Hickory Nut Gap Forest Phase II tract

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.”

Ferguson peak viewed from Hickory Nut Gap Forest tractThe 26-acre conservation easement in Buncombe County preserves land and water resources, including habitat in a wildlife corridor, views from a designated NC scenic byway, and some aspects of agricultural use.

“We were so pleased to be able to work with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy on this final of the series of conservation easements we have granted on the farm and forest land property in the Fairview section of Buncombe County that our grandparents, James and Elizabeth McClure, acquired in 1916 and my sisters and brothers and I inherited from our parents, Jamie and Elspie Clarke,” said Dumont Clarke. Heritage Apple Orchard at Hickory Nut Gap Forest“Although small in area by comparison, this one was vitally important because it protects the immediate “setting” of the family home, the historic Sherrill’s Inn, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What happens, or perhaps better said doesn’t happen, to the setting of a historic building can either positively or negatively contribute to the way in which people experience the historic building itself.  The grant of this conservation easement will help insure that the setting of the historic Sherrill’s Inn will remain protected, undeveloped and pretty much as it has been for well over a hundred years. We are extremely grateful to SAHC and its long-time supporters who made this conservation easement possible.”

Conservation of this land was made possible by support from SAHC members, generous seed gifts from Fred and Alice Stanback and Brad and Shelli Stanback, a grant from Buncombe County, and donation of part of the conservation easement value by the James McClure Clarke and Elspeth McClure Clarke Family Limited Partnership.

Map of conserved land around Hickory Nut Gap at Drover's Roaad scenic bywayThese 26 acres join a network of about 1,500 acres of conserved land that SAHC has protected surrounding Hickory Nut Gap, including land that SAHC protected as part of the Drover’s Road Scenic Byways projects in 2012-2013, conservation easements at Little Pisgah Mountain (2011-2012), Drovers Road Preserve (2003), and protected agricultural land actively farmed by Hickory Nut Gap Farms and Flying Cloud Farms (2008-2015).

“The Fairview valley is, to me, one of the most beautiful places just outside Asheville,” adds Michelle. “I love driving or riding my bike up 74 A (Drover’s Road Scenic Byway) and knowing that SAHC has protected these scenic views on both sides of this historic route.”

Thank you to all of our supporters for making inspiring projects like this happen!

About the Drover’s Road Scenic Byway

Open fields and forest at Hickory Nut Gap

The Drover’s Road Scenic Byway features pastoral vistas and rolling hillsides, such as this permanently conserved tract at Hickory Nut Gap.

In western North Carolina, the iconic backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains influenced land use and culture, ultimately leading to the creation of scenic byways to showcase and protect our landscapes. The Drovers Road Scenic Byway connects the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Hickory Nut Gorge, traversing some of the most scenic rural land in the region. It follows 16.5 miles of U.S. Highway 74A from the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Fairview, south to Bat Cave where it terminates at the Black Mountain Rag Scenic Byway (N.C. Highway 9). From its start at the parkway, the byway passes through the fertile valleys of Fairview, which lay below scenic mountain peaks, including Little Pisgah Mountain, Ferguson Peak, Tater Knob and Bearwallow Mountain. Traveling southeast from Fairview, the scenic byway crosses the eastern continental divide at Hickory Nut Gap, where Henderson and Buncombe Counties meet, before descending through the village of Gerton. The Drovers Road Scenic Byway area contains abundant high quality conservation values. These include natural resources such as water, rare species and prime soils; historic routes and sites; and cultural activities such as outdoor recreation and local crafts.

Hickory Nut Gap Forest

Forested area in the recently conserved 26 acres at Hickory Nut Gap, near the route of the scenic byway.

The path that is now the Drovers Road Scenic Byway was first a Native American Cherokee trail. In the 18th century, settlers followed this trail in covered wagons to the Hickory Nut Gorge. Early settlements gradually expanded as a means to support a growing agricultural commerce. Farm products had to be transported from Western North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky to the markets in South Carolina and Georgia. During the fall months, farmers followed this route with their livestock, driving hogs, cattle, horses, mules, turkeys or ducks on the long trip to market. The men who led these herds were called “drovers”. There was a high demand for corn to feed all of the livestock, and corn quickly became an important crop in the region. This route through the Western North Carolina mountains eventually became known as the “Drovers’ Road”.

In the early 19th century, Dr. John Harris, a doctor and entrepreneur, was particularly interested in creating an improved road from Asheville to Rutherfordton. Largely in response to his efforts, the North Carolina General Assembly authorized funds in 1823 to improve the road through Hickory Nut Gorge. A report written by Dr. Harris to the general assembly in 1830 stated that the road had been “much traveled” and “the rich romantic valley of Hickory Creek and Rocky Broad River here to fore locked up by the impassable towers of rocks and mountains is now beginning to develop its resources and present to the way worn traveler a good road through an exceedingly rough country, rendered doubly interesting by the bold and majestic mountain scenery.”

In 1841, Dr. Harris, his son-in-law Bedford Sherrill (builder and owner of the historic Sherrill’s Inn), and four other men from Buncombe and Rutherford counties were appointed as commissioners for the purpose of “keeping” the turnpike road. With the rivers too rough to navigate and the railroad still decades in the future, the roads were highly regarded and well-kept by the residents of this remote and sparsely populated area. The roads and stagecoach served as the ties to the outside world. The “Great Western Stageline” ran from Salisbury to Asheville as early as 1839. Twenty years later, the United States Mail Line established the Charlotte-to Asheville stagecoach run. Pony Express-type mail service and a Post Office were established at Gerton, then known as Bearwallow, on April 14, 1858.

About the historic site of Sherrill’s Inn

Sherrill's Inn Historic MarkerAn original structure on the property dates to 1806, with the larger structure added later and used as an inn and tavern starting around 1834.

According to Historic American Buildings Survey documents recorded in the Library of Congress:

“Although much enlarged, Sherrill’s Inn is an example of the Saddle-Bag House. This scheme is basically a double cabin separated by a central chimney – each cabin being as large as could be conveniently built from logs. Using an exterior stairway, the Inn raises this plan to 2 stories. The Inn operated as a tavern and stage coach stop 1834-1909. After securing the contract to carry mail from Rutherfordton over to Tennessee, Bedford Sherrill purchased this land in Hickory Nut Gap in order to establish the needed overnight stop in this vicinity.”