Long Branch Environmental Education Center (Long Branch) is an educational non-profit organization located eighteen miles northwest of Asheville on the Buncombe and Haywood county line. It was founded in 1974 as an ecological sanctuary. Since then, it has evolved into an educational center with the purpose of teaching strategies of sustainability and self-reliance. This week, 864 of their acres in Sandy Mush and Beaverdam were protected for future generations. Paul Gallimore, Executive Director of the Long Branch Environmental Education Center, is excited about being able to conserve land while pursuing his goals for the non-profit.
“To be able to include provisions for renewable energy such as wind and solar into conservation easements marks a new watershed in protecting terrestrial ecosystems as well as the atmosphere surrounding these ecosystems that would otherwise be threatened by acid deposition, particulates, and ground-level ozone stemming from combustion of fossil fuels,” he said.
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy began to preserve land owned by Long Branch in 1995, when the two non-profits worked together to protect six hundred acres on Sandy Mush Bald through a conservation easement. This June, Long Branch donated two more conservation easements, totaling 864 acres, to SAHC for permanent protection. Brad and Shelli Stanback awarded a grant to SAHC to cover the transaction costs, helping to make the project possible.
The new Long Branch conservation easements permanently limit the development and subdivision of the parcels. Located within SAHC’s French Broad River Valley focus area, the properties boast headwater streams and a variety of scenic forest types. The new easements add to a vast network of important lands already voluntarily preserved by SAHC throughout the Sandy Mush farming community.
Conservation of the Long Branch properties is critical for the protection of water quality in the area. With parcels in both Buncombe County and Haywood County, they feed both the French Broad River Watershed and the Pigeon River Watershed. These conservation easements protect tributary streams of Willow Creek, South Turkey Creek, Beaverdam Creek, and the headwater streams of Long Branch. Over 49,000 feet of stream corridor exist on the properties. Conserving these lands protect important water sources from the risk of pollution through sedimentation.
“Sedimentation from road construction and development on steep slopes is one of the leading sources of water contamination in our mountain streams,” says Michelle Pugliese, Land Protection Director. “Preserving native vegetation around streams protects water quality because it filters pollutants from the soil and prevents erosion of the stream banks.” Pugliese continues, “In addition to protecting water quality, the sheer size of these parcels and their connectivity to a large network of protected land also preserves the scenic character of this rural farming community.”
The new Long Branch conservation easements adjoin SAHC’s 637-acre Winterberry Farm conservation easement and are very near other conservation easements or preserves held by SAHC that total over 4,600 acres. The vast connectivity of forested land in the general vicinity of the conservation easements is very important for plant and animal diversity. This is due to the large range that some species require, the importance of contiguous corridors between large forest communities, and the viability of entire ecosystems. The dominant forest types on the property include chestnut and oak forests as well as rich coves, a priority habitat for protection.
Protection of land within the area helps ensure the rural scenic quality for visitors and local residents. The properties’ ridgelines and forested slopes are visible from Willow Creek Road, Big Sandy Mush Road, Newfound Road, and other prominent locations in the Sandy Mush Valley. “SAHC is so grateful to Long Branch for donating these easements for protection,” said Carl Silverstein, Executive Director. “Thanks to generous landowners like them, we continue to be able to protect important lands in this area for the future.”