Activist and self-trained botanist helped to launch Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy

“Her ready and slightly mischievous smile,” said Kieran Roe, “was the first thing that struck me about Anne Ulinski.”

We will now miss that smile dearly. Ulinski passed away earlier this month at the age of 94. But we have many reasons to smile ourselves when remembering the profound impact that she had on our region.

“I really wanted to be a part of the community,” Ulinski told the Times-News when she moved to Hendersonville in 1981. “Because this is my community now.”

Ulinski, a longtime Hendersonville resident and community activist, lived a life defined by public service, optimism and compassion. She drove a Red Cross truck transporting wounded soldiers during World War II. She volunteered in clinics while living in Italy and Liberia. She tutored underprivileged children her first several years in Hendersonville. She was a mother of five.

"She was an amazing woman," said Carol Freeman, Ulinski’s first child, of Hendersonville.

"In getting to know Anne, I felt I’d met a kindred spirit,” added Roe, executive director of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC). “She had a driving passion for places of beauty and inspiration in this region.”

"She loved the mountains and the natural beauty of Western North Carolina,” said Freeman. “But when she first came down here, many would now be surprised that she couldn’t really identify any plants.”

A lifelong voracious learner, the region’s beauty inspired Ulinski to become a self-trained botanist. She then became a particularly active member of the Western Carolina Botanical Club.

Ulinski’s increasing love of the natural world led her to extensively monitor and document plants at several locations in the county, including Jackson Park, Mud Creek, Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, and Historic Johnson Farm.

In 1991, she became involved in a grassroots community effort to locate and identify the diverse flora and fauna for the entire county. She and peers raised funds to hire a biologist to produce what became the Natural Heritage Inventory of Henderson County.

Once documentation was complete, a small group that included Ulinski decided to take the initiative one step further. Seeking to protect the rarest occurrences of plants and their habitats identified within the inventory, she and a group led by Lela McBride set forth to establish a local land trust.

That small group soon became the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Ulinski wrote one of the first checks to the organization so that it could establish a bank account and become official.

During one of those early meetings that led to its formation, McBride tapped Ulinski on the shoulder and whispered into her ear, granting her the job of secretary of their committee. It was a symbolic gesture bestowing Ulinski with responsibility to take the reins of the organization and move it forward.

“It was like the passing of the baton,” said Freeman. “For the next five years, she ran the organization out of the trunk of her car.”

CMLC hired Roe, its first — and for several years its only — paid staff member in 1999.

“Anne had left the board shortly before then, but was still very attached to the work of the organization for which she had been responsible for initiating,” Roe recalled. “She would stop by the office occasionally and cheerfully provide leads and suggestions. Anne’s gentle and steady encouragement helped me begin to understand the goals and priorities of the fledgling land trust she had helped get off the ground a few years earlier.

“I got the sense that Anne was most happy getting good work done rather than sitting in board meetings. In fact, she had initiated discussions with Tom and Glenna Florence, acquaintances through the botany club, that led to their decision to donate their 600-acre property in Gerton to CMLC, one of the organization’s first conservation projects.“

Ulinski’s dedication to the new land trust continued to be fueled by her love of native plants. Of the many locales she botanized, she most loved to explore the Oklawaha Bog behind the Chanteloup Estates neighborhood where she resided.

The bog became one of the most sacred of all places to Ulinski. “She would walk there every day,” said Freeman.

Eventually it was discovered that the bog contained the bunched arrowhead flower, one of the rarest plants in not just the county, but the entire nation. Ulinski was particularly hopeful that CMLC, the land trust that she helped establish to protect significant natural heritage, could do just that: save the Oklawaha Bog.

“She told me that she was not going to die until that land was protected,” Freeman said.

After many years of working toward its conservation, CMLC and partners purchased the bog for permanent protection in 2010. To return the property to its original wetland and stream habitat as well reestablish a thriving population of bunched arrowhead, the partners coordinated its full restoration several years later.

“I was very happy that Anne was still able to witness the conservation and restoration of the place most near and dear to her,” said Roe. “It felt like a happy ending to a story that Anne had started 15 years earlier. It was a fitting example of cooperation and persistence that Anne had first brought to CMLC as founder and role model.”

Because Ulinski’s heath declined in recent years, she was less able to keep up with the ongoing conservation work of the organization that she had helped start. But when Freeman relayed the recent milestone of 30,000 protected acres, Ulinski was teeming with pride and elation.

“It was just beyond what she could imagine,” said Freeman. “CMLC’s work was near and dear to her heart. She told me, ‘This is the most important work I have ever done.’”

Prior to Ulinski’s death, CMLC honored her with the naming of another recently conserved and restored mountain bog in Flat Rock. Appropriately, the Anne Ulinski Bog also hosts the bunched arrowhead flower.

Three and a half decades after she arrived in Western North Carolina, Anne more than achieved her original goal. She became, and will forever remain, an inseparable part of our community. She had 30,000 reasons for that mischievous smile.

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at 

This is the story of an order of Episcopal nuns, a remote corner of southern Appalachia, and a commitment to teaching young minds. Bridging the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, to a quiet hollow in Bat Cave, the story began more than a century ago. And now it will go on forever.

“The Sisters were seeking a place to get away and recharge, so with some relatives in this area, they decided to come down to western North Carolina,” said Sister Teresa Martin, Superior of the Community of the Transfiguration.

That was in 1901. Just three years earlier, Mother Eva Lee Matthews and Sister Beatrice Henderson founded the Community of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati. The women’s ministry focused on working with mothers and children in the inner city in an effort to help them survive the rigors of urban life at the turn of the 20th century.

“Those first few years were terribly stressful, as you can imagine,” Sister Teresa said. “So they needed a place where they could go to be rejuvenated.”

The two sisters enjoyed three weeks in the shadow of Chimney Rock at the Esmeralda Inn. So entranced by the region’s natural beauty, they began to look for property in the area to which they could return in the coming years.

“They found an old farmhouse off of Highway 9 and rented it for $25 a year,” said Sister Teresa.

While the home was charming, it was the surrounding landscape that was truly revitalizing. Tucked between the Rocky Broad River and the steep slopes of the Hickory Nut Gorge, the stunning natural beauty was exactly what they were seeking to soothe their spirits.

“They kept coming down for rejuvenation, as did other sisters who joined the order,” Sister Teresa said.

After a few years, they purchased the house and several acres of land surrounding it. “They began bringing children down from Cincinnati to give them an experience out of the city,” she said.

Helping the community then

“Sister Beatrice, the second Superior of the Community of the Transfiguration, had a special passion for the mountains and the mountain people,” said Sister Teresa. “Right from the start, she began having wonderful relationships with the people living in the mountains.”

During the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Sister Beatrice and the order began buying land from local residents who were at risk of losing their property due to financial hardship.

“She wanted to give them some substance to live on. That’s how we ended up with how many acres we did — more than 400.”

These days, the sisters make the journey from Cincinnati to Bat Cave with less frequency. But their connection to their beloved mountain land remains as strong now as it was a century ago, as does their yearning to give back to the local community.

Worried about their long-term ability to care for their land, members of the Community of the Transfiguration began discussions with Tom Fanslow, Land Protection Director at Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), in 2008.

“We knew we wanted to keep it from development. We wanted it to stay as pristine as possible,” explained Sister Teresa.

A long engagement

Figuring out exactly how to do that, while also remaining true to the order’s values, proved to be a lengthy process. But it was more than worthwhile.

“There is a folkloric aspect to it. Some of our projects, like this one, take a very long time. You just have to have patience. If you do, good things will happen,” said Fanslow.

“Tom helped us figure out what we wanted to do to protect this property, to envision the potential and possibilities,” said Sister Teresa. “It was a long process, and we discussed a lot of ideas.”

Nearly a decade after the first conversation, their collective vision was finally realized when the Community of the Transfiguration placed 410 acres into a permanent conservation easement with CMLC.

Hosting more than five miles of water resources — including two miles of the Rocky Broad River and several major waterfalls — and teeming with natural heritage, such as cliffs, rock outcroppings, and rare flora and fauna, the tract had long been identified as the conservancy’s highest conservation priority in the Upper Broad River watershed.

Now permanently protected, the property will forever safeguard clean water, provide harbor for many plant and animal species, and preserve the scenic views within the Hickory Nut Gorge.

The project was made possible with funding from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund as well as generous private donations, including contributions from the Community of the Transfiguration.

“There were a lot of bumps in the road to get here, but it has been a joy and privilege to be part of this wonderful organization,” said Sister Teresa. “We (and CMLC) are kind of married to each other now, but it was a long engagement.”

Helping the community now and forever

But conservation of the sisters’ land is only one half of the story.

“Right from the start, our ministry has focused on education of the children,” explained Sister Teresa.

In addition to the protection of the property’s abundant natural resources, Fanslow understood that the order desired the land to be used in a way that supports its mission of education and service.

To achieve that mission, the Community of the Transfiguration conveyed ownership of 368 acres of the now protected property to CMLC to establish the Hickory Nut Gorge Teaching and Research Reserve, continuing the sisters’ legacy of education.

The land will be utilized as a multi-discipline outdoor classroom for students and researchers from local schools, colleges and other educational programs.

Currently, Warren Wilson College faculty are instructing students on the tract. Dr. J.J. Apodaca and his students have used the property to gather data for his work on the genetics of the green salamander (Aeneus aneides), which is endangered in North Carolina.

Muddy Sneakers and Lake Lure Classical Academy have also expressed interest in hosting students at the new teaching and research reserve.

Said Fanslow, “the potential for how this project can give back, not just in intrinsic conservation value, but to educate the next generation, is immense.”

“It is wonderful to be able to find this use for it. We still have a great love for the community,” said Sister Teresa. “Our roots here in the mountains are deep.”

Now, and forever, those roots will hold tightly to their cherished land — and keep growing the minds of generations seeking to learn from it.

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at 


"I’ve always been fascinated by waterfalls. There’s something about them that excites our senses far beyond most other natural subjects,” said Kevin Adams, acclaimed Western North Carolina outdoor photographer and author.

“Some say it’s the sight of moving water, some the sound.”

Adams also suggested that many enthusiasts — known as “waterfallers” — cite a theory that negative ions created by falling water provide special emotional stimulus and feelings of tranquility.

“You won’t find many mainstream scientists supporting such notion,” he conceded.

“I suspect it has something to do with the fact that waterfalls affect four of our senses. We feel the cool spray. We smell the freshness. We hear the falling water. And, of course, we see the beauty.”

As a child, Adams’ family vacations were always to the North Carolina mountains in search of waterfalls. Adams, now 55, first got hold of a camera as a birthday present from his wife, Patricia, in 1985.

“Since I give everything I have or nothing at all, that camera was going to sit on a shelf and collect dust, or it was going to change my life,” Adams said. “You can guess which one happened."

In the three decades since, Adams has been seeing — and capturing — the beauty of those falls he first saw as a child from behind the lens of a camera.

After seeking out and shooting more than 1,000 waterfalls in WNC during that time, Adams became the preeminent waterfall expert and photographer of our region. He recently released the third edition of his book “North Carolina’s Waterfalls.” The hiking and photography guide is the resounding authority on the subject.

“I’m happier pointing my camera at a cascading mountain than at any other nature subject," he said. "I just can’t tell you why.”

While Adams revels in the beauty of the waterfalls that he captures with his camera, he never takes for granted that such natural splendor can be quickly tarnished or lost if not protected.

He often utilizes his photography to advocate for land conservation efforts, masterfully showcasing the grandeur of our natural treasures in his images. Adams hopes they will inspire others to adopt a yearning to preserve them.

“Every acre that is protected is important. And when those acres are along streams, particularly in the headwaters, it leads to permanent protection of the water resources,” Adams said. “There are many cases of local organizations preventing development that would have destroyed waterfalls and lowered the water quality of the streams.

“Specifically, I know of dozens of beautiful waterfalls on pristine streams that would be at risk if not for the work of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.”

Read on to find out about the waterfalls conserved by CMLC, and how they came to be protected. As an additional resource, check out Adams’ impeccable book for more information and directions to many of these falls. You can find it, and more information on WNC waterfalls, at While you’re at it, thank him for his help in protecting these falls, too.

Little Bearwallow Falls

Little Bearwallow Falls requires a good rainfall to show off its full glory, but its 100-plus-foot height makes it the tallest waterfall protected by CMLC. This waterfall slides over an impressive exposed rock face that forms the steep walls of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge in Gerton.

After purchasing the falls and its surrounding 138 acres in 2013, CMLC constructed a public trail to its base the following year. The waterfall is now one of the highlight destinations in CMLC’s budding trail network that connects more protected lands, including Bearwallow Mountain and Florence Nature Preserve.

Connestee Falls

For more than a century, Transylvania County’s 85-foot Connestee Falls has been a popular natural roadside attraction on U.S. Highway 276. The most recent private owner of the falls, Dick Smith of Brevard, sought out CMLC to protect the falls and its seven surrounding acres with a conservation easement in 2008.

Smith also sold the property to the land trust, who conveyed it to Transylvania County the following year for the establishment of Connestee Falls Park, which opened in 2011.

The park actually hosts three waterfalls. Carson Creek flows over Connestee Falls, the largest of the three both in height and width. Immediately adjacent is the 40-foot Batson Creek Falls, which converges with Connestee Falls to form a narrow flume — a third falls known as Silver Slip.

“God made that waterfall for all of us to enjoy,” said Smith. “Now it's available to everybody, now and forever.”

DuPont Forest

DuPont State Recreational Forest is widely known for its treasure trove of locally beloved waterfalls. Specifically three of them — Hooker Falls, Wintergreen Falls and Grassy Creek Falls — were within the initial 7,600-acre land acquisition in 1996 that led to the creation of the state forest.

Through its leadership from state Rep. Chuck McGrady, CMLC helped facilitate The Conservation Fund (TCF) and state of North Carolina to seek purchase of land that today comprises three-quarters of DuPont.

“Land conservancies like CMLC often serve as vital intermediaries in the process of securing important protection,” Adams said. “They know the region better than anyone, what needs to be protected, and they have the local infrastructure to make it happen.”


Such was the case again with the recent establishment of the new Headwaters State Forest in southern Transylvania County. CMLC once more sought partnership with TCF and the N.C. Forest Service to seek conservation of 8,000 acres comprising the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River.

The newest state forest hosts three significant waterfalls: Reece Place Falls, Gravely Falls and East Fork Falls. The latter you can easily visit alongside East Fork Road. The two former falls, which are particularly picturesque, do not yet have public access. But don’t despair, it’s coming soon.

Conservation partners have acquired 5,000 acres for Headwaters State Forest to date. When the remaining 3,000 are added to protection — which is on pace to occur in the next few years — and management strategies determined, the N.C. Forest Service will enable access to these falls. They’ll be worth the wait.

Green River Preserve

Standing directly underneath the icy cold waters of Uncles Falls on Green River Preserve (GRP), a summer camp in southern Henderson County, yelling “polar bear” three times has been a decades-old rite of passage for camp kids. The falls and 2,600 acres of GRP is protected by a conservation easement with CMLC.

While private, CMLC sometimes hosts guided hikes to Uncles Falls, and GRP occasionally hosts access dates for members of the land trust when camp is not in session.

Siller Falls

The 5-foot Siller Falls isn’t especially impressive when compared to others highlighted in this column. But its location — down the mountain and beneath the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Polk County — makes it special.

Technically located in the Piedmont, Vaughn Creek has the enchanting feel of a bona fide mountain stream. Formerly the site of a mill, you can view Siller Falls from the Vaughn Creek Greenway, a half-mile walking path that parallels the creek. CMLC facilitated acquisition of 9 acres and development of the greenway in coordination with the town of Tryon in 2012.


Transylvania County’s Johnson Branch and its upper tributaries on the slope of See Off Mountain harbor an impressive bounty of scenic waterfalls. The falls are on private property on land protected by a CMLC conservation easement. The landowners graciously host a CMLC-guided hike each year for land conservation supporters wishing to see them.

Rockbrook Camp for Girls, also in Transylvania County and protected by a CMLC conservation easement, hosts two waterfalls: Rockbrook Camp Falls and Stick Biscuit Falls. Like GRP, the camp is private but occasionally hosts CMLC-guided hikes.

Pool Creek Falls

Pool Creek Falls slides down nearly 100 feet of rock within the backcountry portion of Chimney Rock State Park. The falls is within Worlds Edge, a 1,568-acre tract that CMLC and partners purchased for addition to the state park in 2005. While no public access to the falls currently exists, recent Connect NC bond funding will soon help initial development of a day-use area for visitors to Worlds Edge.

Because of the forward thinking of many landowners, agencies and organizations who sought to ensure the continued beauty of these natural wonders into the future, each of these conserved waterfalls will remain as beautiful as they appear in Adams’ photos today.

“Local land conservancies provide a vital role in protecting waterfalls and lands around them,” Adams said. “As a waterfaller, CMLC and our region’s land trusts are my heroes.”

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at

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