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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!

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

Cold Mountain Game Lands Assist

Staff on SiteWe assisted the NC Wildlife Resources Commission in purchasing a 64-acre tract adjoining the Cold Mountain Game Lands near Lake Logan.

The forested tract, formerly owned by the Caldwell family, adjoins the Cold Mountain Game Lands and Significant Natural Heritage Areas, ranging in elevation from 3,400 – 4,000 feet.

It was purchased by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NC WRC) for addition to the Cold Mountain Game Lands.  Ownership by the state agency will help reduce land fragmentation and ensure that this area is protected and properly managed. Read more

Broad Branch, in the Highlands of Roan

p1010849Located less than 2 miles from the Appalachian Trail and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, the 48-acre Broad Branch tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and contains a broad mix of habitat. We acquired it in December, and plan to own and manage it for long-term forest health and water quality.

“This tract shares a nearly one-half mile boundary with Pisgah National Forest,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It certainly earns the description of ‘highlands,’ with elevations exceeding 4,500 feet where it joins the National Forest.” Read more

Habitat Restoration Day on Little Hump Mountain

img_3157.jpgSAHC and a slew of volunteers spent a full day mowing, trimming, and cutting to create additional habitat for the rare and “near threatened” golden-winged warbler on Little Hump Mountain in the Highlands of Roan. The Golden-winged Warbler (GWW) is an early successional species that is dependent on a unique habitat consisting of sparse trees, shrubs, and abandoned fields. Unfortunately, the GWW’s habitat is rapidly disappearing, as old farmsteads and other early successional habitats are developing  back into forested land.

Under the leadership of SAHC’s seasonal ecologist, Chris Coxen, volunteers created additional habitat space for these incredible birds in the hopes to increase the number of nesting pairs next spring and summer on Little Hump Mountain. Read more

SAHC Expands Habitat for Endangered Bat

The Virginia big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii) is an endangered bat that only lives in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Virginia big-eared bats prefer caves in karst regions (areas underlain with limestone bedrock and many caves and sinkholes) dominated by oak/hickory or beech/maple/hemlock forest.

SAHC expanded the bat’s habitat in the Highlands of Roan with the recent purchase of the 136-acre Views at Cranberry tract, located within one half mile of the Cranberry Iron Mines tract on which the NC Wildlife Resources Commission holds a 200-acre conservation easement in order to protect this endangered creature. Read more