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Yellow Spot – 234 Acres Protected

This summer we purchased 234 acres in the Highlands of Roan, securing high elevation wildlife habitat and permanently protecting a corridor linking our Tompkins Preserve with Pisgah National Forest in Mitchell County. This acquisition at Yellow Spot protects rare plant and animal habitat, wildlife corridors, scenic views, and sources of clean water along an important high elevation ridgeline.

“This property contains a remarkable combination of features that have made it a conservation priority for decades,” explains Marquette Crockett, SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director. “We conserve some properties to preserve exceptional water quality and native trout habitat and we protect others because they contain rare, high elevation open areas or exceptional forest habitat – but Yellow Spot has everything. It’s a microcosm of the Roan Highlands. SAHC’s acquisition of this tract secures a perfect puzzle piece, surrounded by National Forest and protecting the main spine of the Roan Massif.”

Located within the state-designated Roan Massif Natural Area, the property rises to 5,100 ft. elevation at the peak of Yellow Spot and will provide a buffer for sensitive habitat in Pisgah National Forest. The Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area covers approximately two-thirds of the tract.

“Yellow Spot has all the interesting and rare high elevation species you would expect in a property of this caliber – Gray’s lily, Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Eastern Spotted Skunk, Indiana Bat, and more,” continues Crockett. “A biological inventory of the property identified six rare animal species and 12 rare plant species, including Bog Goldenrod and Trailing Wolfsbane.”

The tract contains over 2.5 miles of stream corridor, including 10 headwater tributaries of Cook Creek and Pineroot Branch, both of which are designated as Trout Waters by the NC Division of Water Resources.

“Much of the land is full of boulders and streams, and it contains some of the more rare habitat found in the Roan,” says Crockett. “Although rugged and remote, it is also highly visible from popular vantage points across the region. You can see the boundaries of this property from both sides of the Massif – from Buladean to Bakersville. Drivers along the scenic NC 261 byway and visitors to the world-famous Catawba rhododendron gardens near Carvers Gap enjoy scenic views of this protected land.”

The Yellow Spot property was a longstanding conservation priority both because of its important strategic location and its outstanding conservation values. Our acquisition of the land fills in an unprotected gap in the network of protected lands along the primary ridgeline of the globally significant Roan Massif.

“We are extremely grateful to philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, Tim Sweeney, and The Biltmore Company for enabling SAHC to protect this incredible tract,” says Crockett. “This is an investment both in the future of conservation and in outdoor recreation and the economic vitality of local communities. Keeping viewsheds in the Roan Highlands intact and beautiful is a valuable asset to our region.”

SAHC plans to own the property for the long term, managing it for habitat and clean water. Visitors to popular outdoor recreation hotspots, including the Appalachian Trail and rhododendron gardens atop Roan Mountain, will be able to enjoy views of the untouched land for generations to come.

“Viewing the property from the Pisgah National Forest and realizing that we have now secured this part of the vista was very moving for me,” adds Crockett. “After one site visit, my favorite part of the day was drinking a milkshake in Buladean and looking back up at where we had come from… and knowing that this incredible place will now be protected forever. It’s very humbling to be part of this effort, and I’m so grateful to everyone who made it possible. I look forward to many years of research, discovery, and caring for this land.”

* A massif is a cluster of mountains containing separate peaks.

Personal Perspective, from SAHC President Jay Leutze

“It’s easy to get distracted by the news of the day.  Which is why you should feel good about supporting a land trust that never rests when it comes to protecting the places you treasure!

Let’s be honest: were you aware that the Yellow Spot tract was at risk?  Probably not, but this is one of those special places our land protection committee has had on our radar for a long time.  Since 1995 when we protected Pat Tompkin’s orchard and surrounding hundreds of acres of pristine forest, we have been tracking the fate of the Yellow Spot tract just to its north and east.

That’s how good conservation works.  It’s like a puzzle — but losing a piece is not just the end of the fun. In our line of work, losing a piece of the puzzle can interrupt the integrity of a wildlife corridor or close off a gateway into the landscape for hikers.  In this case the Yellow Spot tract was eyed for either timber harvest or development.  Surrounded by protected land, SAHC’s great work in partnership with Pisgah National Forest had made this area a very desirable place to live. But now Yellow Spot is safe.  We kept our focus and, when the opportunity presented itself, we bought it.  Now it’s time to build on this achievement.  The puzzle is still taking shape and luckily SAHC is not easily distracted!”

Help prevent lily leaf spot disease

© 2015 Jim Stokely

If you’re out traipsing high elevation mountains and meadows across WNC this July, you might spy the stunning red-orange trumpet of a Gray’s lily (Lilium grayi) bloom. Please look but don’t touch! This rare native flower has been suffering from a fungal disease that may be spread by contact. The Lily Leaf Spot Disease kills juveniles and reduces reproduction in adults, creating a grim forecast for the future of these beautiful blooms.

First identified by famous American botanist Asa Gray in the Highlands of Roan in 1840, Gray’s lily occurs at high elevations in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, on grassy balds and in moist forests and wet meadows. They bloom in June and July, creating brilliant displays beloved by nature photographers and naturalists. Already listed as Threatened in NC, Gray’s lily populations have been suffering from the wide spread of disease caused by the fungal phytopathogen Pseudocercosporella inconspicua. Indications of the disease occur as tan spots on the leaves, stems, and reproductive portions of the lily. SAHC, in partnership with the US Forest Service and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, recently posted educational signs along the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan to raise awareness about the Gray’s lily and try to slow spread of the disease. impacts other native lilies, including Canada and Turk’s Cap lily, but Gray’s lily seems to be most susceptible.

Read more

Big Rock Creek Volunteer Work Day

On April 28, 2018, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and Nature Valley partnered with us for a volunteer work day at our Big Rock Creek Preserve, surrounded by national forest land and public recreation hotspots in the Highlands of Roan. In addition to the area’s rare habitats and unique species, SAHC’s Big Rock Creek Preserve – once the home of TrailRidge Mountain Camp — provides a great space for people to connect with protected conservation lands.  A total of 35 volunteers showed up for the work day and tackled a variety of tasks around the preserve to help better connect people with nature. The crew of volunteers represented programs from across the region, including Western Carolina University, East Tennessee State University, AmeriCorps Project Conserve, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and Asheville Women Outdoors.

The volunteers broke into smaller groups to work on tasks, which included building a quarter mile loop trail, deconstructing an old camping platform, transplanting rhododendron, and seeding an open area with native grasses.  

Jeff Hunter of NPCA led one of the trail crews to clear and grade the first segment of the trail. Jeff has extensive experience in building trails and volunteers learned a lot by working with him.  

Building the trail was an eye opening experience, I have hiked on trails for years and years, but had no idea the amount of work and love that goes into making and maintaining them. Now, when I am looking at a trail I can identify the mineral soil, what is a good slope, and where water may end up pooling; all things I never would have noticed prior to the Big Rock Creek Workday.  It was definitely a Saturday well spent!” -Emily Adler

The trail crew also built two sets of steps and cleared fallen trees. By the end of the day, all major obstacles had been cleared from the trail, creating a strolling path for SAHC’s educational programs and guests to use to explore the property.

On another portion of the preserve, volunteers worked in the open area surrounding our new camping platform.  Volunteers cleared the area around the platform, then spread seeds and transplanted rhododendron along the border. We hope to see this area sprouting native grasses and wildflowers in the next few weeks.

In only 5 hours, all of the tasks were completed and everyone took a walk on the newly built trail together.  We shared stories about what led us to volunteer and reflected on the importance of environmental stewardship.  Thank you to everyone who participated or supported this work day. We couldn’t do it without you!

Big Cove Creek

Appreciating the beauty and ecological importance of the Highlands of Roan, Ben and Leah Sherman recently donated 15 acres in Carter County, TN to SAHC for us to protect forever from development. The property adjoins Cherokee National Forest and can be seen from the Appalachian Trail. Located a scant quarter mile from our Little Cove Creek Preserve, the new preserve borders national forest land at the foot of Wolf Ridge, a high elevation ridgeline that descends from Roan High Knob.

“In 2001, we fell in love with the property adjacent to Cherokee National Forest, at the base of Wolf Ridge on the north side of Roan High Knob,” shared the former landowners Ben and Leah Sherman. “For more than 10 years we raised our young boys among the rocks and creeks and the cozy shadows of The Roan.”

“When we had to relocate, we knew we wanted to conserve as much of the land as possible. We were aware of SAHC before buying the land and increasingly learned of the good work SAHC does protecting so many beautiful areas. We are so happy SAHC will protect this property for future generations.”

Although small in acreage, the property contains significant habitat and water resources. More than half of the property is covered by open areas and early successional forest, which could potentially serve as habitat for rare species such as the Golden-winged Warbler. Nearly 1,000 feet of streams flow through it, including a portion of Big Cove Creek, one of the headwater tributaries of the Doe River.  The Doe River watershed is popular for trout fishing.

Near the new preserve in every direction there are public lands popular for recreation — Roan Mountain State Park to the north, Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area to the east, and the Appalachian Trail and national forests to the west and south.

We are very grateful to Ben and Leah Sherman for donating this land for permanent conservation, and to Brad and Shelli Stanback for donating funds for transaction costs and long-term stewardship of the property.

Hunter Outreach Chili Dinner

Highlands of RoanThe Roan Highlands are commonly referred to as the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s flagship conservation focus area. Along with their stunning views and unique habitats, the Roan Highlands are home to a rich mountain culture spanning generations with a deep connection to the land. The relationship between these communities and the mountain has been the foundation of stewardship in the Roan for hundreds of years. Historic uses like hunting and fishing have played a significant role in that relationship. Hunting for subsistence has always been a way of life and has fostered relationships with nature based on intrinsic values and respect.

SAHC honors the relationship between Roan communities and the land by allowing a limited number of hunting licenses to be issued for our protected properties. These licenses are typically issued to prior landowners, neighbors, or relatives to hunt deer and turkey. Read more

Big Rock Creek Preserve – New Addition!

We purchased 21 wooded acres in the Highlands of Roan just south of the TN border in Mitchell County, securing a gateway to connect our existing Big Rock Creek conservation properties with Pisgah National Forest.

“This is another Roan success story that protects habitat for birds and native trout – with the added benefit of providing access and educational opportunities for connecting people with land,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. Read more

Upper Roaring Creek Valley

“It is simply magical,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, referring Roaring Creek in the Highlands of Roan. “If I were a Hellbender, this is the stream I would want to live in.”

SAHC recently acquired 142 acres at Upper Roaring Creek Valley in the Roan, to protect clean mountain streams and habitat for native trout and other wildlife. The contiguous tracts in Avery County contain a portion of Roaring Creek and its tributaries as well as undeveloped, forested land that adjoins Pisgah National Forest.

“This is one of the most incredible stretches of mountain stream,” explains Crockett. “From a biological standpoint, Roaring Creek is one of the most productive native trout streams in the state. It feeds into the North Toe River, which is home to endangered species like the Appalachian Elktoe mussel.” 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

Roan Highlands Story Map

Straddling the border of Tennessee’s Carter County and North Carolina’s Mitchell and Avery Counties, the Roan Mountain massif rises above the farms and villages of the valley below. Known as the Highlands of Roan, these mountain peaks and ridges, for the most part above 4,000 feet in elevation, are renowned for their exceptional biological diversity and magnificent beauty.

The Roan Highlands are home to grassy balds, rhododendron gardens, high-elevation rock outcrops, and rich spruce-fir forests. The Roan’s ecosystem is one of the richest repositories of temperate zone biodiversity on earth, including more federally listed plant species than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Roan Highlands are home to more than 800 plant species and over 188 bird species.

This summer, Stanback Intern Sarah Sanford from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment created a Story Map of Grassy Balds management, using GIS data to catalog three decades of habitat management in the Highlands of Roan. Enjoy a virtual journey to the Roan through historic photos, scenic images, and interactive maps below — or feel free to visit and share the Story Map with this link. 

Roan Balds Management 2017

It takes a village to care for our mountains, and SAHC, our partners, and volunteers certainly made that happen this summer.  In less than four days of work, more than 25 volunteers cut blackberry from about seven acres of grassy and shrub bald habitat during our annual Grassy Ridge Mow-Off and Roany Boyz stewardship events. A big thank you to all the folks who came out to mow, to rake, to cook, and to photograph these events. They simply wouldn’t happen without you!

“After expecting rainy weather the weekend of the mow off, it was a pleasant surprise to have sunny skies and great views for much of the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off,” said Sarah Sanford, Duke Stanback Intern. “I really enjoyed meeting and working with such a wide variety of people, from folks who were there for the very first Grassy Ridge Mow-Off to brand new SAHC members. My favorite part was the views from our campsite on Grassy Ridge. Being part of the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off gave me a better perspective on the large scope of work that SAHC and its volunteers do to maintain the Roan Highlands.”

We would like to give a special thanks to the NC BRIDGE crew this year. In addition to hauling equipment to Grassy Ridge and Engine Gap for our volunteer events, they cleared 3.5 acres of grassy bald habitat and maintained 1.76 acres of early successional habitat on our Roan Mountain Gateway preserve. The BRIDGE (Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Growing, Employing) Program is a cooperative effort between the NC Forest Service and the NC Division of Prisons based out of Western Youth Institution in Morganton, NC. The primary goal of the program is to provide well-trained and equipped forest fire fighting crews ready at a moment’s notice. A secondary, but important, goal is to develop a strong work ethic and work skills so inmates will be able to secure a job when they are released.  For more than 20 years, BRIDGE has been crucial to our habitat management work. Every year, we are always privileged to witness the hard work, dedication, and professionalism exhibited by this crew.

Thank you all!

Poem below contributed by Bill Ryan, Roany Boyz Volunteer 2015-2017

The Roany Boyz  2001-

once a year
in one gap on the AT
in high summer
they gather

to work
to eat
to talk
to lay down ever wearier bodies to camp

some poetry
some stargazing
no campfire out of respect for the land

drinks just cool enough from the spring
work measured in tanks
dream images of blackberry and alder leaves interlacing

coming back to the same places
still trying to figure out why the balds were bald before them
eating a few early blueberries and seeking the elusive Gray’s lily

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