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Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition Update

Photo of a tangle of Oriental bittersweet vines.

Oriental bittersweet vines can be extremely prolific, killing trees and harming forest health.

The Sandy Mush Coalition — a partnership among SAHC, the Forest Stewards Guild, and EcoForesters – has completed its first year of collective effort to increase capacity to control invasive exotic plants and improve forest stewardship in Sandy Mush. The coalition is fostering healthy and resilient forests that protect environmental values, cultural heritage, economic opportunities, and quality of life for people in the Sandy Mush area of Buncombe, Madison, and Haywood counties.

“The purpose of the coalition is to increase the community’s capacity to conduct forest management activities and to address the concerns and needs of landowners in the community,” explains SAHC Stewardship Director Sarah Sheeran.  “We just finished the first year of our partnership, in which we’ve been meeting with community members, natural resource professionals, and stakeholders. With the coalition up and running, we have an action plan and are now in the process of implementing that plan as we head into our second year.”

The coalition held two introductory information-gathering sessions with community members last fall and a Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Gathering in January, in which a variety of organizations and forest professionals presented.  These facilitated listening sessions connected state and local partners and other nonprofits involved in forest health initiatives with community members.

A tree after the Oriental bittersweet vines have been cut and treated

A tree after the Oriental bittersweet vines have been cut and treated.

“The coalition is providing a means to connect landowners with the technical and financial resources they need in order to improve forest stewardship on their properties,” continues Sheeran. “The event in January was a powerful way of gathering the people together in one room so that SAHC and our coalition partners could answer questions from landowners on the tools and resources available to help them manage their land.”

Funding for the coalition also enabled SAHC to treat approximately 50 acres of our conservation properties and preserves.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of the land we own and fulfill our own commitment to management, while modelling these management practices for others,” says Sheeran.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area logoThis project is made possible in part by a grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. Support from local philanthropic environmental leaders provided critical funding to make the coalition possible. We also want to thank the state and local partners and other nonprofits who presented at the community gatherings and have been involved in these efforts – including NC Forest Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Mountain Valleys RC&D, MountainTrue, Hemlock Restoration Initiative, and several others.

“We’ve all been working together to fulfill community goals for family forests in Sandy Mush — To help gain an understanding of what people value about the land, fears they have, and the needs they’ve identified, so collaboratively we can come up with a plan to address these needs and concerns,” says Sheeran.  “What I really appreciate about the community is how much they value their sense of place. This is a very tight knit community that has a tremendous love for their land, their neighbors, and their place. You get a real appreciation for how special Sandy Mush is – the sense of ownership and pride in community.”

Hogeye Bottomlands – 88 Acres

Farmland Preservation at Hogeye Bottomlands in Sandy Mush Community

In the Sandy Mush farming community, scenic views of fertile bottomland, rolling pastures, and distant mountain ridges create a stunning backdrop for those who work the land. Now, SAHC has conserved another tract of farmland here, adding to a network of protected agricultural lands and wildlife corridors throughout Sandy Mush.

Farmers Aubrey and Rieta Wells graze cattle and produce hay on the 88-acre Hogeye Bottomlands — now permanently protected through a conservation easement.

Sections of Sandy Mush Creek and Hogeye Branch run through the tract, which contains prime soils (a designation for soils of national importance) as well as soils of statewide and local importance. Almost half (45%) of soils on the tract are considered prime, locally or statewide important soils. Found along waterways and formed over long periods of time, these soils are important agricultural resources — and relatively rare in mountainous areas. Unfortunately, the low-lying, fairly flat bottomlands where we find these soils are also sought after for easy development. Both Aubrey and Rieta grew up in families with long farming traditions and wanted to see this farmland protected for future generations.

“We’d like to see the Sandy Mush area stay as undeveloped as possible,” shares Aubrey. “It’s one of the few places in the county you can still go to see the beauty of natural spaces and farmland.” Read more

Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition

SAHC partners on forest stewardship expansion in Sandy Mush.

We have long been stewards of Sandy Mush, protecting over 12,000 acres of this high priority conservation area. We are excited to collaborate with EcoForesters and the Forest Stewards Guild to help grow a Sandy-Mush-wide forest restoration project! While this project is still in its infancy, with collaborators working to secure funding, the primary goal is to foster healthy and resilient forests that protect environmental values, cultural heritage, economic opportunities, and quality of life for the Sandy Mush Community.

Through this project we hope to:

  • Form a “Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition” by bringing together diverse stakeholders in the community and create a collaborative space for shared decision-making.
  • Restore native species habitat, as much of the forest land in Sandy Mush has been degraded by historical land use practices and non-native invasive plants.
  • Host an annual Forest Stewardship Gathering in Sandy Mush to connect landowners with resources to care for their forests.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area logoThis project is made possible by a grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. 

Look for more updates in the future!

Boyd Cove Conservation Easement

We protected 88 acres in Boyd Cove, adding to thousands of protected acres in the Newfound Mountains of Sandy Mush. Landowners Pattie and Ed Ellis, Kate Tierney, and Kara Powis worked with us to protect the forested cove with a conservation easement, ensuring that plant and animal habitat and water sources on the property will remain undisturbed for future generations.

“Pattie and Ed Ellis have documented over 100 species of plants and animals during their 30+ years on this property,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “They also located 15 springs across the cove. This conservation easement will help protect habitat and clean water in the French Broad River watershed.” 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

Asheville Greenworks’ Water Bar Workday

This summer, we partnered with Asheville Greenworks’ Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) for a service day on our Robinson Rough property in Sandy Mush. The youth volunteers created water bars to prevent erosion and protect water quality.

Read more

Full Moon Night Hike

An intrepid group of hikers braved the fierce February wind to enjoy a night hike at our recently protected Flatwoods Pasture property. This scenic property added about 145 acres to the over 10,000 acres SAHC has helped protect in the greater Sandy Mush landscape, and we intend for it to continue being grazed, thus remaining active farmland. We were joined on this hike by Christian Hunt of Defenders of Wildlife, who discussed red wolf recovery efforts and challenges. At the end of the night, the group all gave our best red wolf howl to the February Snow Moon! 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

Garrett Cove – 101 Acres Protected

garrettcove_vancegarrettWe purchased 101 acres in Garrett Cove, filling a gap in the network of more than 10,000 acres SAHC has protected in the vicinity of Sandy Mush. Settled by the Garrett family over 150 years ago, the cove is part of the cultural legacy of rugged and self-reliant individuals who homesteaded in the Newfound Mountains of the Southern Appalachians.

Located near the Buncombe/Haywood County border, this tract has been a conservation priority in Sandy Mush for several years. It adjoins three other SAHC-protected properties, and our purchasing and owning it adds to the network of protected conservation land in this historic farming community. Read more

Reeves Homeplace Farm

highelevationfield2“This project represents five years of hard work by the land trust, the landowner, and the agencies involved,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. “This farm is representative of agriculture in Western North Carolina, and we are thrilled that the Reeves family will be able to continue owning, living and farming on this land in the future.”

Located in the Little Sandy Mush community amidst a scenic landscape of family farms, the property was part of a US land grant that once encompassed a much larger area. Landowner Betty Reeves is a 6th generation member of the Reeves family to farm the land, and she wanted to protect it with an agricultural conservation easement so that that it would be a resource for current and future farmers. Read more

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