Cane River Headwaters

Stream cascadig over rocks

Photo by Courtland White

A conservation-minded buyer recently purchased a significant parcel in the upper Cane River watershed of the Black Mountains in order to protect it permanently from development.

The landowner  donated a conservation easement to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy on 60 acres of the property, which contain the main stem and a tributary of the Cane River, a pristine trout stream significant for its aquatic habitat. The property subject to the conservation easement will become part of a fishing club that stewards the Cane River headwaters. The conservation easement will permanently protect pristine streams and exceptional habitat in a stunning section of the Black Mountains.

Members of the Carolinas Nature Photographers Association donated their time and expertise to capture the stunning conservation values of this 60-acre tract in visual form.

Personal Perspective: Randy Hunter, Board Member

Mountain Laurel

Photo by Andy MacPhillimy

Miranda “Randy” Hunter’s husband Bud was a modest force of nature who worked tirelessly to preserve land and water resources for future generations. Randy knew that the conservation of land was important to Bud, but after his death she learned more about how deep that legacy stretched.

“He was so modest about it, I didn’t even realize some of the things that he had done,” Randy shares. Bud was a member of the Cane River Fishing Club and one of the first people to reach out to SAHC about permanently preserving land owned by the club. In researching SAHC after her husband’s death, Randy learned more about the different projects he’d been involved in — including the completion of a conservation easement on the Cane River.

“Bud was aware of conservation in a way that a lot of people were not,” shares Randy. “He was convinced that easements and conservation were the only way we would have any land left. So much land use is short-sighted, and I think it’s hard to convince people that conservation pays you back in a good way. Being able to protect the land that he loved was very important in Bud’s life. He had a passion for conservation.”

Stream surrounded by trees

Photo by Michael Fredericks

Randy recalls that when Bud joined the fishing club, he would take their sons to enjoy the area whenever he could. “It’s a beautiful place — gorgeous in the fall, full of wildflowers in spring. He wanted places like that protected. I think being out there was a special treat, to be able to fish in that wonderful place and bond together. Both boys are very reverent about the outdoors. I think he set a wonderful example for the children in terms of caring for the land and preserving it.”

Now, one of Bud’s sons has taken his place in the fishing club. “I think it’s neat that the grandchildren have learned to fish up there,” says Randy. “They are carrying on Bud’s legacy.”

Dark Ridge Assist

This year, the Trust for Public Land purchased a 482-acre tract at Dark Ridge, located near the Appalachian Trail in Avery County, just north of the Roan Highlands. The property shares a long boundary with the Cherokee National Forest and Pisgah National Forest. SAHC identified the Dark Ridge tract in our 2018 conservation planning process as one of our Top Priorities in the AT Countryside. We are proud to have been able to assist our partners at the Trust for Public Land in this acquisition.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) will own the property in the short term, until the US Forest Service is able to purchase it from TPL and add the property to Pisgah National Forest. SAHC assisted in the transaction by securing $300,000 gift from Fred and Alice Stanback toward the purchase price, along with previous gifts that enabled TPL to hold the property under Option until it was read to close on the purchase. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is also a supporter and funding partner in this project.

“This is a major land-conservation achievement that SAHC has played an integral role in bringing about,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We’ve been working on the project since July 2017, and we are pleased we have been able to help our partners at TPL secure this large acreage tract.” Read more

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



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

Cataloochee Gateway – Cove Creek Gap

cataloochee Divide Trail signYou know that feeling when you get ready to embark on an adventure? The building excitement… the thrill of the first moment you step foot on a trail… That setting is so important – it sets the tone and context for your experience. Unfortunately, many of the public lands and trails in the Southern Appalachians are bordered by forests and fields on private lands which, as an area increases in popularity, could be developed for residential or commercial uses – forever changing the experience for those seeking serenity in outdoor recreation.

Great Smoky Mtns National Park Cataloochee signThanks to generous conservation supporters, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently purchased 10 acres at Cove Creek Gap, the Cataloochee entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The land borders the Cataloochee Divide Trail, rising from Cove Creek Road to the ridgeline and sharing a 0.3-mile boundary with the trail and national park. Although small in acreage, these 10 acres have the potential to make a big impact. In addition to sharing a boundary with the trail and national park, the tracts are located just across Cove Creek Road to the left of the park sign, highly visible to visitors entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the Cataloochee entrance. Read more

Hickory Nut Gap Forest

View of Orchard and Distant Mountains from HIckory Nut Gap Forest tractThe rolling route along Drover’s Road Scenic Byway from Fairview to Bat Cave affords beautiful views of mountain peaks, forests, and farmland protected by SAHC – from flat, fertile bottomlands to the top of Little Pisgah Mountain, Blue Ridge Pastures, and Strawberry Gap. Now, 26 more acres of the picturesque landscape at Hickory Nut Gap Forest have been permanently protected. This recently conserved land includes a heritage apple orchard, open area, and forest, partially surrounding the Sherrill’s Inn, a designated Historic American Building.

Horse in pasture at Hickory Nut Gap Forest “Although this new conservation easement is small in acreage, it adds to hundreds of acres at Hickory Nut Gap Forest, which SAHC began protecting in 2008,” explains Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “When I look at this conservation easement, I think about preserving the historic setting of places like the Sherrill’s Inn, protecting the natural land close to what it was like back when the inn was originally built and used as a stop-over for people traveling across the mountains. I’m excited that this project preserves the surrounding context of this historic site, as well as habitat and agricultural resources. This is a great example of how a smaller conservation easement can make a big impact.” Read more

2020 Conservation Review

Map of SAHC conservation projects in 2020Looking back as we head into the final stretch of 2020, we all know that this year has been far from ordinary. On a positive note, it has been a record-breaking year for local conservation efforts! Since the beginning of January, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has closed on the protection of more than 2,600 acres across the mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, with additional projects scheduled to wrap up by year-end. Several of these have been in the works for many years.

“It is a testament to the commitment of SAHC members, staff, and conservation-minded supporters that we have been able to complete these projects during extraordinary circumstances, and we are grateful to all the people who make this remarkable work possible,” says SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “There is something tangible and reassuring in preserving land – it’s something you can put your hand on. These conservation projects help preserve cultural connections to the past, places to connect with nature, and vital resources we rely on now, and which will be increasingly critical in the future.” Read more