Twelve O’Clock Top – Above Dutch Cove

Ronny Birchfield grew up in Haywood County and enjoyed “running amok” in the woods with friends and neighbors; they cared for the land but enjoyed the freedom of hiking, hunting, and exploring. When the property came up for sale several years ago, Ronny and his wife Mary purchased it so that it would remain an undeveloped space for friends, family, and animals to roam. This year, the Birchfields closed on a conservation easement with SAHC, permanently preserving the 64-acre tract which stretches up to 4,800 ft. elevation at the crest of the mountain known as Twelve O’Clock Top.

“When I was growing up in Haywood County, the people who owned the property were friends of the family, and they had always been generous in allowing folks to use it,” shares Ronny. “Everyone was respectful and took care of the land while enjoying camping, hunting, and riding on it. Several years ago, when the time came that the land was going to be sold, we decided to purchase it because we didn’t want to see it bought and developed. We wanted to keep it as it was, and for friends and family to still be able to access it for hunting and camping. It seems like more and more, homes are all getting closer together and we are losing our open spaces. That way of life is going away, where we were able to just run amok outdoors. We still need places where the land is just undeveloped.”

The tract is in an important wildlife corridor that runs across the mountains and ridges separating  Haywood and Buncombe County, near the future Pisgah View State Park. Almost a half mile of streams cross the property, and it is almost entirely forested.

“Protecting the peak and northern flanks of Twelve O’Clock Top is special,” says Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The peak and property form the head of Dutch Cove, and headwaters of Dutch Cove Creek originate on the tract. The peak separates the Dutch Cove watershed (to the north) from the Harley Creek watershed in Cruso (to the south). Twelve O’Clock Top is part of the high ridgeline that serves as the county boundary, making it visible from many vantage points in Buncombe and Haywood Counties.”

“Twelve O’Clock Top is part of the high ridgeline that serves as the county boundary, making it visible from many vantage points in Buncombe and Haywood Counties.” ~ Hanni Muerdter, Conservation Director

“We knew a little about SAHC and how conservation worked,” continues Ronny. “We’d heard about the efforts to conserve land at Pisgah View Ranch for a state park and how SAHC was involved with that. We are just over the hill, so we reached out to see if they would be interested in conserving more land in the area. We’d done research about the organization online first and read about other SAHC conservation projects, and we felt good about contacting and working with SAHC.”

“We may not be your typical conservation easement landowner,” laughs Ronny. “This property wasn’t passed down to us, although generations of my family are from Haywood County. We went into debt to purchase it, because we wanted the land to stay undeveloped and wild. Our adult children continue to enjoy the property, and one day it will be theirs.”

Ronny and Mary donated more than half of the value of the conservation easement, and a private donor funded the rest of the easement purchase and transaction costs to make permanent protection of the land possible. Ronny notes that the reserved timber rights in the conservation easement allow them to do positive impact forestry harvest later on, which could help the family financially to continue to own the property in the future. “The logging would have to be done in a responsible manner, with an approved forest management plan and overseen by a certified forester,” says Ronny. “The way I see it, that actually helps ensure the health of the land. It has to be done the right way, with proper stream crossings, for example. Other places where timber is harvested may not be done in a sustainable way, so it would be better overall if wood for production comes from sustainably harvested forests.”

Owning and managing land can be expensive. Conservation easements help preserve networks of habitat while allowing landowners to reserve limited land use rights, including farming and sensitive timber harvest. However, each conservation easement and land management plan is unique. Reserved rights depend on the conservation values of the land being protected, conservation goals of the landowner, and standards for accredited land trusts. SAHC’s process for enacting reserved rights is administered by our Stewardship team. If you are the owner of a conservation easement, please be sure to reach out to your Stewardship contact before beginning any land management activity or transaction that involves your protected land.