“There is a wolf in me. …I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.” 

-Excerpt from "Wilderness" by Carl Sandburg

Eagle's NestFor Jodi John Pippin, Sandburg’s poem is a reflection of her experiences growing up at Eagle’s Nest, a summer camp and academic semester school nestled amongst the dense forests, cool creeks, cascading waterfalls and rolling mountains of Transylvania County.

“Once you feel that you belong to the land and that it belongs to you, there is no way to let it go,” says Pippin. “The connection cannot be unheard or unfelt.  It is a rare thing today, to find 143 acres of conserved land that has 90 years of life-changing stories to go with it.”

Over the past six years, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy worked with Eagle’s Nest to permanently protect more than 75% of the 184-acre property, saving the invaluable educational, outdoor and cultural adventures that so many generations keep coming back to experience.

As a child, the Blue Ridge Mountains cast an enchanting spell on Pippin. As a teenager, she slow danced at camp for the first time knowing she could relax and just be herself… even while stepping on her partner’s toes. As a young adult, morning strolls through the rhododendron thicket made her feel completely at peace with the world. She fell in love with her now husband on the front porch of the dining hall while she was a camp counselor. They have three children and, as an adult, Pippin has watched them with pride as they grow comfortable in their own skin as campers and students at Eagle’s Nest.

Pippin’s story is not unique.

“I wanted my children to be able to grow and experience independence in a safe, positive, inspiring environment away from home as I did,” says Cissy Byrd, who attended the camp in the late 1960s and 1970s. “I wanted them to be influenced by and build trust in people beyond our family. I wanted them to find joy and build confidence in themselves and feel the rewards of contributing to and being part of a community. I knew that they would get these things at Eagle's Nest.”

Over the decades, Eagle’s Nest has expanded from its beginnings as an all-girls camp when it first opened its doors in 1927. It transitioned to a coed camp in the 1940s, chartered as a nonprofit 501c3 in 1950, started offering specialized wilderness-based programs for teens in the 1970s and added The Outdoor Academy (academic semester school) for high school sophomores in the 1990s. Today, all these programs operate under the umbrella of Eagle’s Nest Foundation.

“Eagle’s Nest emphasizes a child's development with a nurturing community in nature,” shares Mo Waite, whose parents, Alex and Hannah Waite, ran the camp for more than three decades. Mo grew up at Eagle’s Nest, studying salamandersandwaterbugs and learning how to use an axe and cross cut saw.

The multi-generational connection continued, with Mo’s wife Helen, an experiential educator, taking the helm from his parents in 1978. His daughter, Noni Waite-Kucera, attended camp and since 2000, has served as the Executive Director of Eagle’s Nest Foundation. Today, Mo’s grandchildren listen to the sounds of bullfrogs at the lake and make s’mores around the campfire on the hill just as he did in the 1940s.

“With all these changes, the mission remained unchanged,” says Mo. “The clear vision of my parents when they founded Eagle's Nest has stood the test of time through many advances.”

Eagle’s Nest allows campers and students to strip away the complexities of life and experience a simpler way of living. To take a deep breath of fresh mountain air, touch the towering pine trees and gaze up at the stars twinkling in the dark night sky.  

“The times that I spent lying in a field of tall grass watching the clouds roll by and letting the crickets leap across my cheek, the times that I took groups of kids wandering up the trails to find the giant Frasier Magnolia...these are forever imprinted in my mind,” says Pippin. “That land is full of variety and surprise.  I will always love it and feel that I am a part of it.”

outdoor school

Educational experiences are deeply steeped in every aspect of life at Eagle’s Nest. Myriad English, math, music and science classes teach critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and tolerance. But, those same skills are also acquired in the 12 cabins where the soft breeze permeates the screen windows, in the dining hall where the rain pounds down like drums on the roof, and in the open air Arts Arena where projects are crafted with natural materials found steps away.

“I'm often trying to live out the person Eagle’s Nest empowered me to be in the greater world,” shares Jamey Lowdermilk, “to be open, kind, creative, to be diligent and light-hearted.  I gained these values making my way through the many experiences Eagle’s Nest offers.”

Lowdermilk continues to apply these lifelong skills today, as a law student. “So much of our days are absorbed with stress driven by more stress,” says Lowdermilk. “Eagle’s Nest taught me to get to the heart of what matters. Am I contributing to meaningful work? Am I in good company? Are there opportunities for play, rest and reflection?”

Eagle’s Nest continues to serve as home to a diverse community of young people from around the world. It has welcomed students from Cuba and youth living with diabetes. Conserving this land ensures that our children and grandchildren will continue to connect with the wonders that only nature can provide.

“Eagle’s Nest is special for its commitment to authentic, lived experiences; for its commitment to the past and to growing into the future,” says Lowdermilk.  “It empowers young people to explore their unique perspectives, ideas, and curiosities while reconnecting all of us to natural rhythms and native landscapes.”

Pippin shares that without the important partnership of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Eagle’s Nest Foundation, generations of campers and students would risk losing their roots, their magic and their connection to that land.

“The intricate mushrooms that pop up in between classrooms, the rays of sunshine that drop down through the trees, the sound of the hawk circling during group activities,” shares Pippin. “These are the precious moments that will continue to fall into the laps of those who are lucky enough to walk the paths of Eagle’s Nest at 43 Hart Road.”


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.”


Fall is in the air — the relentless heat is finally dissipating, leaf color is starting to show and that longing to get outside and enjoy the beauty that autumn offers in Western North Carolina will soon become insatiable.

If you’re wondering where to get outside this season, or perhaps seeking some extra incentive to start exploring, you’re in luck. This weekend, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy releases the much anticipated new line-up for its popular White Squirrel Hiking Challenge program.

CMLC’s Hiking Challenge 4, sponsored by Pardee UNC Healthcare, features a list of eight hikes and walks — this version even includes an option to bike or paddle — among the newest trails and most spectacular lands protected by the local land trust.

The program was first launched in 2011. Since then, more than 450 intrepid outdoor enthusiasts have completed the series of hikes that showcase CMLC’s new land conservation and trail development in our region. Completers were as young as 4 and as much as 81 years old. Experience levels varying widely too — the hikes are chosen to appeal to introductory hikers as well as experienced adventurers.

In total, CMLC’s Hiking Challenge has inspired more than 5,000 separate hikes taken on recently protected lands and trails in our region.

The Pardee & CMLC White Squirrel Hiking Challenge, now in its fourth iteration, strives to introduce or reinforce the human connection to the natural world, and the importance of preserving it. Experiencing conserved landscapes in person helps to form a deep relationship with the land and ultimately a yearning to protect more of our region’s natural heritage.

Completers of all eight hikes in the program receive a certificate of completion, a beloved white squirrel embroidered hiking patch and a $10 gift certificate to Mast General Store. Most of all, all participants support CMLC’s mission of protecting our region’s treasured natural landscapes.

Interested in taking the Challenge? Visit carolinamountain.org/hc4 to enroll.

Here is a sneak peak of the hikes in the new Hiking Challenge Version 4:

Wildcat Rock

Ascend CMLC’s newest trail in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge, beyond 100-foot Little Bearwallow Falls, to an expansive view atop a scenic rock outcropping.

Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower

Owned by the US Forest Service, the breathtaking vantage point from this historic fire lookout near the Blue Ridge Parkway provides a birds-eye view from thousands of acres of CMLC-conserved land.

Rhododendron Lake Nature Park

An easy “walk in the park” circumnavigates historic Rhododendron Lake in Laurel Park, showcasing a restored stream.

DuPont: Grassy Creek Falls

Escape the crowds by hiking to DuPont’s beautiful, lesser-known waterfall.

Bearwallow Mountain

A repeat favorite, climb the most iconic and scenic peak in Henderson County to enjoy a 360 degree view from the summit meadow.

Headwaters State Forest

Take an adventure along the Foothills Trail in NC’s newest state forest to a stunning but secret mountain vista.

The Park at Flat Rock

Get outdoors without leaving town: walk, run or bike the loop trail in Flat Rock’s new village park.

Little Bearwallow Mountain

Climb beyond Wildcat Rock to the top of Little Bearwallow on the second part of CMLC’s newest trail in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge.

French Broad River Paddle/Float

Substitute one of the hikes above for a float or paddle on the venerable French Broad River, starting or finishing at the new CMLC-facilitated Horse Shoe River Access Park.


Please download the current version of Internet Explorer. IE 6 is no longer supported.