Imagine a verdant forest with lush ferns growing underneath full, mature canopies. The slushing rush of stream waters echoes all around, lulling you into a state of calm relaxation. Nearby, wildflowers in meadow openings flush with sunlight set the stage for busy activity from pollinators (and their predators), hinting at the array of wildlife which call these places home. Damp earth and plentiful rocks harbor a healthy population of salamanders. Fortunately this stunning oasis in the Highlands of Roan – SAHC’s new Wiles Creek Preserve – is now permanently protected. We are grateful to the committed conservation-minded folks – including SAHC members, a former landowner, Brad and Shelli Stanback, and the Carolina Bird Club – who made protection of this beautiful sanctuary possible.
SAHC recently purchased 166 acres in Mitchell County, NC adjoining Pisgah National Forest, within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. The undeveloped tract is highly visible from the public overlook at Roan High Knob. Part of a landscape of protected lands with other SAHC-conserved properties, the Wiles Creek Preserve will be owned by SAHC in the long term as a nature preserve and will be managed for priority bird habitats, water quality, and other natural features.
Elevations on the property reach 4,700 ft., and it contains northern hardwood forest habitat and two meadows that provide excellent early successional habitat. The varied topography, habitat and elevation – along with abundant tributaries and headwater sources of trout streams – makes it a particularly wonderful oasis in the Roan. It has spectacular habitat for salamanders as well! On a recent field trip to the site with members of the Carolina Bird Club, Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett identified several different salamander species. The property contains six streams including Wiles Creek, three tributaries of Wiles Creek, and two headwater tributaries of Big Rock Creek. Wiles Creek and Big Rock Creek are both designated as trout waters.
“What makes the Wiles Creek Preserve so special is diversity – in elevation, habitat types, etc.,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “It’s very rare that one property could be so valuable for pollinators and early successional species like Golden-winged Warbler, Field Sparrow, and Chestnut-sided Warbler, and also provide exceptional habitat for forest interior birds including species like Veery and Black-throated Blue Warblers, right on up the slope into habitat for Canada Warbler, Brown Creeper, and who knows – maybe even a Saw-whet Owl! I really can’t wait to explore this property with our partners to see which birds are out there – from hawk watching this fall to owl prowls and bird ‘blitzes’ next year. And if that wasn’t enough, Wiles Creek and the seeps and drainages flowing into it are full of trout, salamanders, and other aquatic critters. We use the word ‘gem’ frequently to describe our conservation properties (and it’s true, of course) but Wiles Creek is a place that a person could spend a lifetime, learning from nature and documenting biodiversity. I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of that!”
“There is much to discover about the history of this property,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “From the apple orchard to the old homes that remain, one can imagine a scene of Appalachian mountain living on this beautiful tract of land.”
These old farm fields and orchard provide excellent habitat for early succesional species (species which need ‘edge’ habitat with openings near mature forests). The property will be used as part of SAHC’s “Connecting People with Land” program, and we are excited about the potential for birding field trips and other excursions to the property in the future.
Partner Perspective: Carolina Bird Club
The Carolina Bird Club has approved a grant toward the permanent protection and initial management of the Wiles Creek Preserve, to help conserve high elevation priority habitat within the Roan Mountain Important Bird Area.
“The Carolina Bird Club is especially excited to make this donation of $65,550 to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for the protection and management of the Wiles Creek Project in Mitchell County, North Carolina,” says Craig Watson, South Carolina Vice President of the Carolina Bird Club. “We have interests from the mountains to the sea in both Carolinas, and to be able to contribute to the conservation of this area is extremely important to our membership for the conservation of early successional species such as the Golden-winged Warbler, and for other high priority high elevation species.”
In their own words….
In this interview, Carolina Bird Club member Karyl Gabriel discusses the importance of conserving habitat resources for bird populations, and how preservation of the Wiles Creek property aligns with the mission of the birding club. “Some of the birds we see aren’t just ‘our’ birds,” she says. “They go to far off places in the wintertime, and they come back here to breed. So, it’s critically important for us to save these places where they come back to breed. We save these places for the birds that are here year-round, but we also save them for the birds that are only here at certain times of the year. Some birds need very particular habitats in order to be successful…”
In this interview, Martina Nordstrand – a Regional Vice President of the Carolina Bird Club – discusses how she became interested in birding and mentoring other young birders, and what she loves about birding in the Southern Appalachians.