As a part of our ongoing efforts to connect people with the land we have protected, we are constantly working to expand SAHC’s partner organizations to educate new groups by bringing them to our Community Farm or other properties that we have protected. This spring, SAHC’s AmeriCorps Outreach Member, Haley Smith, partnered up with UNC-Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program to lead one of several new hiking courses.
Haley contacted long-time AmeriCorps Project Conserve fan, volunteer, and hike-leader, Keith Viglietta to be her sweeper for their course section of “Intermediate Hiking in Western North Carolina.” Because the course met for only 4.5 hours each Tuesday, Haley and Keith planned to highlight four places that SAHC has protected within 45 minutes of Asheville over the four weeks of the class. The majority of participants in the course have lived in the area for less than 5 years, so the hikes served as an excellent way to introduce participants to the incredible scenery and natural resources of Western North Carolina, and to discuss the critical land protection work that SAHC does.
The OLLI group’s first hike was a tour of the SAHC Community Farm, where Haley discussed the numerous conservation projects underway. The second week the group hiked from Cataloochee Ranch to the summit of Hemphill Bald, at 5500′ in elevation. From the summit of Hemphill Bald, they could see much of the area where SAHC does our conservation work, and Cataloochee Ranch is also the location of SAHC’s very first conservation easement, placed in 1993. This hike served as an excellent spot to talk about conservation all throughout the region, with views as far as Max Patch, Mount Mitchell, and Cold Mountain. Their final two hikes were to Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed, with views of SAHC’s Doubleside Knob Preserve, and SAHC’s Prices Creek Preserve in Burnsville, which was abloom with dozens of spring ephemerals.
These hikes allowed a chance for Haley to discuss SAHC’s work to protect clean water, cultural and agricultural heritage, and unique habitat to folks who are new to the area or new to SAHC and also allowed her to fulfill her role as a Project Conserve member, educating members of the community about conservation challenges and successes in Western North Carolina.
We were so grateful for this chance to partner with the OLLI program to help connect people with the land, and we hope everyone involved gain something from this experience. Special thanks to Keith Viglietta for volunteering his time and expertise to help lead these hikes, take photographs, and provide his birding and botanical knowledge to participants!