“All good things are wild and free” – Henry David Thoreau
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy began some forty years ago with a mission to protect the Highlands of Roan. We don’t have a lot of places left that make us feel “wild and free” anymore, at least not in the way Thoreau implied. While we have constructed ways and means to feel these ideals, arguably none of them are as effective, or human, as standing atop an undeveloped landscape. The Roan is certainly wild and free, but only because of the hard work and care that so many people have contributed. Unfortunately we aren’t done yet. As long as we still face threats to our wild places, good people will keep working. SAHC is lucky enough to count many of these willing people among our ranks.
On Saturday October 19th, SAHC hosted a volunteer work day on our Grassy Ridge property within the Highlands of Roan. The day was a culmination of work sponsored through a grant from National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), who has partnered with Nature Valley to fund projects that benefit National Parks around America. Nature Valley also partnered with National Geographic travel journalist Andrew Evans to help document the importance of our project.
Grassy Ridge is an essential piece of the conservation landscape puzzle. It connects National Forest land crossed by the Appalachian Trail with the North Carolina Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. It is both a home to threatened plant and animal species and an access point to places that offer incredible vistas of the Roan landscape. SAHC designed the volunteer day to address these features through two different projects.
In the morning, volunteers worked in a Golden-winged Warbler habitat restoration area. The Golden-winged Warbler has experienced one of the steepest population declines of any songbird over the last 45 years, and is now part of an effort to restore and maintain breeding habitat across its range. SAHC has teamed up with state, federal, and other not-for-profit partners to help protect the Golden-winged on both public and private lands. Grassy Ridge is home to several breeding pairs, but through projects like this, we hope to create additional habitat for the imperiled bird.
After our volunteer group finished lunch, the crew of representatives from NPCA, Nature Valley, and National Geographic Traveler met us to help on the second project — improving what will soon become a public trail in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. Volunteers used loppers, saws, and swing blades to clear brush from what was previously an existing abandoned 4-wheeler trail. Because of everyone’s hard work, the thorny thicket of blackberries and hawthorns quickly became an open, inviting trail. This trail will eventually allow the public to stand on Little Yellow Mountain and look onto Mount Mitchell, Roan Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain — some of the most distinctive peaks in the Southern Appalachians.
Without support from partners like the NPCA, Nature Valley, and National Geographic, SAHC would not be able to accomplish our conservation goals. Without dedicated volunteers — people that care enough about wild places to work through cold hands on a Saturday — our organization simply could not function.
A tremendous thank you to all of the volunteers! Also, many thanks to our partners from the National Parks Conservation Association, Nature Valley, and National Geographic for joining us. You made this a banner day for SAHC.