!

For more information about the history of this project and Chestnut Mountain, CLICK HERE.

Update – Future Pisgah View State Park

The future Pisgah View State Park in western North Carolina is beginning to take shape. The centerpiece of the unit will be created from land owned by the Cogburn family since the late 1700s. The family opened Pisgah View Ranch in 1941, and it became a beloved spot for generations of guests to gather for events and outdoor recreation. In 2019, the Cogburn family decided to sell the land to the state of NC for creation of a new state park – the first in Buncombe County. Thanks to an allocation in the NC state budget passed this year, the planned acquisition of land for the park could be completed within two years.

The Process of Creating a State Park

Pisgah View Ranch in foregound, Newmans forested tract in left backgroundNC state parks are funded mostly through the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), and the Land and Water Fund, private donations, and, on the rare occasion, special appropriations. Timing for completing acquisitions for the future park depends in part on the total amount designated for PARTF in the state budget each biennium.

“Each year, the division of parks and recreation will request Parks and Recreation Trust Fund monies to purchase the initial lands for the park,” said Katie Hall, public information officer for the division. “How quickly we purchase the lands for the park will depend on balancing priorities across the park system and annual funding to PARTF from the General Assembly.”

“Since the 2008 recession the state’s trust funds have been woefully underfunded,” according to SAHC board advisor Jay Leutze. “Initially the timeline for acquiring over 1500 acres for the future Pisgah View State Park was up to five years. However, with the passage of the NC state budget in November it looks like that acquisition will be completed sooner rather than later.” The budget included a specific appropriation of funds for acquisition of land for the future Pisgah View State Park.  The budget also included significant increases for the state’s three trust funds for land and water conservation, parks and recreation, and farmland preservation. Read more

150 Acres for Roan Mountain State Park

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy  recently purchased 150 acres adjoining Roan Mountain State Park, protecting habitat resources and streams in the Doe River watershed. This important natural area at Sugar Hollow in Carter County, TN, will be added to the park in the future, providing potential to expand trails and create backcountry camping sites.

“I’m thrilled that we are helping our partners at Tennessee State Parks expand one of the most beloved parks in the state,” says Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s land protection director. “From the higher elevations on the property where you can enjoy views of the Roan Massif to the beautiful stretch of stream, this property offers exciting opportunities for people to connect with nature.” Read more

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. Read more

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.

Read more

Crabtree Bald

Map of Chestnut mountain and surround conservation landsSouthern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 166 acres in northwestern Haywood County, including forested slopes of Crabtree Bald. The property is located in a region where we and partners have been conserving forested ridges and productive valley farms for more than two decades, preserving a network of undeveloped land in Sandy Mush, Crabtree, and the Newfound Mountains in order to protect wildlife habitat, water sources, and farmland.

“This property was listed on the real estate market and could have been purchased for development,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “SAHC’s acquisition of the land adds a large block of protected acreage to the growing network of protected land in this area and helps secure a corridor for wildlife to travel along the mountains. The mix of forested habitat support a variety of species.” Read more

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

Hollybush Gap

Stream on Hollybush Gap propertySAHC recently purchased 17 acres at Hollybush Gap, a privately owned in-holding surrounded by Cherokee National Forest. SAHC will transfer this tract to the national forest in the next year or so, closing a notable gap within our public lands. Springs and tributaries on the property feed into Big Branch, a trout stream. We are grateful to our supporters for helping to conserve this land for all people to enjoy!

“Helping our partners in the public land agencies preserve land and reduce management boundaries is a win-win for conservation, people, and wildlife,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Like putting together a puzzle, securing in-holdings within public lands helps complete the picture — improving our partners’ ability to manage land while creating more areas for public recreation.”

SAHC raised a portion of the purchase price from generous private donors, and borrowed funds from our internal revolving land acquisition loan fund for the rest of the cost of purchasing the land. The US Forest Service will eventually purchase the property from SAHC at a discounted price that will enable us to replenish the amount we borrowed from our internal revolving fund.

What’s wrong with this map?

Map of Hollybush Gap property surrounded by national forestDid you know that the large green shapes marked as “national forest” on many road or regional maps aren’t as solid as they appear? Federal legislation in the early 1900s established the U.S. Forest Service and authorized the creation of planning boundaries — which means that when privately owned tracts within those planning boundaries come up for sale (and funds are available), they can be purchased and added to the national forests.

These planning boundaries are often used on commercially produced maps to represent the national forests. But what you don’t see are the many small openings within the forest area which remain privately owned tracts. These inholdings — areas of private land surrounded by public land — can create difficulty in land management and confusion for people who are using  public forest land and accidentally cross into someone else’s property.

As a nonprofit organization with the ability to act quickly when these inholdings come up for sale, SAHC helps our public land partners by securing the tracts until the agency is able to work through their internal process to access funds and complete the transfer of property from us. This can even mean SAHC obtaining a loan when necessary to complete a high priority, time-sensitive acquisition. These transfers help ‘fill in’ the missing gaps on your map at home.

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.

Read more

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.”