Wilkins Creek – 187 Acres Protected

Wilkins Creek property near I-40

Wilkins Creek property near I-40, photo courtesy Jake Faber and Southwings

Just beyond the rush of traffic on Interstate 40 near the Tennessee-North Carolina line, steep hillsides and forested knolls shelter a vibrant community of wildlife.

We recently purchased 187 acres in this part of Haywood County near the Pigeon River to protect a corridor for wildlife grazing and movement.

Map of Wilkins Creek and nearby conservation landsEncircled by the Pisgah National Forest and adjoining the NC Welcome Center on I-40, the Wilkins Creek property is very near a large box culvert under the Interstate, which provides a way for wildlife to travel safely from one side of the interstate to the other. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and other partners identified this property in the Pigeon River Gorge as a conservation priority because it provides a key corridor for elk and other animals to move in the landscape.

“This Wilkins Creek property has a unique role in connecting wildlife habitats across the landscape,” says SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “Unlike many tracts SAHC has protected, this one has some areas of sparse forest cover resulting from past timber harvest. There are some species, such as elk, that require such openings along with intact forest. The Wilkins Creek property falls within an important wildlife corridor in the Pigeon River Gorge and contains open areas that may provide grazing habitat for elk.”

Following the successful reintroduction of elk in Cataloochee Valley in 2001 and 2002 the elk herd has grown from the initial 52 animals to about 150 today. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, Wildlands Network, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC Wildlife Federation, and other conservation partners have been conducting research and strategic planning focused on the survival and movement of elk, bear, and deer in the Pigeon River Gorge. They found that animals traveling in the vicinity of Cataloochee Valley and the Smokies regularly cross I-40 in search of openings where they can graze, resulting in significant animal fatalities.

The large box culvert under I-40 serves as a passageway for wildlife, enabling animals to safely reach the forest openings on the Wilkins Creek property. The land that SAHC purchased plays an important role for elk to live and move, and the property will serve as a research site on wildlife habitat crossings.

Box Turtle, photo by Jeff Hunter

Eastern Box Turtle on property, photo by Jeff Hunter

“Protecting the Wilkins Creek tract represents a long-term, important investment in the well-being of wildlife throughout the Southern Appalachians,” says Jeff Hunter, Senior Program Manager with National Parks Conservation Association. “Ongoing wildlife monitoring by National Parks Conservation Association and Wildlands Network indicate that black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, and migrating bird species including a variety of wood warblers frequently use this property. Protecting the land also advances wildlife connectivity efforts throughout the Pigeon River Gorge, between Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We will continue to support progress in restoring landscape connectivity and reducing wildlife-vehicle conflicts  by working in partnership with groups like SAHC.”

This acquisition expands our work in securing habitat and wildlife corridors in the region. In 2017, SAHC acquired 147 acres to the south at Stevens Creek, a quiet cove on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Stevens Creek tract contains important habitat and water resources near the remote Cataloochee Valley area of the national park.

SAHC plans to own the Wilkins Creek property for the short term, managing it for habitat and working with partners to monitor the presence and movement of wildlife on the property. We hope to transfer the Wilkins Creek tract to public agency ownership in the future.

We are incredibly grateful to all of our supporters for making this exciting project possible!

 

Stevens Creek land protected near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We recently purchased 147 acres at Stevens Creek, a quiet cove on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The acquisition permanently protects important habitat and water resources near the remote Cataloochee Valley area of the park.

“Wrapped on three sides by publicly owned land, this pocket of prime forest and open pasture habitat will remain undeveloped for future generations,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “The acquisition presents a wonderful opportunity for SAHC to deepen our connection to America’s most visited national park.”

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Smoky Mountains Conservation Focus Area Hike

On Saturday, March 25th, an awesome group of hikers gathered to explore our Smoky Mountains Conservation Focus Area with a hike to scenic Hemphill Bald at the top of Cataloochee Ranch, where SAHC placed our first conservation easement in 1993.

The hike began at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, where we were joined by the ​Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s AmeriCorps Citizen Science Associate, who taught the group about the education and citizen science programs hosted ​by the Park at Purchase Knob. ​We learned about the many ways that they monitor acid deposition — one of which is by studying salamanders. Read more

Devil’s Britches and Bark, Buds, Nuts – A pint, a party, a presentation and hike for Tree ID.

chris-with-crew-at-beginning.jpgThe end of February was a great time to practice winter tree identification, and to enjoy a new Highland Brewing Company seasonal pint with friends. As part of our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership with Highlands Brewing Company, we hosted an informative & engaging presentation at the Tasting Room on Thursday, February 21, followed that weekend by an on-the-ground field opportunity with SAHC Field Ecologist Chris Coxen. The presentation was short & sweet – an informative beginner’s guide to success in knowing more about the trees you may see in our area, given in six steps. Read more

Hurray for Volunteers! At Cataloochee Ranch with Nature Valley & NPCA

cataloochee-nature-valley-work-day-023.jpg31 volunteers and staff rallied to help the Smokies on Saturday, July 28.  In a partnership with Nature Valley (the granola bar company) and the National Parks Conservation Association, several SAHC projects are underway at the protected Cataloochee Ranch (directly adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) to improve animal habitat, plant life and water quality.

On Saturday under a clear sky with beautiful views of the Plott Balsams, Mt. Pisgah, and the Smokies, volunteers improved an eroded section of popular trail mere meters from the border of Great Smoky Mountains Park.  Fueled by camaraderie and an endless supply of Nature Valley granola bars, volunteers used shovels and trail tools to reshape a badly incised section of trail into a good slope to efficiently shed water instead of catching sediment and carrying it to the streams. Read more

Namaste, Yoga on the Mountain

 

pa0200711.jpgThe first weekend of October, we joined up with Lighten Up Yoga for a wonderful Sunday afternoon of hiking and chaturangas on beautiful Hemphill Bald, above Maggie Valley, NC. Folks came out for a gorgeous day that warmed up nicely. Once up top, everyone practiced poses under the tutelage of Lighten up Yoga’s instructor, Kim Drye, for an opportunity to get out of the studio and practice outside besides an incredible collage of fall colors. Hemphill Bald was an exceptionally special spot to practice yoga because of the unrivaled views, and because it is the setting for a remarkable conservation easement in western North Carolina.  Read more

Cataloochee Ranch: A Success Story in Haywood County

Spectacular fall colors on Hemphill BaldIn the 1990’s, 67-year-old Maggie Valley resident Tom Alexander realized that he would have to do something to be able to hand down his beloved land, 1,000 mostly undeveloped acres adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, intact to his children. The land had been in his family for 60 years, but development in Haywood County had greatly increased over the past few decades and the value of his land was doubling in value about every three to four years.

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