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526-acre Swannanoa Conservation Easement

In 2018, SAHC accepted a donated conservation easement on 526 acres in Swannanoa owned by Chemtronics, Inc. The conservation easement permanently protects land adjoining Pisgah National Forest, as well as scenic views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I-40 and NC Highway 70.

“This landscape is important to the surrounding Swannanoa community, and we are pleased to be able to permanently protect these ridges,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “The conservation easement area provides important wildlife corridors and will create an undeveloped buffer adjoining other protected lands.”

The forested, steep slopes of the property rise to elevations over 3,580 ft. The tract adjoins a large block of contiguous, protected land in the Black Mountains that includes the Asheville Watershed, Pisgah National Forest, Mount Mitchell State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is located less than a mile away. The Audubon Society’s Black and Great Craggy Mountains Important Bird Area covers a portion of the property. This Important Bird Area provides habitat for a wide variety of species, including: Black-throated Blue warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Pine Siskin, and Dark-eyed Junco.

The conservation easement property was separated from a larger tract owned by Chemtronics, Inc., in which the remaining 535 acres are classified as a Superfund site. Superfund sites are contaminated sites that qualify for cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The conservation easement is located on upper slopes above and surrounding the Chemtronics Superfund site. The EPA issued an Amended Record of Decision in September 2016, in which the Chemtronics Superfund boundary was redefined to divide the original 1,065-acre property into two separate areas: the Superfund site containing 535 acres and the remainder of the property, which no longer carries the Superfund designation. The landowners voluntarily donated a conservation easement on the 526-acre tract separated from the Superfund site. Extensive site analyses indicate the land within the conservation easement boundary is not contaminated.

“This land has been a long-time priority for conservation for nearly 20 years, and I’m thrilled to see this project finally come to fruition,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese.

The land will continue to be owned by Chemtronics, Inc, and will not be open to the public. SAHC stewardship staff will monitor the conservation easement area annually, and the property will be managed for forest health, according to a forest management plan.

Marshall Watershed – 541 Acres Protected

In northwest Madison County, 541 secluded acres of forest filter miles of clean mountain streams that once provided drinking water to town residents. We worked with the Town of Marshall to permanently protect the Marshall Watershed property with a conservation easement — our sixth project to conserve municipal watershed lands. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund awarded SAHC a grant to protect this tract and its outstanding water resources.

“The Town of Marshall has been committed for years to preserving the Marshall Watershed from development,” said town attorney Jamie Stokes, on behalf of the Town of Marshall. “We are proud to have finalized this project, with the assistance and dedication of SAHC, so that this beautiful landscape and the natural resources thereon will be preserved for many generations to come.” Read more

Boyd Cove Conservation Easement

We protected 88 acres in Boyd Cove, adding to thousands of protected acres in the Newfound Mountains of Sandy Mush. Landowners Pattie and Ed Ellis, Kate Tierney, and Kara Powis worked with us to protect the forested cove with a conservation easement, ensuring that plant and animal habitat and water sources on the property will remain undisturbed for future generations.

“Pattie and Ed Ellis have documented over 100 species of plants and animals during their 30+ years on this property,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “They also located 15 springs across the cove. This conservation easement will help protect habitat and clean water in the French Broad River watershed.” Read more

Post-Storm Clean-up on your Conservation Easement

Recent storms have brought high winds, heavy rains, and a lot of fallen trees. Wondering what to do about all the storm debris on your conservation easement property? Many easements allow for the removal of hazardous, damaged or downed trees, but this varies on a case-by-case basis. Please be sure to consult your easement documents first, and contact stewardship staff at our office if you have any questions.

You’ll want to consider whether or not the trees/debris in question actually pose a hazard to you or your property. While not always the most visually appealing, non-hazardous dead or fallen trees can actually benefit the conservation values of your property because they recycle nutrients back to the soil and can become habitat for birds, mammals, and other critters. If a tree is damaged but not dangerous, leaving it alone may be the best course of action. You may also find that some damaged trees spring back to life, even 6 to 12 months after a storm.

For more information on identifying and removing hazardous trees, check out this article by the US Forest Service. If you are unsure about removing a tree, consult with a professional arborist or an insured tree removal service. Here’s a list of questions to consider before hiring a service.

Weaverville Watershed – 310 Acres Protected!

We recently worked with the Town of Weaverville to place a conservation easement on 310 acres of the Weaverville Watershed. The easement protects important headwaters of Reems Creek as well as forested habitat and scenic views from Reems Creek Valley.

“This property provided drinking water to the Town of Weaverville for 80 years and is important for conservation because of its water resources,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It contains the headwaters of Eller Cove Branch and 12 of its tributaries, which run into Reems Creek and eventually the French Broad River. One of the best ways to preserve water quality downstream is by protecting a river’s headwaters – and that is exactly what has happened here. We are grateful to the Town of Weaverville for taking the step to protect this tract and its natural resources for posterity.” Read more

Mortgages on conservation easement properties

National Conservation Buzz Topic: Can a mortgage violate your conservation easement?

Curious about how a mortgage or deed of trust could impact your conservation easement? Imagine you need to borrow money at some point, and use your conservation easement property as collateral for the loan. A mortgage typically is not prohibited by a conservation easement.

But consider this: conservation easements limit, and many outright prohibit, dividing the property into smaller parcels. A violation could arise if a mortgage is placed on only a portion of a conservation property (rather than the whole conservation property).

Why? If a lender ever had to foreclose on the mortgage and take title to the portion of the property with the lien, that foreclosure would divide ownership of the property. The lender would own one part of the property and the landowner the rest. As noted above, many conservation easements don’t allow such divided ownership. And, in some states, the act of simply taking out the mortgage on a portion of the property can constitute a legal division.

When considering a mortgage on an existing conservation easement, please consult with your attorney and SAHC staff before you close the loan to ensure no impermissible divisions could occur.

Smoky Mountains Conservation Focus Area Hike

On Saturday, March 25th, an awesome group of hikers gathered to explore our Smoky Mountains Conservation Focus Area with a hike to scenic Hemphill Bald at the top of Cataloochee Ranch, where SAHC placed our first conservation easement in 1993.

The hike began at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, where we were joined by the ​Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s AmeriCorps Citizen Science Associate, who taught the group about the education and citizen science programs hosted ​by the Park at Purchase Knob. ​We learned about the many ways that they monitor acid deposition — one of which is by studying salamanders. Read more

Boundary Posting and 3rd Party Trespass

A common challenge for landowners and land trusts alike is trespassing by third parties. If a property is not adequately marked, it’s more difficult to protect against 3rd party trespass and other encroachment issues — such as timber theft, poaching, unauthorized ATV use, etc. Such activities can negatively impact a property’s conservation values.

Posting property lines, especially in accordance with North Carolina’s Landowner Protection Act (LPA), can offer protection from trespassing. The LPA, which clarifies some of the common hunting and recreational trespass issues landowners encounter, provides two ways for landholders to post their lands to allow only hunters, trappers and anglers with written permission to legally enter their property: signs and purple paint. Click here for details on how to post a property in accordance with the LPA.

Other important trespassing facts and laws relevant to landowners include:

  • No one can operate a motorized all-terrain-vehicle on another’s property without written permission from the landowner (see G.S. 14-159.3(a)(1)).
  • It is illegal (Class 3 misdemeanor) to destroy or mutilate any “posted” or “no hunting” or similar signs on the land of another, or post similar signs on the land of another (see G.S. 14-159.8).
  • It is considered second degree trespass (Class 3 misdemeanor) to remain on the premises of another without authorization after being told by an authorized party to leave (see G.S. 14-159.13).
  • It is illegal to cut, injure or remove another’s timber (see G.S. 14-135), which could result in double damages (G.S.1-539.1), and larceny of goods such as timber is a Class H felony if the value of goods is greater than $1,000 (see G.S. 14-72).

If trespass is suspected, try contacting the Sheriff’s office or NC Wildlife Resources Commission law enforcement (contact information here). A provision of the LPA allows wildlife officers to enforce trespass laws immediately, instead of having to first obtain an arrest warrant or criminal summons.

SAHC stewardship staff is happy to help with posting boundaries. Contact your stewardship lead, Hanni or Sarah, for assistance.

Farming in the Shadow of Crabtree Bald

rushforkcreek3This November we protected 32 acres of farmland in the shadow of Crabtree Bald in Haywood County. Located along Rush Fork Creek and adjacent to NC Scenic Byway 209, the farm contains prime agricultural soils and has been in the same family since the late 1700s.

Currently used for cattle grazing, the land has been used for various crops over the years, including tomatoes, corn and hay. It is now permanently protected for agricultural use under conservation easement with SAHC. Fertile soils on the property include prime farmland (Saunook loam), soils of statewide importance and of local importance. Read more

Reeves Homeplace Farm

highelevationfield2“This project represents five years of hard work by the land trust, the landowner, and the agencies involved,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. “This farm is representative of agriculture in Western North Carolina, and we are thrilled that the Reeves family will be able to continue owning, living and farming on this land in the future.”

Located in the Little Sandy Mush community amidst a scenic landscape of family farms, the property was part of a US land grant that once encompassed a much larger area. Landowner Betty Reeves is a 6th generation member of the Reeves family to farm the land, and she wanted to protect it with an agricultural conservation easement so that that it would be a resource for current and future farmers. Read more

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