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30 Years of Roan Stewardship!

SAHC and USFS Botanist Gary Kauffman surveying Gray's lily

SAHC and USFS Botanist/Ecologist Gary Kauffman survey Gray’s lily populations in the Roan, 2019.

You may already know that SAHC has been working for more than 45 years to protect and conserve our mountain home. And, you may also know that we trace the origin of our organization to the Roan Highlands, where SAHC’s founders first began efforts to conserve the land and views surrounding the Appalachian Trail. But, did you know that our efforts to actively steward and manage those lands started 30 years ago, with the formation of what is now known as the Roan Stewardship Committee?

Roan field crew in 1987

1987 field crew doing gassy balds surveys for the development of the first balds management plan. Photo by Paul Sommers

The Roan Stewardship Committee is an ambitious collaboration of multiple partners including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, recreation clubs, scientists, and individuals passionate about conservation of the unique ecological communities found in the Roan Highlands. It began with a handful of individuals concerned about long-term stewardship of Roan’s unique ecosystems.  Now 30 years later, the Roan Stewardship Committee consists of more than 15 agencies and organizations. Some groups, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, are long time partners, while others – like the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture – are new to our collaboration. From the beginning, SAHC has formed the nexus of this collaboration, facilitating the Roan Stewardship Committee meetings and partnership efforts.

Judy Murray, retired SAHC Roan Stewardship Director, led those stewardship efforts with an unwavering focus for more than 25 years, and handed over a vibrant and focused Roan Stewardship program to Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett in 2014. In January this year (2020), Marquette facilitated the 30th meeting of the Roan Stewardship Committee.

“Digging through previous meeting notes this winter, I found the agenda from the first Roan Stewardship Committee meeting,” shares Marquette.

From Paul Somers, 1989:

“….I have reserved two cabins (number 19 and 20) at Roan Mountain State Park, for the evening of February 15, 1990 and the following day February 16. The purposes of the meeting, as I see them right now are to:

1. Review any completed sections of the Balds Management Plan

2. Formulate positions on pesticide use on the Roan Mountain (balds and spruce-fir particularly)

3. Review the status of the Hampton Creek Cove Management Plan

4. Discuss plans for the upcoming field season.

5. Discuss alternatives to AT relocation onto Grassy Ridge.”

SAHC and USFS staff plan for balds management.

SAHC and USFS Staff Planning for Grassy Balds Management. (Marquette Crockett left, Sue Fruchey right).

When the Committee met this year, similar items dominated the agenda. The Roan Stewardship Committee is reviewing the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan and about to embark on an update of the Balds Management Plan. This winter, we’ve been working with the TN Division of Natural Areas to update the management plan for Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area to include new priorities and address new threats. The Roan Stewardship Committee also shared reports about various partners’ work and discussed the upcoming field season — including red spruce-Fraser Fir restoration and grassy balds management.  

“Similarities between the 1990 and 2020 meeting agendas illustrate a very important point – at SAHC, forever really does mean forever,” says Marquette. “Before coming to SAHC, I had worked for different entities (including the government) and witnessed initiatives come and go — people move on, directives change. But, that hasn’t happened on the Roan. Many wonderful people have committed entire lifetimes to conservation of the Roan Highlands, and more importantly, they have handed down their knowledge and commitment to new generations.”

“I am thankful for all the quirky, brilliant, and absolutely dedicated people who have made the Roan Highlands what they are today,” adds Marquette. “The conservation and ecological management of the Roan is a complex task spanning generations, and it simply would not be possible without the support of SAHC’s members and partners.”

Cheers for 30 years of Roan Stewardship!

Get Involved — Outings and Volunteer Opportunities

Curious about what makes the Highlands of Roan so special? Each year we host a full day of outings and social gathering in the Highlands of Roan to enjoy and introduce people to the wonders of this special landscape. This year, our annual June Jamboree will be held on Saturday, June 13.

Want to help with caring for Roan’s unique grassy bald habitat? We also host an volunteer weekend each year — the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off — which presents an opportunity for people to help with hands-on habitat management. Come for the day or backpack to the work site and camp with us to enjoy stunning sunset/sunrise on Roan’s “sky islands.”

Save the Date! The Grassy Ridge Mow-Off this year will be Saturday-Sunday July 18-19.

About the Highlands of Roan

Straddling the border of Tennessee’s Carter County and North Carolina’s Mitchell and Avery Counties, the Roan Mountain massif (also known as the Highlands of Roan) is a series of mountain peaks and ridges that rise above 4,000 feet in elevation. They are renowned for their exceptional biological diversity and magnificent beauty.

The grassy bald communities of the Roan were once kept open by a combination of weather conditions and grazing by prehistoric “megaherbivores”. Imagine a herd of elephant-sized mastodons grazing these mountaintops! In the recent past the balds have been maintained by natural herbivores (elk, bison, deer, etc). Farmers later grazed their livestock on these same slopes. Currently the balds are maintained through livestock grazing and mowing. Many rare plants, including the beautiful Gray’s lily, are found growing on the balds. Management of the balds is accomplished through partnerships between the U.S. Forest Service, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club, and numerous volunteers and researchers.

Invasive Feral Hogs Continue to Threaten the Roan

We are entering the fifth year of coordinated efforts to manage invasive feral hogs in the Highlands of Roan. These invasive feral hogs damage the fragile, globally important ecosystems of the Roan as they “root,” eating rare species and tearing up the terrain.  They also spread multiple diseases and pose a safety threat to outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

In November, the Feral Hog Working Group, part of our ongoing collaborative Roan Stewardship efforts, met at the SAHC office to discuss updates and plan future work.

“Since feral hogs can have devastating impacts on plants and wildlife, as well as human and livestock health, the situation requires coordinating a broad group of partners,” explains Marquette Crockett, SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director. “This includes federal and state agencies in both NC and TN.” Read more

Roan Stewardship 2018

In the Highlands of Roan, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy convenes a multi-partner effort to manage the world’s largest stretch of Appalachian grassy balds. These unique ecosystems contain a variety of rare plants.

SAHC volunteers and our partners with the NC BRIDGE program contributed more than 1,900 hours to manage habitat on Roan’s grassy balds this summer. Altogether, Roan stewardship partners managed a record 32 acres. Volunteers and BRIDGE partners hand-mowed more than 17 acres from Round Bald to Grassy Ridge, cutting back blackberry and shrubs across the balds. The US Forest Service mechanically mowed 15 acres on Hump Mountain.

The BRIDGE crew are hardworking stewardship partners. A program of the NC Division of Prisons the NC Division of Forest Resources to train young, non-violent offenders with firefighting and forestry skills, BRIDGE stands for “BUILDING, REHABILITATING, INSTRUCTING, DEVELOPING, GROWING, EMPLOYING.

Our Roan stewardship work is supported by grants from the National Forest Foundation, McLendon Family Foundation and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Thank you to all the volunteers, partners, and supporters who make this work possible!

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. 

Feral Hogs in the Roan — Update

hogdamagebigyellow2SAHC and our Roan Stewardship partners met in summer 2014 to discuss the growing threat posed by the invasion of feral hogs into our mountain landscapes and how to combat their spread. These non-native animals threaten the health of our ecosystems including impacting rare species, destroying fragile habitats, and contaminating water sources. Since then, we and our partners have made important strides in addressing the issue of feral hogs in the Roan. Read more

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