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.”
Located within the state-designated Roan Massif Natural Area, the property rises to 5,100 ft. elevation at the peak of Yellow Spot and will provide a buffer for sensitive habitat in Pisgah National Forest. The Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area covers approximately two-thirds of the tract.
“Yellow Spot has all the interesting and rare high elevation species you would expect in a property of this caliber – Gray’s lily, Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Eastern Spotted Skunk, Indiana Bat, and more,” continues Crockett. “A biological inventory of the property identified six rare animal species and 12 rare plant species, including Bog Goldenrod and Trailing Wolfsbane.”
The tract contains over 2.5 miles of stream corridor, including 10 headwater tributaries of Cook Creek and Pineroot Branch, both of which are designated as Trout Waters by the NC Division of Water Resources.
“Much of the land is full of boulders and streams, and it contains some of the more rare habitat found in the Roan,” says Crockett. “Although rugged and remote, it is also highly visible from popular vantage points across the region. You can see the boundaries of this property from both sides of the Massif – from Buladean to Bakersville. Drivers along the scenic NC 261 byway and visitors to the world-famous Catawba rhododendron gardens near Carvers Gap enjoy scenic views of this protected land.”
The Yellow Spot property was a longstanding conservation priority both because of its important strategic location and its outstanding conservation values. Our acquisition of the land fills in an unprotected gap in the network of protected lands along the primary ridgeline of the globally significant Roan Massif.
A private conservation buyer purchased the tract three years ago in order to prevent it from being sold for development. This generous friend then agreed to sell the property to SAHC for less than half its appraised value.
“We are also extremely grateful to philanthropic donors Fred and Alice Stanback, The Biltmore Company, and SAHC members for contributing funds to enable us to protect this incredible tract,” says Crockett. “This is an investment in the future of conservation, outdoor recreation, and the economic vitality of local communities. Keeping views in the Roan Highlands intact and beautiful is integral to sustainable economic development in our region.”
SAHC plans to own the property for the long term, managing it for habitat and clean water. Visitors to popular outdoor recreation hotspots, including the Appalachian Trail and rhododendron gardens atop Roan Mountain, will be able to enjoy views of the untouched land for generations to come.
“Viewing the property from the Pisgah National Forest and realizing that we have now secured this part of the vista was very moving for me,” adds Crockett. “After one site visit, my favorite part of the day was drinking a milkshake in Buladean and looking back up at where we had come from… and knowing that this incredible place will now be protected forever. It’s very humbling to be part of this effort, and I’m so grateful to everyone who made it possible. I look forward to many years of research, discovery, and caring for this land.”
* A massif is a cluster of mountains containing separate peaks.
Personal Perspective, from SAHC President Jay Leutze
“It’s easy to get distracted by the news of the day. Which is why you should feel good about supporting a land trust that never rests when it comes to protecting the places you treasure!
Let’s be honest: were you aware that the Yellow Spot tract was at risk? Probably not, but this is one of those special places our land protection committee has had on our radar for a long time. Since 1995 when we protected Pat Tompkin’s orchard and surrounding hundreds of acres of pristine forest, we have been tracking the fate of the Yellow Spot tract just to its north and east.
That’s how good conservation works. It’s like a puzzle — but losing a piece is not just the end of the fun. In our line of work, losing a piece of the puzzle can interrupt the integrity of a wildlife corridor or close off a gateway into the landscape for hikers. In this case the Yellow Spot tract was eyed for either timber harvest or development. Surrounded by protected land, SAHC’s great work in partnership with Pisgah National Forest had made this area a very desirable place to live. But now Yellow Spot is safe. We kept our focus and, when the opportunity presented itself, we bought it. Now it’s time to build on this achievement. The puzzle is still taking shape and luckily SAHC is not easily distracted!”