Split Pine Cove – Haywood County

In 2023, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) purchased 124 acres in the Crabtree/Fines Creek community of Haywood County, adding to hundreds of acres already conserved in the area.

“Haywood County is a special place near and dear to the hearts of many SAHC supporters and staff alike,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter.

“We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of a 124-acre conservation preserve on the northwestern flank of Crabtree Bald. SAHC’s purchase of the property in Split Pine Cove adds to more than 600 acres of land we have protected in the Crabtree and Fines Creek communities over the last ten years.”

The recently-protected land rises above a quiet mountain cove near Rush Creek Gap, and the upper reaches of the tract can be seen from the Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway (NC 209).

Once used for farming, approximately 20 acres of the tract remain open pasture grazed by cattle, while the more remote upper elevations contain high quality examples of rocky habitat. Seeps and streams on the slopes drain into James Branch, which flows into Cove Creek.

Ecological Significance

What makes this tract of particular ecological importance is the presence of the Raven Cliff Significant Natural Heritage Area and Montane Mafic Cliff habitat. According to the NC Natural Heritage Program’s 1996 report A Natural Areas Inventory of Haywood County, North Carolina by S.C. Oakley and A.B. Smith,  Montane Mafic Cliff communities are a rare, rocky-slope community type with only eight examples in the state.

As described in the report, “It is a cliff type that occurs on mafic rock – rock which is high in nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and calcium and which is less acidic than most rock types in North Carolina. It is known to occur in Haywood County only at Raven Cliff in the Newfound Mountains.”

The North Carolina Native Plant Society’s Alice Zawadzki Land Conservation Fund awarded SAHC a $1,000 grant to fund a biological inventory of the new Split Pine Cove preserve.

“The property lies partially within the Raven Cliff Natural Area, a botanical site of regional significance,” explains Owen Carson, Equinox plant ecologist who conducted the biological inventory.

“It contains notable conservation features such as high-quality Low Elevation Rocky Summit and Montane Mafic Cliff communities, good quality Herb and Dry Heath Chestnut Oak Forest, patches of Boulderfield Rich Cove Forest, and good quality Basic Montane Oak-Hickory Forest.”

“The rock outcrops and oak-hickory forest supports a number of Watch List plant species as well as a collection of plants that are not rare-listed but exceedingly uncommon in the area.”

“The cliffs, unfragmented forested landscape, and interspersed boulderfields and bedrock provide habitat for wildlife including common raven, wood thrush, timber rattlesnake, Southern Appalachian eastern woodrat, and potentially the uncommon Apppalachian cottontail,” continues Carson.

Split Pine Cove is a beautiful preserve with varied terrain, ranging from rolling pastures and rich forestland to rock outcroppings with seepages that provide excellent salamander habitat.

“The property’s gentle and picturesque lower elevations made this tract attractive for possible development,” continues Muerdter. “It was listed for sale on the real estate market, and SAHC saw the need to preserve it and stepped in. The Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway going from Crabtree into the Fines Creek area is so picturesque, and the scenic  landscape here remains largely intact.

We are thrilled that the SAHC was able to purchase the property so that it will remain in its natural state for future generations. Thank you to the visionary philanthropic leaders and SAHC supporters who made this conservation project possible!”