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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.”

To date, SAHC has protected 38 properties in Haywood County, totaling over 12,100 acres. Some of the organization’s most notable conservation projects in the county include: SAHC’s first conservation easement project, which was accomplished at Cataloochee Ranch on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1993; the addition of 240 acres to the Cold Mountain Game Lands; 7,300 acres of the Waynesville Watershed, a NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund project in partnership with the Conservation Trust for NC; and 874 acres in the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed, another Clean Water Management Trust Fund project, which provides miles of hiking and mountain biking trails for public use.

In the past 12 months, SAHC has purchased 187 acres behind the I-40 rest area in the Pigeon River Gorge near Hurricane Ridge to protect animal habitat in an important wildlife corridor; 139 acres in the Beaverdam Watershed area of Haywood County, linking the Town of Canton’s Rough Creek watershed property with an existing SAHC preserve at Doubleside Knob; and 50 acres in Crabtree near the Buncombe/Haywood county line in order to protect corridors for wildlife movement, water quality, scenic views, and farmland. Last December, SAHC also completed agricultural conservation easement projects protecting 385 acres of multi-generational family farmland in Rogers Cove in Crabtree.

“Permanently protecting areas of low-impact use reduces land use pressure, stormwater impacts, and the consequent degradation of water quality,” says Eric Romaniszyn, executive director of Haywood Waterways Association. “We appreciate and support SAHC’s work and all our Haywood County partners to protect these lands, and in turn, maintain the high quality of our watersheds.”

SAHC is grateful for the support of many partners and contributors who make these projects possible, including our members, private donors, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North CarolinaN.C. Clean Water Management Trust FundN.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services.

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

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

Cataloochee Ranch: A Success Story in Haywood County

Spectacular fall colors on Hemphill BaldIn the 1990’s, 67-year-old Maggie Valley resident Tom Alexander realized that he would have to do something to be able to hand down his beloved land, 1,000 mostly undeveloped acres adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, intact to his children. The land had been in his family for 60 years, but development in Haywood County had greatly increased over the past few decades and the value of his land was doubling in value about every three to four years.

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