Sometimes you have to look beneath the surface to see the beauty in a conservation tract. Once such example is SAHC’s Sandy Mush Game Lands tract, which we acquired in 2011.
The 88-acre tract is important for conservation because it forms a critical linking bridge and wildlife corridor between non-contiguous portions of the state-owned game lands. Unfortunately, open public access to an old roadbed and the presence of hidden, steep slopes led to illegal dumping in the decades prior to our acquisition.
Dealing with the hundreds of illegally dumped items on the property has been a high priority goal for our Land Management and Stewardship team, and we were grateful to have some volunteer help to make headway.
When SAHC Stewardship staff and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) officers walked through the property, they saw dozens of tires embedded in the soil slopes leading down to Sandy Mush Creek. Not only illegal and unsightly, the debris in some cases had reached the creek and posed a potential threat to water quality. Cleaning this up was no small task, so our Stewardship team mobilized a group of enthusiastic volunteers in March to tackle this issue.
A group of 16 volunteers from North and South Carolina gathered after a rain storm on a cloudy Saturday morning to get to work. SAHC Stewardship Associate Sarah Sheeran, who monitors the property annually on behalf of SAHC, provided an overview and Chris Henline of NCWRC spoke with the group about long-term land management goals on the property. The tract bridges two sections of Sandy Mush Game Lands owned by the State of NC. The partnership between SAHC and NCWRC means that this property is eligible for state resources and management for wildlife habitat in exchange for the property being part of the game land system.
The tract’s early successional habitat and natural resources already make it ideal small game and bird habitat. Prescriptive burns and biological control treatment for Eastern hemlocks in the future will greatly enhance the value of the land for native plant and animal communities.
With the conservation values of the property in mind, the volunteers were ready for action. Armed with shovels, rope, and trash bags, they dropped downslope of the roadbed and worked their way up, dragging tires and hauling out loads of assorted glass and metal debris.
The accumulation of wet weather in Sandy Mush during the week prior meant it was not glamorous work, but these dedicated volunteers were undeterred by mud and gnats. The work was best suited for pairs and small teams. By lunchtime, the group was dirty but proud as they shared snacks with and joked about unionizing.
By early afternoon, the debris totaled: 232 tires, 46 contractor bags of glass and other household trash, 15 bag-sized piles of metal debris, and many more odd relics, including a convertible in its many parts. This debris was piled neatly for pickup by NCWRC later.
It was satisfying work, knowing how much debris was removed and that new gates, signage, and permanent protection will deter future dumping on the property. We are very grateful to all who volunteered. Stay tuned for another workday opportunity to tackle the rest!
About Sandy Mush Game Lands
The Sandy Mush Game Lands consist of 2,765 acres of land in Buncombe and Madison Counties, managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and owned by the State of NC (2,677 acres) and SAHC (88 acres). Sandymush Creek and Turkey Creek flow through it. In 2004, SAHC assisted the State of NC in the acquisition of the land, once owned by CP&L/Progress Energy, for conservation and public ownership.
The Sandy Mush Game Lands are open to the public for hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and birding.
One of 105 sites on the NC Birding Trail, the Game Lands are actively managed with prescribed fire to restore native warm season grasses and forbs to benefit wildlife habitat. Turkey Creek and Sandy Mush Creek gorges offer opportunity to view various warblers, Wood Thrush and Acadian Flycatcher.
For more details about public use, game animals, and bird species, visit ncwildlife.org.