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SAHC to Accept Donation of 7,500 Acres in Roan Highlands

Press Release – April 22, 2021

SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN HIGHLANDS CONSERVANCY SIGNS LETTER TO ACCEPT DONATION OF 7,500 ACRES IN THE ROAN HIGHLANDS

Conservation of the globally-significant mountain adds to extensive land trust and public agency efforts in the region

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) announced today that they have signed a letter of intent to accept the donation of approximately 7,500 acres of land in the Roan Highlands landscape from a conservation philanthropist. The tract lies within the southern end of the planning boundary of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, a special conservation area designated by the NC General Assembly in 2008 to protect the exceptional nat­ural features found there.

Photo credit Tim Sweeney

The donation consists of dozens of separate-but-contiguous land holdings rising to 5,300′ in elevation straddling the border of Avery and Mitchell counties in Western North Carolina. It supports numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species and features some of the most extraordinary scenery in the eastern U.S. The property includes the largest American Chestnut restoration project in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heath-balds.

Transfer of the gift is expected to be completed in the next year. SAHC will own the land and manage it as a nature preserve. SAHC staff will continue ongoing use of the land for scientific study in collaboration with the donor. SAHC intends to host guided hikes on the property after the transfer is completed and a man­agement plan has been finalized.

“This is the largest single gift in SAHC’s history, and the largest gift of land to a land trust that I’m aware of” said Carl Silverstein, executive director of the land trust. “As we watch so much of our region get carved into sub-divisions, strategic acquisition of large parcels of land is increasingly important — and increasingly hard to accomplish. In twenty years this gift might be one of the few sites in Western North Carolina that still looks like it looked one hundred years ago, or one thousand years ago.”

“These parcels include some of the most sought-after conservation acres in the eastern United States, including over 100 miles of pristine creeks and streams. We really are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility to steward this vast mountain complex,” Silverstein added.

Photo credit Tim Sweeney

Even before his first acquisition here in 2012, longtime SAHC member Tim Sweeney envisioned assembling these parcels into a unified block of land with the intention of conserving the entire mountain ecosystem. With this gift the philanthropist’s dream has become a reality for the benefit of future generations.

“This project is a conservationist’s dream come true,” said SAHC Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “Pristine roadless land that has not been tim­bered over is almost impossible to find in the Southern Appalachians in 2021, but this assemblage contains so much that we value, from old growth forests to high-elevation open areas in an undisturbed condition. My phone will ring off the hook from biologists who want to visit and study this unparalleled preserve. We look forward to welcoming them to the mountain.”

SAHC Senior Advisor Jay Leutze is excited about the benefits the donated land will provide for surrounding communities. “I can’t wait to take local scout troops and church groups on hikes here and to invite school kids out to learn about how healthy forests clean our drinking water for free and how migratory songbirds fly between the Roan Highlands and Central America each year,” Leutze said. “This property is the back yard for a lot of people who treasure it for the clear air and scenic views it provides. In a world that is constantly changing our commitment is to keep this place functioning as a healthy ecosystem forever.”

The Roan Highlands

The Greater Roan Highlands landscape is a 60,000 acre complex of summits and ridgelines tracing the North Carolina-Tennessee border in the north and stretching southward to the outskirts of Spruce Pine, NC. The Appalachian Trail crosses a series of grassy balds along the northern peaks of the area. The area has drawn scientists from around the world since the 1700’s when word of its botanical riches reached European explorers. The landscape supports over 1,500 native plant species making it a global hotspot for biodiversity. Over 20,000 acres in the north of the landscape is open to the public and owned by the US Forest Service. Additional conservation acreage is owned and managed by Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and the State of North Carolina.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

SAHC was created as a land trust in 1974 with the initial goal of protecting the fragile grassy balds of the Roan Highlands and creating a route for the Appalachian Trail. Prior to today’s announcement the organization had preserved more than 78,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland and scenic beauty in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. SAHC is headquartered in Asheville, N.C. at 372 Merrimon Avenue.

Read more in the Asheville Citizen-Times!

2020 Conservation Review

Map of SAHC conservation projects in 2020Looking back as we head into the final stretch of 2020, we all know that this year has been far from ordinary. On a positive note, it has been a record-breaking year for local conservation efforts! Since the beginning of January, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has closed on the protection of more than 2,600 acres across the mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, with additional projects scheduled to wrap up by year-end. Several of these have been in the works for many years.

“It is a testament to the commitment of SAHC members, staff, and conservation-minded supporters that we have been able to complete these projects during extraordinary circumstances, and we are grateful to all the people who make this remarkable work possible,” says SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “There is something tangible and reassuring in preserving land – it’s something you can put your hand on. These conservation projects help preserve cultural connections to the past, places to connect with nature, and vital resources we rely on now, and which will be increasingly critical in the future.” Read more

Beaverdam – 54 Acres

Google Earth image of 54-acre parcel on mountain slopeIn November, we purchased 54 acres in the Beaverdam community of Haywood County, protecting land adjoining the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed and other SAHC-protected properties in the Beaverdam and Newfound Mountains area.

“Permanent protection of this tract will help preserve scenic views from public trails in the adjoining Rough Creek watershed, as well as stream sources and habitat in an important wildlife corridor,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “These 54 acres add to a network of thousands of acres of protected land in Haywood County and western Buncombe County.”

Read more

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

Tanasee Ridge

Hiking at Tanasee Ridge

Working with trusted conservation partners, we recently protected 109 acres at Tanasee Ridge, adjoining Nantahala National Forest. The property could potentially provide an alternate gateway to popular outdoor recreation areas in Panthertown Valley. Thank you for helping to make this project possible!

“This tract has long been a priority for conservation,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter.  “Permanent protection of the Tanasee Ridge property will enhance the public experience of using the forest.” Read more

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

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