Juanita Bruce pushes her kayak off the tree-covered banks of the Green River and takes a moment to soak it all in.
The three-mile stretch that she paddles is bursting with life. River cooter turtles dip into the water. Monarch butterflies flutter around. White-tailed deer bound along the shore. She has entered a green oasis and her worries are carried away with the gentle current.
“Nature provides us with an overwhelming sense of awe, beauty, security and protection,” shares Juanita. Juanita was born and raised near the Green River at Lake Adger Dam. She has spent most of her 74 years exploring its wonders.
“I was baptized in the Green River. They don’t do that much anymore,” Juanita says with a smile. It’s where her home is and where her heart is.
In the 1920s, Juanita’s grandfather moved his family from South Carolina to become the first superintendent of the newly built Lake Adger Dam and Duke Turner Shoals power plant. Her father and uncles made their livelihood at the plant as well. “Dad met my mom, a local girl, and made our home by the river,” reflects Juanita.
Saving the Land
In April 2016, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) partnered with Polk County Community Foundation to acquire 586 acres along the Green River, ensuring people like Juanita have a peaceful place to retreat and local wildlife have a safe place to call home.
The 586-acre property is separated into two tracts. CMLC protects a 155-acre tract located upstream of South Wilson Hill Road and a second 431-acre tract located downstream of South Wilson Hill Road was purchased by Community Green LLC, a subsidiary of Polk County Community Foundation.
We were able to purchase the smaller tract with a generous $225,000 gift from Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury and a $225,000 loan from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. We have until April 2017 to pay off the loan and are seeking contributions to permanently secure the tract for conservation.
Every Bit Counts
“We could never be more grateful for the substantial gifts made by our major donors and partners,” thanks Lynn Killian, CMLC development director. “But, no project is ever completed without the enormous generosity of an army of loyal, everyday conservation donors. The small gifts of many are just as critical to each conservation success.”
Combined, the tracts contain more than three miles of spectacular riverside frontage. It’s a beautifully dense and heavily forested area with south-facing bluffs steeply rising up from the banks.
“Saving lands and waters from development means ‘nature’s own’ can be shared by the masses as opposed to only a few,” says Juanita. “CMLC helps us connect to nature by creating trails leading us into the forest and protecting waters leading us down the valley.”
Over the years, Juanita’s family enjoyed tubing the river and when kayaks became popular, she opted for their speed, control and efficiency. “Outdoor activities give us great opportunities to enjoy the God-given beauty of nature,” shares Juanita. “It gives us great exercise, provides challenges to ‘try our wings’ and see what we can accomplish.”
A Place for Life to Thrive
The property boasts healthy populations of hemlocks—a rarity in Western North Carolina—as the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid has taken its toll across our region. The woolly adelgid is native to China and Japan, where hemlock trees possess immunity. Most hemlocks throughout the world are protected by some degree of resistance in their native ranges. Here, with no natural predators, the trees lack any defense. Without natural predators, the adelgids take over.
Three rare plant species, whorled horsehair, ashy-leafed hydrangea and climbing milkvine, also prosper in the area. Almost the entire 586 acres are second and third-growth forest and will provide a stronghold for plants and animals to adapt even as the climate changes.
Exploring Nature’s Gifts
“Kayaking the Green River in my area is quiet with only the sounds of the rippling water over the shoals, the breeze, the birds and the critters,” says Juanita. “The views are saturated with overhanging trees, boulders, farmlands, dense forests... There are many flowering plants, untouched, unmarred.”
The land protected by CMLC keeps those peaceful views along the river intact. We see the 155 acres as a good site for a potential future rest stop on a paddle trail that could be created along the Green River. There is legal access to South Wilson Hill Road via private roads that pass through a subdivision.
“It’s as important to protect our lands and waters for future generations as it is for the current generation—an ongoing source of livelihood, enjoyment, recreation, appreciation and education,” says Juanita. “Thank goodness CMLC works to save these awe-inspiring places.”
We plan to partner with Pacolet Area Conservancy, which has a strong presence in Polk County, to help manage the property and assist with future guided hikes and outings. Recent kayaking has stopped short of the Wilson Bridge due to lack of a safe exit. Hopes are high this acquisition will provide a safe experience for hikers, birders, photographers and paddlers alike.
With a few easy strokes Juanita is off, drifting into a place of peace and serenity. “I love the heron leading me down the river, stopping to wait on me before flying on,” she calls over her shoulder. “This is home to me. I love it all.”
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands.