50-Acre Farm Donation in Sandy Mush

Rolling farm hills surrounded by mountainsThe Sandy Mush community has played an important role in conserving productive farmland – for SAHC, Buncombe County, and Western North Carolina. Building trust with landowners in Sandy Mush has enabled us to protect rich bottomland soils designated as important for agriculture and productive farmland across varied terrain in this gem of an Appalachian  community. This year, Jim Gibson generously donated his 50-acre farm in the heart of Sandy Mush to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

Jim has long been interested in farmland preservation and helping young farmers overcome obstacles, and it is fitting that his farm – now permanently protected by SAHC – anchors our conservation work in Sandy Mush. Read more

Robinson Creek – Family, legacy, mountain coves and memories

Photo by Courtland White

In the northwest corner of Buncombe County, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has been working for decades to preserve a network of protected farmland and forests for future generations. Families with long-standing history in the area have spent generations loving, working, stewarding and being sustained by the land. They feel a sense of commitment to the land because it connects them with the people that they love, and we are grateful they have partnered with SAHC in permanently protecting this special place.

This year, Fred and Donna Pratt worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to protect 82 acres of land in Sandy Mush through a conservation easement. Fred inherited the land from a much larger tract his grandfather once owned – much of which has already been protected by his uncle and aunts – Bill and Mabel Duckett, and Myrtle Duckett. The tract connects to SAHC’s Robinson Rough Preserve and other conserved lands, helping to secure an unfragmented landscape in this beautiful corner of the county.

Photo by Michael Fredericks

“As you get more generations in the same family, the land tends to be split up and sold off,” observes Fred. “I think that it’s great work that SAHC is doing. It had to be a pretty good organization for my uncle [Bill Duckett] to get involved; there had to be trust and understanding built before he conserved his property. My uncle was one of my best friends. He’d talk with me about a lot of things, and that was one of the things we talked about – the conservancy and protecting the land.”

The recently protected tract contains a portion of the main branch of Robinson Creek and one of its headwater tributaries. Robinson Creek flows into Sandymush Creek, a tributary of the French Broad River.

“Establishing connections among conservation lands is a critical factor in protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “The ridgelines along Sandymush Bald and Little Sandymush Bald, and the mountainsides and coves laying in their shadow, exemplify SAHC’s dedication to securing these connections. The Robinson Creek property is part of over 1,800 acres of protection there, including conservation easements completed with Bill & Mabel Duckett and Myrtle Duckett. Our work in this landscape expands on the impressive Duckett and Pratt family legacy of conservation, and I am personally proud to be a part of it.”

Photo by Michael Fredericks

Although all of this 82-acre property is wooded, with some steep areas, it was once part of a family farm totaling several hundred acres which provided sustenance and livelihood for the Duckett family. Fred fondly remembers his experiences working on the farm with his grandfather and uncle. He plans to keep the property in the family and pass it on to someone else, but is glad that the conservation easement means it will remain protected in the future.

“Conserving the beautiful Robinson Creek property in Sandy Mush adds to the contiguous protected landscape of the Sandy Mush Community and helps to further Buncombe County’s Land Conservation Goal of protecting 20% of Buncombe County by 2030,” says Ariel Zijp, Soil and Water Conservation Farmland Preservation Manager.

The landowners donated a portion of the value of the conservation easement to accomplish permanent conservation of the land, and SAHC was awarded a grant from Buncombe County to cover a portion of the transaction costs. We are grateful to all of our members and philanthropic leaders for helping to secure another important piece of this landscape!

Connection to Farming and Family – Landowner Perspective: Fred Pratt

Fred says that preserving his family’s legacy was one reason he wanted to do a conservation easement with SAHC. The other reason, he adds, is that “Here in Buncombe County there is a lot of pressure on landowners, particularly farmland owners, to sell for development, and I think we should try to save some of that property so it’s not all built on.”

Fred recalls how connected he felt to the land because of frequent experiences visiting his grandparents’ farm and home place, although he mostly grew up in the Oakley community east of downtown Asheville close to where his father and mother both taught school.

“My grandfather farmed for a living, and my uncle Bill Duckett was the same way – he loved it,” remembers Fred. “They grew tobacco, corn, beef cattle, and hay. Their cash crops were mostly beef cattle and tobacco, but they were pretty well self-sufficient. They always had a garden for produce and would put up all kinds of beans, corn, and stuff from the garden. They had chickens for eggs and meat, milk cows, and a couple of hogs. The old house where my grandparents lived didn’t have a bathroom in it for most of their lives; they always had an outhouse. My grandmother cooked on a wood cookstove and used the old ringer type washing machine to wash clothes. They would go to the store for flour, sugar and coffee, and there was a store at the junction of Ball Creek and Willow Creek where people would bring their corn once a week to grind into corn meal.”

“As a little boy, I remember grandfather and Bill driving cattle from around where they lived up Robinson Cove to where they could go on up the mountain, to Sandy Mush Bald, so the cattle could eat the grass on the mountain,” recalls Fred.  “They went up every week or so to check on them. They’d carry up salt – the cattle loved the salt – and call them in to check them over and treat any illness or injury, and make sure they were all there. It was a good day when they would all come when you called. But if not, you’d have to go and find them – there might have been two or three that became separated from the rest, and you’d have to walk all over those 200+ acres until you found them.”

Fred helped on many occasions. His legs weren’t as long as his uncle’s and grandfather’s, and when hunting for lost cattle he remembers it felt like “they walked me to death.”

As the oldest grandchild, Fred admits his grandparents “spoiled me a bit.”

“I’d go out there and stay, and even stayed all one summer with them,” he remembers. “I thought it was wonderful and that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. Then I realized what I thought was fun at the time was really hard, hard work – and I went a different direction with my career. But we had regular family gatherings out there. When my grandparents were still healthy we would go out every Sunday afternoon to have a meal and sit out on the big porch, talking and enjoying the visit.”

“Farming was a hard way to make a living,” says Fred. “But 60 years ago or so things moved more slowly. It was hard work, but at the end of the day you could see what you had accomplished. I enjoy talking about the property out there and the family, keeping those memories and feelings alive.  Honoring them, that history, that legacy is important.”

Sandy Mush Collaborative Forest Restoration – Non-Timber Products Workshop

The Sandy Mush Collaborative Forest Restoration is hosting a Non-Timber Forest Products Workshop on Saturday, June 5 from 9:30 AM 1:30 PM at the Sandy Mush Community Center.
Join us for a day of hands-on learning from local experts in non-timber forest product (NTFP) cultivation. Learn about what NTFPs are, their general history, ecology, and economics and have conversations about the role we all play in their stewardship.
THIS EVENT IS FREE and open to the public! Preregistration is requested.


  • Tommy Cabe, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  • Gwen Casebeer, Black Trumpet Farm
  • Jen Chandler, Forest Stewards Guild
  • Jeanine Davis, NC State Extension
  • Dave Ellum, Warren Wilson College

Doors open at 9:15 am. Light snacks and beverages provided.

Safety and Covid-19: This event will follow all CDC recommendations. The indoor presentations will be held in the gymnasium where participants will be seated at appropriate distances and asked to wear masks. The hands-on small group sessions will be outdoors. Remember, we are all in this together to keep our communities safe!

Please contact Dakota Wagner 828-771-6256 with any questions.

Landowner Updates – Invasive Species

Matching Funds for Non-native Invasive Plant Management in Sandy Mush

Many conservation easement and other private landowners in the Sandy Mush Community have been involved with the Sandy Mush Forest Restoration project (, where partners EcoForesters and the Forest Stewards Guild are bringing resources to landowners that would like to learn more about how to manage their forestland.

Multiple agencies and businesses have given time and energy to helping Sandy Mush fight back on non-native invasive species among other resource management issues. Landowners have also taken advantage of planning and non-native invasive plant control, while others have secured EQIP funding through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

EcoForesters now has an exciting stewardship opportunity for Sandy Mush conservation easement holders. Thanks to a generous grant from Brad & Shelli Stanback, matching funds are now available for non-native invasive plant control.  We are aware of the challenges that abound for forestland owners and this is the perfect chance to double the impact on your land.

If you would like more information about this program, please contact Lang Hornthal at EcoForesters.

Invasive Species Alert – Spotted Lanterfly

Coming to a forest near you, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive insect, native to East Asia that was introduced to the United States in the early 2010’s. Spotted lanternflies attack trees and woody plants in swarms, piercing the bark and sucking the sap, leaving behind a sugary residue that encourages the growth of black sooty mold and increases susceptibility to infection. The pest poses a major threat to the outdoor recreation and agricultural industries, especially logging and fruit production. Spotted lanternfly infestations are known to exist in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, with its range expanding rapidly with the movement of infested materials and equipment.

Identifying the spotted lanternfly

Spotted lanternfly in various life stages

Photo credit National Park Service

Adult spotted lanternflies are 1 inch long with spotted gray wings and red underwings. Juveniles are black or red with white spots, and egg masses are a light yellowish-gray. Lanternflies swarm smooth, hard surfaces like tree bark, Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) being its preferred host, walls, decks, or rocks. Visit for identification help.

What you can do

Infestations are best controlled by scraping and destroying egg masses before they hatch in the spring, banding trees to control recently hatched swarms, and using insecticides where appropriate. Eliminating Tree of Heaven, spotted lanternflies’ primary host, but leaving male “trap” trees is also a good practice to help prevent the establishment of the pest.

If you find a spotted lanternfly at any life stage, photograph it and report it to your State Plant Regulatory Official or County Extension Office:

NC Plant Regulatory Official

NC County Extension Offices

TN Plant Regulatory Official

TN County Extension Offices

Sandy Hollar Farms

row crops at Sandy Hollar FarmsIn June, you helped purchase a conservation easement on 49 more acres of productive farmland in the lovely Sandy Mush community of northwestern Buncombe County.  Sandy Hollar Farms is a Buncombe County attraction, with seasonal events like pick-your-own Christmas trees, pumpkins, and berries.

This idyllic slice of farmland is primarily used for row crops, fruits and berries, and Christmas tree production. According to landowner Curtis Hawkins, Sandy Hollar Farms is one of the biggest producers of blackberries in the county. They also grow squash, green beans, pumpkins, and other fresh produce, which goes to small retailers and farmers’ markets. There is a small herd of sheep and goats on the farm, along with llamas as pets, and landowner June Hawkins periodically gives natural dye and spinning demonstrations. Read more

Sandy Mush – 25 Years of Conservation

Sandy Mush conservation map 2020Mountain ridges, low-lying farms, beautiful streams and forested hills coalesce into a quiet rural community in the corner where Buncombe, Haywood, and Madison Counties meet. This idyllic haven has been the beloved home to generations of hard-working farmers as well as a treasured retreat to relative newcomers. We’ve been cultivating relationships and conserving land in this beautiful area for decades, and we are very grateful to all the partners, landowners, and supporters who make conservation in Sandy Mush possible.

Bee Branch viewWhat makes this area so unique for conservation? A combination of agricultural land and fertile farming soils, secluded coves and ridges that make excellent wildlife corridors, and a plethora of stream sources. All potentially under threat of development as the population and popularity of the region continues to swell. Unlike SAHC’s other five conservation focus areas, where we often concentrate on connecting to or filling in gaps within national forests or state parks, the French Broad River Valley focus area did not have an existing conservation skeleton on which to build. By conscientiously creating long-term relationships with landowners in the Sandy Mush area, we have established a framework of contiguous protected land, and we continue to work diligently to protect important tracts while the opportunity remains.

In its remoteness, Sandy Mush is a close-knit community with a shared appreciation for the beauty of the land, history, farming experience, and respect for nature. This land is steeped in history, and families with long-standing connections to the area who have farmed here for generations — with names like Duckett, Wells, and Reeves — have worked with SAHC to permanently protect their land. We are grateful to all the landowners who have built relationships with us over time and shared news about conservation in the community. Here are a few of
their stories. Read more

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 Gathering

Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Gathering

When: Saturday, January 25th from 9 to 3 pm

Where: Sandy Mush Community Center in Leicester, NC

This month the Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition will host its first Restoration Gathering — a free, community event intended to provide practical and applied education about forest management and to connect Sandy Mush landowners with resources to sustainably manage family forests. At least a dozen local organizations and agencies will be on-hand to answer your land management questions. 

Come hear NC Forest Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commision, and registered foresters speak about the tax-incentive programs and technical services available to assist landowners with forest and land management needs. Together with the Forest Stewards Guild, EcoForesters, community members and other partners, SAHC will be working to increase the Sandy Mush Community’s capacity to restore native species habitat and improve forest stewardship. Through our collective efforts, we aim to nurture healthy, hardy forests to protect ecological values, local culture, economic prospects and quality of life for Sandy Mush residents. 

Following the gathering, please consider joining us for the third Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition meeting, where we will discuss ways the Coalition can increase the efficacy of forest restoration activities in Sandy Mush and help the Community implement their conservation goals.

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

Register for the event here.  Lunch is provided and feel free to bring family and neighbors.

Questions? Contact We look forward to seeing you soon! 

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!


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