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.

Landowner Perspective — John and Ann Geers

John and Ann Geers (center) with their sons. Photo by Phil & Kristen Photography.

We both grew up as “suburbia kids” but always took any opportunity available to enjoy nature by backpacking, camping, and canoeing with our two boys.  We had demanding jobs – John as a restauranteur/commercial real estate broker and Ann as a university professor but we dreamed of someday leaving the city behind and living on our own slice of nature.  When our kids were close to college age, we began to explore the nuts and bolt of fulfilling this dream.

We were lucky enough to have friends who had already moved to Western North Carolina and in 1995 they invited us for a visit (incidentally setting up a day with a real estate agent).  The first property we saw was a beautiful self-contained cove nestled below the Rocky Knob of Crabtree Bald with a view of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We fell in love with it and within a few days signed a purchase agreement.   John moved a trailer onto the property and for the next five years we visited the cove whenever the opportunity arose, all the while designing our dream home and planning to escape the city.  In 2000 our boys were on their own and gave us their blessing to move to the country.  John had sold his restaurant and retired from commercial real estate while Ann was able to work remotely.  We worked with an architect at a local timber frame school, hired a construction crew and spent the first 9 months of 2001 building our home.  Over the next 20 years we became home to horses, rescued dogs/cats and for a short time cattle.  John has spent most of his time maintaining the property to the standards in our stewardship/ forestry plan.  We love hiking the logging trails and exploring the abundance of flora and fauna and wildlife around us.  We have enjoyed salamanders and other amphibians in our creek and pond as well as many varieties of  woodpeckers, tanagers, finches, thrush, warblers, and birds of prey.  We also became home to many deer, fox, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, and yes, skunks and several varieties of snakes.   We became beekeepers with the help of the Bee Club at the Haywood County Agricultural Center.

Photo by Eisenberg, Carolinas Nature Photographers Association

Then, we began to wonder what would happen to this natural paradise when we were no longer here to protect it. We developed a stewardship forest management plan with Fred Foster and a second and now a third plan with Eco-Foresters and explored the possibility of conserving our forest for future generations.

We have been aware of climate change for many years, but the urgency of this problem and its direct relevance to the future ahead for our kids, grandkids and the world becomes more apparent every year.  We have watched development and clear cutting occurring all around us over the past 20 years and realize it will likely continue at an ever-accelerating pace.  While we understand the appeal of this beautiful location as a place to live and vacation, we see firsthand that the wildlife is losing habitat and our atmosphere is suffering from loss of old growth forests.  We had an opportunity to make a small contribution to slowing this demise for generations to come.

Our land includes a large, long level of meadows and undisturbed forests which can be seen from Main Street of Waynesville, Lake Junaluska and various other parts of Haywood County. These distant vistas of the surrounding mountains are so important to maintain for our mountain communities.

The program offered by Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy appealed to us as a vehicle to protect the forest we had come to love and respect. The conservancy staff members were particularly helpful in explaining how we could maintain ownership of the property and pass it on to our heirs and beyond, while protecting the land from future development.  They explained their role in extensively documenting the current condition of the property and conducting annual follow-up visits to ensure that this condition is maintained and allowed to improve through good forest management.  We felt confident that after we are no longer here, we leave a legacy that is protected for the foreseeable future.

We selected the option to carve out three acres from the conservation easement to reserve for residential purposes.  While both of our boys are currently raising families in urban areas, we see their love of this land. We hope they will have the opportunity to spend more time here as their lives permit.  We take comfort and pride in the notion that our grandchildren, their children and our neighbors will have the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty and peace of this property for recreation and refuge.