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Chestnut Mountain Nature Park

SAHC and HandUp Gloves tents displays

Vendors and organizations participated in the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park Grand Opening on April 23.

On Saturday, April 23, 2022 the  Town of Canton hosted a public opening for the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park on Hwy 19-23. Situated as a park-within-a-park, the mountain biking Berm Park simultaneously opened the public. The family-friendly grand opening event included live music, outdoor retailers, and more. A wide variety of visitors, including local residents and folks who had traveled from other states for the opening, enjoyed the park with bright skies on a sunny, warm spring day!

Ribbon cutting, group assembled at gateway

Ribbon cutting at opening ceremony April 22. Photo by Michelle Pugliese.

The busy public grand opening day followed a formal ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, April 22, which celebrated the many partners and funders whose work over several years led to the successful park opening. The ribbon cutting ceremony included guest speakers: Canton Town Mayor Zeb Smathers, Town Manager Nick Scheuer, SAHC Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter, Senator Kevin Corbin (NC Senate, District 50), Representative Mark Pless (NC House of Representatives, District 118), NC Land and Water Fund Western Field Representative Damon Hearne, Berm Park founder Seth Alvo  (Berm Peak YouTube channel), and The Wildlands Network NC Project Manager Nikki Robinson.  NC Rep. Mark Pless, NC Sen. Kevin Corbin, and NC Sen. Chuck Edwards were recognized for their role in helping with the creation of the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park and the future Pisgah View State Park, both in Haywood County.

Chestnut Mountain Nature Park ribbon cutting (video)

We are grateful to all the generous supporters, dedicated partners, and thoughtful leaders who have guided and contributed to the creation of this special place. This success story was made possible by the efforts of many helping hands, including public input into park plans and volunteer work days. We look forward to sharing future developments over the coming years!

For more info, including park open times and visitor info, visit theChestnut Mountain Nature Park Facebook page or ChestnutMountainNaturePark.com

View Media Coverage of the park opening at:

Smoky Mountain News

The Mountaineer

WLOS

About Chestnut Mountain Nature Park:

Chestnut Mountain stone and wood gateway

Gateway into Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Photo by Michelle Pugliese.

“We cannot think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than the opening of this incredible conservation and recreation project,” says Nick Scheuer, town manager. “The importance of Chestnut Mountain Nature Park cannot be overstated and its impact on wildlife protection, quality of life improvements and economic development will impact generations to come.  None of this would be possible without our incredible partners at Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.”

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased the 450-acre Chestnut Mountain property in 2020 in an ambitious endeavor to pair permanent protection of habitat and water resources with creation of a conservation-friendly, community-centric space for outdoor recreation.  The Town of Canton engaged Equinox Environmental to lead a master planning process for the park, including community input sessions, and Elevated Trail Design worked on trail design for the property. Seth Alvo, creator of the Berm Peak YouTube channel and Seth’s Bike Hacks, galvanized his followers to support development of Berm Park — a mountain biking oasis and park-within-a-park at Chestnut Mountain Nature Park.

Michelle Pugliese and Brad Kee at Berm Park signs

SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese and Brad Kee, of Kee Mapping and Surveying, at the Berm Park entrance.

“Berm Park is a free, public bike park,” says Alvo. “While it’s just a tiny part of Chestnut Mountain, it will be a big part of the community. Funds to build Berm Park were provided by sponsoring companies and crowd-sourced from Patreon and YouTube followers, who watched the park come to life, week by week and stage by stage, on the internet. The collaboration between recreation and conservation here at Chestnut Mountain will remain an example for other communities in how working together can make big projects come to life. Chestnut Mountain and Berm Park now serve as assets to the area, strengthening the community’s health through recreation, and enriching the lives of many.”

bear tracks in mudLocated in an important wildlife corridor, the large property includes diverse ecological communities, streams that flow into Hominy Creek, and the top of Chestnut Mountain. A portion of the tract was once slated for a motorsports speedway. Although that project never developed, grading work done for the speedway created a space well-suited for mountain bike and hiking trails. Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy partnered with the Town of Canton and an excited group of partners and funders to bring to fruition this vision — a nature park in which habitat and water resources are permanently protected by conservation easements, with areas open for people to enjoy, explore, and learn about nature.

Chestnut Mountain view

The 450-acre Chestnut Mountain property contains a variety of natural communities. Photo by Adams Wood.

“Forested ridgelines and coves provide diverse habitat for plants and animals,” says Hanni Muerdter,  Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s conservation director. “This land contains a mosaic of habitat types, with pockets of mature hardwood forest with laurel and rhododendron, forested slopes facing a variety of directions, and an open field and early successional edge area beneficial for birds. We look forward to continuing to study patterns of wildlife movement across the land with our partners at The Wildlands Network. We’re also excited about the potential for the property to be an educational outdoor classroom. The Berm Park biking skills course was placed in a good location because that area was already disturbed, and the majority of the rest of the property will be reserved for forested habitat and single-track trails.”

In 2022, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy transferred ownership of the land to the Town of Canton, but the nationally accredited nonprofit land trust will continue to monitor the conservation easements permanently protecting the tract in perpetuity. Conservation easements held by the State of NC and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy ensure that the natural resources of the land will remain protected for future generations.

Chestnut mountain peak

Chestnut Mountain photo by Stephanie Long.

At the grand opening, approximately 35 acres of the total 450-acre tract opened to the public. This area includes the mountain biking skills course at Berm Park and a mixed use (hiking and biking) trail that climbs approx. 350 ft. from the parking lot and pedestrian bridge which forms a gateway into the property. The Town of Canton continues to secure funding and plan for infrastructure development outlined in the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park master plan along with other pertinent information. Future hiking trails, recreation areas, and park amenities will open over the next two years.

“While we are excited to open up Chestnut Mountain in its first phase,” continues Scheuer, “this park is very much a work in progress, and we look forward to unveiling trails and amenities throughout the park that every user will be able to enjoy. The Town of Canton is partnering with Haywood Waterways Association on a stream restoration project along Hominy Creek. The next phase of park development will include hiking and biking specific trails, picnic pavilion, kids bicycle playground, scenic overlooks and more. There’s a lot to be excited about this month and in the future.”

Town of Canton:

Town of Canton logoNestled in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains on the Pigeon River and a mere 20 miles from downtown Asheville is Canton, NC, a historic mill town with unmatched character and pride. The Town of Canton boasts a relatively mild climate, a fascinating history & picturesque surroundings full of recreation opportunities for the young or the young at heart. More info at www.CantonNC.com.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy:

SAHC logoThe Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is a nationally accredited, non-profit land trust conserving land and water resources in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Since 1974, SAHC has protected over 80,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic views, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation. SAHC’s acquisition of the Chestnut Mountain property was made possible with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the NC Attorney General’s Office’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, many private donors, and loans from the The Conservation Fund and from Hudson Land and Timber LLC. More info at Appalachian.org.

Berm Park:

Berm Park is a free, public bike park made possible by the town of Canton, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and most critically, people from all over the world who donated to fund the park. Half of funds to build Berm Park were contributed by sponsors: Diamondback Bicycles, Competitive Cyclist, Athletic Brewing, Dror Bezalel, and Park Tool Company. The other half of funds to build Berm Park were crowd-sourced from Patreon and YouTube followers, who watched the park come to life, week by week and stage by stage, on the internet. Berm Park was designed and built by local professional trail contractor Elevated Trail Design. More info at Youtube.com/c/SethsBikeHacks

Crabtree Bald

Map of Chestnut mountain and surround conservation landsSouthern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 166 acres in northwestern Haywood County, including forested slopes of Crabtree Bald. The property is located in a region where we and partners have been conserving forested ridges and productive valley farms for more than two decades, preserving a network of undeveloped land in Sandy Mush, Crabtree, and the Newfound Mountains in order to protect wildlife habitat, water sources, and farmland.

“This property was listed on the real estate market and could have been purchased for development,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “SAHC’s acquisition of the land adds a large block of protected acreage to the growing network of protected land in this area and helps secure a corridor for wildlife to travel along the mountains. The mix of forested habitat support a variety of species.” 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

Chestnut Mountain

 

Chestnut Mountain is close to highway accessUnique habitat and clean water conservation project paired with exciting potential for outdoor recreation! We have purchased 448 acres at Chestnut Mountain near the Town of Canton, permanently protecting sources of clean water and forested habitat in an important wildlife corridor. SAHC plans to give the conserved property to the Town of Canton, after we finish raising funds that are needed to re-pay a bridge loan we took out to buy the property. This will create the possibility for easily accessible outdoor recreation just off US Hwy 19/23 and Interstate 40.

Animal track“This property is dynamic, with a mosaic of habitat types – which is really good for wildlife – and different settings for people to enjoy various types of experiences on the land,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The property starts at 2,360 feet elevation at Hwy 19/23 and then rises to 3,400 feet at the peak of Chestnut Mountain.  At the higher elevations, forested ridgelines and coves situated in an important wildlife corridor provide exceptional habitat for plants and animals. It contains pockets of gentle mature hardwood forest with laurel and rhododendron, forested slopes facing a variety of directions, and an open field and early successional edge area beneficial for birds. The amount of wildlife activity on the tract is truly impressive!” Read more

SAHC Honored with Pigeon River Award

On Tuesday December 3, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Haywood County Agricultural Advisory Board, and The Conservation Fund received Haywood Waterways Association’s Pigeon River Award, an award honoring individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to protecting land and water resources in Haywood County. SAHC has been conserving land in the county since the early 1990s — from the first conservation easement at Cataloochee Ranch to recent protection of 139 acres in the Beaverdam watershed and 50 acres in Crabtree.

“Haywood County is such a special place, and we are lucky to have so many great organizations, landowners, community leaders, and funders working to permanently protect its land and water resources – it takes all of us,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “We’re honored to receive the Pigeon River Award along with wonderful partners at Haywood County Agricultural Advisory Board and The Conservation Fund. SAHC will continue to team with partners and willing landowners to protect the scenic vistas, wildlife corridors, fertile soils, and land securing clean water in Haywood.” Read more

Hidden Valley – 50 Acres in Haywood County

Mountaintop pasturesIn fall 2019, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 50 acres at Hidden Valley in Haywood County in order to protect corridors for wildlife movement, water quality, scenic views, and farmland.

The tract adjoins the 146-acre Little Creek Headwaters preserve that we purchased in 2016, providing connectivity for wildlife corridors. Conserving the land also protects scenic views from the Crabtree area and the agricultural community in Bald Creek valley.

“A scenic gem, the Bald Creek area of Crabtree is a quiet farming community tucked between the iconic Crabtree Bald and the Haywood/Buncombe County line,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “The Hidden Valley property expands SAHC’s protection of a concentration of over 1,400 permanently protected acres within Crabtree and nearby Sandy Mush (Buncombe & Madison Counties). This chain of protected land follows ridgelines that are important for wildlife movement and dip into fertile valleys that provide water resources and soil for productive agricultural land.” Read more

139 Acres in Beaverdam Creek Watershed

Barn on protected propertySAHC recently purchased 139 acres in the Beaverdam area of Haywood County, connecting the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek watershed property with conserved land previously protected by SAHC. The acquisition will permanently protect wildlife habitat, scenic views from public trails, and water quality in streams.

“This 139-acre tract includes portions of Beaverdam Creek and its tributaries,” explains Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The property fills a protection gap within the watershed, directly connecting Canton’s Rough Creek watershed conservation easement to the west and an SAHC-owned preserve to the north. Together these properties form a 1,120-acre nearly contiguous protected assemblage within the Beaverdam watershed.”

Map of Doubleside Knob area conservationBeaverdam Creek’s water quality is considered to be on the decline, and SAHC’s purchase of the tract improves surface water quality by permanently protecting 2.5 miles of stream on the tract from development. We also plan to manage the property according to best management practices for water quality, which will help reduce sedimentation, bacteria levels, and runoff. This purchase directly supports the Beaverdam Watershed Action Plan, produced by Haywood Waterways and the Pigeon River Fund.

“SAHC’s acquisition of this property complements our work to prevent water quality degradation in Beaverdam Creek, which is considered to be on the decline,” says Eric Romaniszyn, Executive Director of Haywood Waterways Association. “Haywood Waterways works to maintain and improve water quality throughout Haywood County through voluntary initiatives. Our Pigeon River Watershed Action Plan specifically recommends conservation of critical headwater areas, such as the tract recently acquired by SAHC, for the long-term protection of water quality. We certainly appreciate SAHC’s and the partnership’s work to protect these lands and maintain the high quality of our watersheds.”

Former landowner David Ashe contacted SAHC about this property in the Beaverdam Creek watershed after reading about our purchase of the adjoining Doubleside Knob preserve last year. Both tracts were once part of a much larger parcel owned by his wife’s family. David wanted to permanently protect the land in order to honor her.

“She never wanted to see it developed,” he says. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone about selling it. She passed away about a year and a half ago, and I thought that it would be good to preserve it, so it will stay like it is. I think that’s what she would have wanted.”

This acquisition was made possible with a generous seed gift from private donors for the acquisition, support from SAHC’s members, and a $25,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

“This land has been passed down in the same family for over 150 years, and we are so grateful that the previous landowner wanted to see it permanently protected and reached out to SAHC,” adds Muerdter. “We look forward to managing this land for future generations.”

Photo credits: Johnny Davison

Rogers Cove – 385 Acres

Hugged by mountains and tucked away in the scenic Crabtree community of Haywood County, Rogers Cove contains beautiful rolling pastures and forested hills that stir the imagination. We have permanently protected 385 acres of productive, scenic farmland in this cove through agricultural conservation easements.

“The Rogers family has farmed this land for at least four generations and wanted to see it stay farmland forever, which is why they protected their land with SAHC through agricultural easements,” says Jess Laggis, SAHC’s Farmland Protection Director. “Beyond all the beauty and ecosystem services this land protection provides, it also supports some of the kindest farmers you could meet in maintaining our mountain farming heritage.” Read more

Flatwoods Pastures

We purchased 146 acres at Flatwoods Pastures in the Crabtree Community of Haywood County, protecting significant acreage for continued grazing.  The high elevation tract combines productive agricultural land with valuable wildlife habitat and breathtaking scenic views. It connects with our Garret Cove property in Sandy Mush  and the recently purchased Little Creek Headwaters tract, a beautiful forested cove in Bald Creek Valley.

“Flatwoods Pasture bridges the Sandy Mush agricultural community and Bald Creek/Crabtree agricultural community,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. Read more

146-acre Little Creek Headwaters Property — Protected!

photo-9Today we purchased 146 acres in Bald Creek Valley in the Crabtree Community of Haywood County — a beautiful, forested cove with streams running through it, now conserved for future generations.

“This high-elevation, relatively untouched forest — once slated for development — will now be permanently protected,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “I’m so excited to have worked on protecting this land in Bald Creek Valley, one of the most beautiful rural valleys in the area. It’s just stunning!” Read more