At the end of 2012, we succeeded in purchasing an incredible property that had topped our conservation priority ‘wish list’ for the past four decades — the 601-acre Grassy Ridge tract, crown jewel of the Roan Highlands. Thanks to tenacious landowner outreach, good timing, extraordinary support from private philanthropists, and critical conservation partnerships, we were able to ring in the New Year with a triumph truly worth celebrating. The Grassy Ridge tract forms a breathtaking corridor that connects public lands along one of the highest elevation ridges in the Southern Appalachians.
“Since SAHC’s beginning, the protection of the Grassy Ridge Tract has been a top priority. There is still much more to be done, but we can all rejoice that this important tract is now protected forever,” said Carol Coffey, former president of the Board of Trustees. “The purchase of the Grassy Ridge tract is a milestone in SAHC’s efforts to protect the Southern Appalachian Highlands.”
The tract has been considered a top priority for SAHC and other conservation partners in the region for decades because of its size and location within a large network of high elevation protected lands.
“The Grassy Ridge Tract is one of the few parcels of private land in the Eastern United States that rises above 6000’ elevation, and it is the only such tract near the Appalachian National Scenic Trail,” said Joe DeLoach of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club and former SAHC president. “With the ridge lines visible from the AT, and with it forming the eastern boundary of Grassy Gap which is highly visible from the AT on Round and Jane Balds and which serves as a key connector between the main crest of the Roan Highlands and the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, purchase of this tract will protect the experience and enjoyment of an undeveloped landscape for the many hikers who consider the Roan Highlands as one of the most scenic areas along the entire Appalachian Trail.”
At its northern boundary, it takes in the crest of Grassy Ridge where it joins Pisgah National Forest, and at the southern end the property joins tracts owned by the State of NC in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. It lies in the view shed of the Appalachian Trail, visible from the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and other locations in the Highlands of Roan.
The property consists of a large, forested bowl within three ridges: Grassy Ridge, Big Roan Ridge, and Martin Ridge. One of the largest concentrations of rare species and communities in the state are found on Grassy Ridge and the adjoining habitats of Roan.
“Nearby Grassy Ridge bald is the best remaining and most pristine grassy bald in the Southern Appalachians,” said Judy Murray, SAHC Roan Stewardship Director. “This bald and its adjacent rock outcrops have the highest concentration of rare plant species and the fewest non-native species of any site in the Highlands of Roan. SAHC has been a lead partner in restoring and maintaining Roan’s grassy balds for over 20 years, and the purchase of this tract is a major achievement in protecting this globally endangered ecological community.”
The Roan Mountain Important Bird Area and the Roan Massif Significant Natural Heritage Area cover the property, and hundreds of acres of high elevation old fields on the tract form a large swath of prime bird habitat.
This purchase permanently protects pristine water quality as well as globally significant plant & animal habitat. Headwater tributaries of Roaring Creek, a beautiful wild trout stream, originate on the property and flow into the North Toe River watershed.
We seized a small window of opportunity to successfully complete this project at the end of the year, made possible through extraordinary support from private philanthropists and critical loan funds obtained from the Open Space Institute.
“The Open Space Institute is pleased to once again support conservation in the Greater Roan Highlands Landscape,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “The protection of the Grassy Ridge tract preserves a highly significant wildlife corridor between Little Yellow Mountain and the highest summits of the Roan Massif. We salute SAHC for its persistence and personal interaction with so many of the people involved in this project. It was SAHC’s perseverance that made this deal happen.”
Over the past six years, OSI has assisted SAHC and other partner agencies in the protection of 1,500 contiguous acres that are part of an important wildlife corridor between the two spines of the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion.
Funds that secure the OSI loan are held in the Long View Endowment at the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, a regional nonprofit serving 18 counties.
“We are proud of our work with SAHC and with donors who care about conservation,” said Sheryl Aikman, the Foundation’s vice president for development. “The Long View Endowment was created by a donor, now deceased, who understood SAHC’s work and mission and structured her legacy for just this type of opportunity.”
“Our family takes great pride in having worked with SAHC from the beginning of this organization,” said Jeanette Blazier, former Kingsport mayor and current president of the SAHC Board of Trustees. “The recent purchase of this key property on Grassy Ridge is another example of our commitment to preserving the beautiful mountains of our region. It is especially significant since the founding members of SAHC had as their primary focus the preservation of the Highlands of Roan.”