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Chestnut Mountain Nature Park

SAHC and HandUp Gloves tents displays

Vendors and organizations participated in the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park Grand Opening on April 23.

On Saturday, April 23, 2022 the  Town of Canton hosted a public opening for the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park on Hwy 19-23. Situated as a park-within-a-park, the mountain biking Berm Park simultaneously opened the public. The family-friendly grand opening event included live music, outdoor retailers, and more. A wide variety of visitors, including local residents and folks who had traveled from other states for the opening, enjoyed the park with bright skies on a sunny, warm spring day!

Ribbon cutting, group assembled at gateway

Ribbon cutting at opening ceremony April 22. Photo by Michelle Pugliese.

The busy public grand opening day followed a formal ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, April 22, which celebrated the many partners and funders whose work over several years led to the successful park opening. The ribbon cutting ceremony included guest speakers: Canton Town Mayor Zeb Smathers, Town Manager Nick Scheuer, SAHC Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter, Senator Kevin Corbin (NC Senate, District 50), Representative Mark Pless (NC House of Representatives, District 118), NC Land and Water Fund Western Field Representative Damon Hearne, Berm Park founder Seth Alvo  (Berm Peak YouTube channel), and The Wildlands Network NC Project Manager Nikki Robinson.  NC Rep. Mark Pless, NC Sen. Kevin Corbin, and NC Sen. Chuck Edwards were recognized for their role in helping with the creation of the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park and the future Pisgah View State Park, both in Haywood County.

Chestnut Mountain Nature Park ribbon cutting (video)

We are grateful to all the generous supporters, dedicated partners, and thoughtful leaders who have guided and contributed to the creation of this special place. This success story was made possible by the efforts of many helping hands, including public input into park plans and volunteer work days. We look forward to sharing future developments over the coming years!

For more info, including park open times and visitor info, visit theChestnut Mountain Nature Park Facebook page or ChestnutMountainNaturePark.com

View Media Coverage of the park opening at:

Smoky Mountain News

The Mountaineer

WLOS

About Chestnut Mountain Nature Park:

Chestnut Mountain stone and wood gateway

Gateway into Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. Photo by Michelle Pugliese.

“We cannot think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than the opening of this incredible conservation and recreation project,” says Nick Scheuer, town manager. “The importance of Chestnut Mountain Nature Park cannot be overstated and its impact on wildlife protection, quality of life improvements and economic development will impact generations to come.  None of this would be possible without our incredible partners at Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.”

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased the 450-acre Chestnut Mountain property in 2020 in an ambitious endeavor to pair permanent protection of habitat and water resources with creation of a conservation-friendly, community-centric space for outdoor recreation.  The Town of Canton engaged Equinox Environmental to lead a master planning process for the park, including community input sessions, and Elevated Trail Design worked on trail design for the property. Seth Alvo, creator of the Berm Peak YouTube channel and Seth’s Bike Hacks, galvanized his followers to support development of Berm Park — a mountain biking oasis and park-within-a-park at Chestnut Mountain Nature Park.

Michelle Pugliese and Brad Kee at Berm Park signs

SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese and Brad Kee, of Kee Mapping and Surveying, at the Berm Park entrance.

“Berm Park is a free, public bike park,” says Alvo. “While it’s just a tiny part of Chestnut Mountain, it will be a big part of the community. Funds to build Berm Park were provided by sponsoring companies and crowd-sourced from Patreon and YouTube followers, who watched the park come to life, week by week and stage by stage, on the internet. The collaboration between recreation and conservation here at Chestnut Mountain will remain an example for other communities in how working together can make big projects come to life. Chestnut Mountain and Berm Park now serve as assets to the area, strengthening the community’s health through recreation, and enriching the lives of many.”

bear tracks in mudLocated in an important wildlife corridor, the large property includes diverse ecological communities, streams that flow into Hominy Creek, and the top of Chestnut Mountain. A portion of the tract was once slated for a motorsports speedway. Although that project never developed, grading work done for the speedway created a space well-suited for mountain bike and hiking trails. Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy partnered with the Town of Canton and an excited group of partners and funders to bring to fruition this vision — a nature park in which habitat and water resources are permanently protected by conservation easements, with areas open for people to enjoy, explore, and learn about nature.

Chestnut Mountain view

The 450-acre Chestnut Mountain property contains a variety of natural communities. Photo by Adams Wood.

“Forested ridgelines and coves provide diverse habitat for plants and animals,” says Hanni Muerdter,  Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s conservation director. “This land contains a mosaic of habitat types, with pockets of mature hardwood forest with laurel and rhododendron, forested slopes facing a variety of directions, and an open field and early successional edge area beneficial for birds. We look forward to continuing to study patterns of wildlife movement across the land with our partners at The Wildlands Network. We’re also excited about the potential for the property to be an educational outdoor classroom. The Berm Park biking skills course was placed in a good location because that area was already disturbed, and the majority of the rest of the property will be reserved for forested habitat and single-track trails.”

In 2022, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy transferred ownership of the land to the Town of Canton, but the nationally accredited nonprofit land trust will continue to monitor the conservation easements permanently protecting the tract in perpetuity. Conservation easements held by the State of NC and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy ensure that the natural resources of the land will remain protected for future generations.

Chestnut mountain peak

Chestnut Mountain photo by Stephanie Long.

At the grand opening, approximately 35 acres of the total 450-acre tract opened to the public. This area includes the mountain biking skills course at Berm Park and a mixed use (hiking and biking) trail that climbs approx. 350 ft. from the parking lot and pedestrian bridge which forms a gateway into the property. The Town of Canton continues to secure funding and plan for infrastructure development outlined in the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park master plan along with other pertinent information. Future hiking trails, recreation areas, and park amenities will open over the next two years.

“While we are excited to open up Chestnut Mountain in its first phase,” continues Scheuer, “this park is very much a work in progress, and we look forward to unveiling trails and amenities throughout the park that every user will be able to enjoy. The Town of Canton is partnering with Haywood Waterways Association on a stream restoration project along Hominy Creek. The next phase of park development will include hiking and biking specific trails, picnic pavilion, kids bicycle playground, scenic overlooks and more. There’s a lot to be excited about this month and in the future.”

Town of Canton:

Town of Canton logoNestled in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains on the Pigeon River and a mere 20 miles from downtown Asheville is Canton, NC, a historic mill town with unmatched character and pride. The Town of Canton boasts a relatively mild climate, a fascinating history & picturesque surroundings full of recreation opportunities for the young or the young at heart. More info at www.CantonNC.com.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy:

SAHC logoThe Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is a nationally accredited, non-profit land trust conserving land and water resources in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Since 1974, SAHC has protected over 80,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic views, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation. SAHC’s acquisition of the Chestnut Mountain property was made possible with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the NC Attorney General’s Office’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, The Pigeon River Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, many private donors, and loans from the The Conservation Fund and from Hudson Land and Timber LLC. More info at Appalachian.org.

Berm Park:

Berm Park is a free, public bike park made possible by the town of Canton, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and most critically, people from all over the world who donated to fund the park. Half of funds to build Berm Park were contributed by sponsors: Diamondback Bicycles, Competitive Cyclist, Athletic Brewing, Dror Bezalel, and Park Tool Company. The other half of funds to build Berm Park were crowd-sourced from Patreon and YouTube followers, who watched the park come to life, week by week and stage by stage, on the internet. Berm Park was designed and built by local professional trail contractor Elevated Trail Design. More info at Youtube.com/c/SethsBikeHacks

2020 Conservation Review

Map of SAHC conservation projects in 2020Looking back as we head into the final stretch of 2020, we all know that this year has been far from ordinary. On a positive note, it has been a record-breaking year for local conservation efforts! Since the beginning of January, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has closed on the protection of more than 2,600 acres across the mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, with additional projects scheduled to wrap up by year-end. Several of these have been in the works for many years.

“It is a testament to the commitment of SAHC members, staff, and conservation-minded supporters that we have been able to complete these projects during extraordinary circumstances, and we are grateful to all the people who make this remarkable work possible,” says SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “There is something tangible and reassuring in preserving land – it’s something you can put your hand on. These conservation projects help preserve cultural connections to the past, places to connect with nature, and vital resources we rely on now, and which will be increasingly critical in the future.” Read more

Yellow Mountain Connector

Aerial photo of Yellow Mountain Connector by Dennis Oakley and Southwings

Aerial photo of Yellow Mountain Connector, photo credit Dennis Oakley and Southwings

In 2019,  Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) completed the purchase of an assemblage of properties in the Cane Creek Mountains totaling 456 acres, to permanently protect an important ridgeline corridor through the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. SAHC’s acquisition of the land protects habitat for rare plants and animals, clean water sources and scenic mountain views from public lands.

“Together we protected a critical 456-acre chain that links previously unconnected sections of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area,” says Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s land protection director. “This one project made historic, landscape-scale strides in achieving the vision of the state natural area: to protect a long distance scenic and wildlife corridor from the Appalachian Trail south along the Cane Creek Mountains. It is one of the most impactful land acquisitions in the region.” Read more

Wilkins Creek – 195 Acres Protected

Wilkins Creek property near I-40

Wilkins Creek property near I-40, photo courtesy Jake Faber and Southwings

Just beyond the rush of traffic on Interstate 40 near the Tennessee-North Carolina line, steep hillsides and forested knolls shelter a vibrant community of wildlife.

We recently purchased 195 acres in this part of Haywood County near the Pigeon River to protect a corridor for wildlife grazing and movement.

Map of Wilkins Creek and nearby conservation landsEncircled by the Pisgah National Forest and adjoining the NC Welcome Center on I-40, the Wilkins Creek property is very near a large box culvert under the Interstate, which provides a way for wildlife to travel safely from one side of the interstate to the other. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and other partners identified this property in the Pigeon River Gorge as a conservation priority because it provides a key corridor for elk and other animals to move in the landscape. Read more

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.” Read more

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