Protecting Scenic Views, Historic Lands, and Clean Water at Hickory Nut Gap

viewfromparcela.jpgWe love the tranquil drive through Fairview along the Drover’s Road Scenic Byway. At the crest of Hickory Nut Gap, the sight of Sherrill’s Inn overlooking this scenic route recalls the 1800s, when the Flying Cloud stagecoach carried mail and passengers from Rutherfordton to Asheville, and herd drovers stopped here to rest before journeying on through the gorge.

Recognizing the historic and natural treasures of this area, we were thrilled to protect 173 acres along the Drovers Road Scenic Byway (US 74A) this past December, through conservation easements on three adjoining parcels. These conservation easements ensure that the land will be preserved forever, securing important views, habitat, and water resources right on the Eastern Continental Divide.

The three adjoining parcels are located on the Hickory Nut Gap section of the Drovers Road Scenic Byway (Highway 74A) in Fairview and are visible in the distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The parcels also share a long boundary with our Hickory Nut Gap Forest conservation easement, and are close to and visible from the publicly accessible Florence Preserve and Bearwallow Mountain.

“Two sources of public funding plus private donors made this project possible,” said Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s Land Protection Director. “We also very grateful to the landowners for their commitment to protect this incredible area on the Scenic Byway — an intersection of cultural, historical, clean water, and scenic resources.”

easterncontdividesign.jpgThe project was one component of a North Carolina Scenic Byways Land Conservation Initiative grant awarded to land trusts throughout the state to protect significant scenic, cultural, and historical assets along scenic byways. These new conservation easements reflect SAHC’s ongoing commitment to preserve resources along the Drover’s Road Scenic Byway.

The new conservation easements together preserve Tater Knob, one side of Ferguson Knob (the other side is protected by a previous SAHC conservation easement), and both sides of a section of Ashworth Creek, a beautiful, healthy stream passing through Fairview.

High quality Appalachian rich cove forest is located on a portion of the recently protected acreage.  Rich cove forest is a type of plant community found in narrow valleys, broad ravines and slopes where rich soil and abundant rainfall foster a diverse mixture of moisture-loving trees and herbaceous plants. The deeply shaded, rugged terrain associated with this plant community type is characterized by steep slopes, fallen logs, and scattered boulders, supporting a dense canopy of tall, mostly deciduous trees.

ferguson-knob.jpgThe second public funding source for this project was the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Environmental Enhancement Grant (EEG) program, which funded seven conservation projects in western North Carolina through Blue Ridge Forever’s Conserving North Carolina’s Mountain Headwater Steams Project.

“With two miles of headwater streams running across this property and flowing into the French Broad River basin, the long term impact of this conservation project on water quality is undeniable,” said Valerie True, coalition coordinator for Blue Ridge Forever. “Our mountain streams serve as a sort of water-fountain for the region, and projects such as this will have a lasting impact on clean drinking water across the southeast for generations to come.”

In the future, sections of these new conservation easements will become part of a regional trail being planned to connect public trails in the Fairview Valley and Hickory Nut Gorge area.