Wiles Creek

Wiles Creek close-upImagine a verdant forest with lush ferns growing underneath full, mature canopies. The slushing rush of stream waters echoes all around, lulling you into a state of calm relaxation. Nearby, wildflowers in meadow openings flush with sunlight set the stage for busy activity from pollinators (and their predators), hinting at the array of wildlife which call these places home. Damp earth and plentiful rocks harbor a healthy population of salamanders. Fortunately this stunning oasis in the Highlands of Roan – SAHC’s new Wiles Creek Preserve – is now permanently protected. We are grateful to the committed conservation-minded folks – including SAHC members, a former landowner, Brad and Shelli Stanback, and the Carolina Bird Club – who made protection of this beautiful sanctuary possible.

Wiles Creek mapSAHC recently purchased 166 acres in Mitchell County, NC adjoining Pisgah National Forest, within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. The undeveloped tract is highly visible from the public overlook at Roan High Knob. Part of a landscape of protected lands with other SAHC-conserved properties, the Wiles Creek Preserve will be owned by SAHC in the long term as a nature preserve and will be managed for priority bird habitats, water quality, and other natural features. Read more

Big Creek and Tanasee Ridge

Working with trusted conservation partners, this summer the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) purchased two parcels, totaling 219 acres, which will eventually be added to the Nantahala National Forest for the public to enjoy. One of the tracts contains Big Creek, a headwater tributary of the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River. The other is located on Tanasee Ridge and can potentially provide an alternate gateway to Panthertown Valley, a popular area for outdoor recreation. Both have long been priorities for addition to the Nantahala National Forest.

“Permanent conservation of the Big Creek and Tanasee Ridge properties will enhance the public experience of using the forest,” says Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director.

Big Creek

Big Creek and Tanasee Ridge MapThe 110-acre Big Creek tract in Macon County just north of the North Carolina/Georgia border is a headwater source of the nationally significant Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River – a beloved river for people to enjoy outdoor recreation like whitewater rafting, kayaking and fishing. The property on Big Creek is surrounded by the Nantahala and Chattahoochee National Forests.

A long-time priority for protection, other organizations previously attempted to secure this property for conservation. SAHC plans to own it for several years, and then transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service to become part of the surrounding Nantahala National Forest. Partner land trust Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT), which works in this geographic area, will help steward the property during SAHC’s ownership of the tract.

Sunset Falls

“HCLT is delighted to work with SAHC on the project to acquire and transfer the Big Creek tract to the U.S. Forest Service,” says Gary Wein, HCLT’s executive director. “Collaboration between these two storied land trusts brings their respective expertise and resources together in a win-win for everyone. This tract, which is both the gateway to Secret Falls and contains significant natural heritage has always been high on the priority list for the Nantahala Ranger District.”

In addition to protecting Big Creek, a primary tributary of the Chattooga River, conservation of the land protects important habitat for diverse plants and animals – particularly salamanders.

“The property is a beautiful example of forest in the Upper Chattooga River watershed with habitats ranging from granitic cliffs, oak-hickory forest full of chantrelles, and riparian areas home to trout and otters,” says Kyle Pursel,  HCLT’s stewardship coordinator.  “The property has a high diversity of salamanders, with at least 12 species of salamanders known from the property or lands immediately adjacent. It also has a great diversity of plants, including area endemics like Biltmores Sedge (Carex biltmoreana) and Granite Dome Goldenrod (Solidago simulans).”

Tanasee Ridge

Tanasee Ridge

The Tanasee Ridge property encompasses 109 acres along the ridge that forms the border between Jackson and Transylvania Counties. It is surrounded by Nantahala National Forest on three sides and significant because of its potential to provide an alternative public access to popular outdoor recreation areas in Panthertown Valley. It also contains important water resources in the Wolf Creek-Tuckaseegee River watershed and forested habitat in an important wildlife corridor (as identified by Wildlands Network Connectivity Index).

“The Tanasee Ridge tract is a beautifully wooded property that straddles the Transylvania and Jackson County boundaries,” says Rep. John Ager, life long friend of the Tuckasegee River. “More importantly, it provides new access to the upper Tuckasegee River and the Panthertown Valley from Highway 281. When practical, this land will be conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service and remain in the public domain for the enjoyment of the general public. SAHC should be commended for recognizing the long term value of this property, and marshaling the resources to purchase it.”

Conservation Funding for Public Lands

Hiking at Tanasee Ridge

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) – celebrated as the most important legislation for land and water conservation and public lands in the last 50+ years – was signed into law on August 4, 2020 after passing both the US Senate and House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support. The legislation finally provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and will help address an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance needs on public lands.

SAHC has a long history working with partners in public lands (including national forests and park units like the Appalachian National Historic Trail) to secure places for people to enjoy outdoor recreation.

“In the Eastern U.S., every acre of national forest land has been purchased from private landowners,” explains Silverstein. “When Congress authorized the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests as part of the Weeks Act in 1911, all the land here was already privately owned – so every acre of public land has to be purchased. In the early years there was a program for purchasing land, but these national forests, especially in the Southeast, have never been completed. Within the forest planning boundaries, property ownership appears something like a checkerboard – with both public lands and private lands. This is important because parts of the national forest may be near a trail or other feature, but people can’t utilize the public lands to the fullest because private lands are interspersed. Those things were true in both of SAHC’s recent Big Creek and Tanasee Ridge acquisitions.”

SAHC leveraged philanthropic donations and a loan from trusted partners at The Conservation Fund to acquire the Tanasee Ridge property, and a generous anonymous conservation philanthropist made a loan to enable the purchase of the Big Creek tract.

“SAHC courageously borrows money to seize unique conservation opportunities like these when they are available,” continues Silverstein. “If we were not able to do so, the land would probably end up being developed. We are only able to borrow money towards conservation acquisitions like these if we can map out how we will be able to repay the loan. For example, SAHC borrowed more than $1.2 million towards the acquisition of the Big Creek and Tanasee Ridge properties. Over the past years, there have been multiple attempts to secure these properties which didn’t work out. With the confidence that the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be available to transfer these properties to become part of national forests in the future, and thanks to our dedicated members and generous contributions from Brad and Shelli Stanback, SAHC was finally able to protect them.”

135 Acres Adjoining Pisgah Nat’l Forest

Gutches Creek mapIn September 2019, SAHC secured 135 acres of important high elevation habitat in the Highlands of Roan. This tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and existing SAHC preserves, creating a contiguous swath of permanently protected, botanically rich forests on the slopes of Fork Mountain. We are incredibly grateful to all of our supporters for helping to conserve this remarkable place! Read more

Strawberry Gap, Stony Point Conservation

We purchased 170 acres in two adjoining tracts at Strawberry Gap and Stony Point near the Eastern Continental Divide  to protect water resources, plant and animal habitat, and scenic views from public trails and scenic byways. We plan to own these properties for the long term and manage the forests to promote resilience, diversity and longevity. Read more

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

Stevens Creek land protected near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We recently purchased 147 acres at Stevens Creek, a quiet cove on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The acquisition permanently protects important habitat and water resources near the remote Cataloochee Valley area of the park.

“Wrapped on three sides by publicly owned land, this pocket of prime forest and open pasture habitat will remain undeveloped for future generations,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “The acquisition presents a wonderful opportunity for SAHC to deepen our connection to America’s most visited national park.”

Read more

North Turkey Creek – 149 Acres Protected

trees on North Turkey Creek propertyWe purchased 149 acres at North Turkey Creek in Buncombe County, adding to a contiguous block of protected lands in the Sandy Mush community. The acquisition protects wildlife corridors and headwater streams that flow into North Turkey Creek in the French Broad River watershed.

“This tract adjoins the extensive network of lands protected by SAHC in Sandy Mush,” says Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s land protection director. “It is surrounded on two sides by land SAHC protected between 1995 and 2011.”

Read more

Little Hawk Mountain

We purchased 220 acres on Little Hawk Mountain in the Highlands of Roan, protecting mature forest, trout waters, and important bird habitat. This acquisition adds to thousands of acres conserved by SAHC in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area since 2008. 

“This acquisition extends the protected corridor along the ridgeline of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area and offers potential for future public access and recreation,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We are looking at the long view, protecting the land now for people to enjoy in the future.” Read more

7 acres protected near Carvers Gap

7-acre inholding surrounded by an SAHC preserve and Pisgah National Forest just below Carvers Gap in the Highlands of RoanAt the end of December we purchased a 7-acre inholding surrounded by protected land just below Carvers Gap in the Highlands of Roan. The tract adjoins an SAHC preserve and Pisgah National Forest. Although small in acreage, it was a high conservation priority because of its location and visibility from the Appalachian Trail at Round Bald and Jane Bald.

“People often ask if SAHC has a minimum acreage requirement for land protection projects,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This is an excellent example of a small property with large conservation benefits.” Read more

Big Rock Creek Donation

bigrockcreekInspired by our conservation work in the Highlands of Roan, landowner Ken Davis donated 47 acres to SAHC. The property adjoins Pisgah National Forest and our Big Rock Creek preserve, which we purchased in 2014, thus filling an important gap in the protected landscape.

Visible from the Appalachian Trail, the tract contains important forest habitat and headwater resources. Forest types include Appalachian hemlock hardwood forest, Appalachian oak forest, and southern Appalachian montane pine forest. The property contains a portion of Dave Branch stream and a headwater stream for Big Rock Creek, which flows into the North Toe River. These waterways are designated Wild Trout Streams by the NC Division of Water Quality. Read more


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