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30,000 Reasons to Love Our Mountains
Perhaps no other time of the year in Western North Carolina do we so adore our mountains.
At long last, the cold, dreary days give way to warm sunshine that illuminates their verdant slopes. The snow and ice melt to fill their streams and rivers with pristine water that nourishes our farms and tempts us to cast a line or grab a paddle. Their bounty of wildflowers erupt with color from the forest floor, curing our winter doldrums.
Spring in the southern Appalachians is worth getting excited about because its mesmerizing and transfixing beauty is so apparent. But as we revel in the natural splendor of our region this season, something less obvious is also worth getting excited about: that so much of it will remain just how we love it most.
Each year, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) — with the help of government partners, dedicated landowners, and generous supporters — strives to protect and preserve our region's precious natural resources to forever keep intact what gives our land meaning and life.
In 2015, 1,518 more acres of precious mountains — hosting lush forests, clean water, unique plants and animals, and spellbinding scenery — were forever conserved, ensuring they remain as they are now, and how they have always been.
With that, just 21 years since its founding, CMLC has passed the significant milestone of conserving 30,000 acres of our local, natural treasures. And they’re all for you, and thanks to you.
This year in particular, it is more exciting than ever to tell you about all that has been protected in the last year, among these special mountains that we call home.
What this one acre next to DuPont State Recreational Forest lacks in size, it makes up for in potential impact. The Bresnahan family of Cedar Mountain donated this tract to CMLC to help bolster the establishment of a section of the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge in Transylvania County by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. USFWS will now seek to acquire up to 3,800 nearby acres that host ever-vanishing southern Appalachian mountain bogs.
One of the nation's rarest and most imperiled habitats, mountain bogs are hotspots for biodiversity containing numerous rare plant and animal species. They also possess a natural capacity for regulating water flow, holding floodwaters like giant sponges, then slowly releasing the water to minimize the effects of droughts and floods.
Conservation of the small tract also preserves the views from DuPont’s popular Burnt Mountain Trail and Cascade Lake Road, as well as habitat for rare green salamanders.
Big Creek Lodge
Pisgah National Forest just got bigger — by 56 acres — with the acquisition of the first phase of the Big Creek Lodge project, a private inholding previously slated for private development.
Trout Unlimited, U.S. Forest Service and CMLC partnered to conserve this threatened “hole” in the forest containing the North Mills River, a blue ribbon trout stream coveted among fly anglers. Protecting the tract will safeguard the source of clean drinking water for more than 50,000 households in Henderson and southern Buncombe counties.
Despite this good news, this project is only half complete. Partners will continue their work to purchase the remainder of the inholding — 28 more acres — that if left unprotected, could sully the clear water and verdant forests of the project.
Community of Transfiguration
In partnership with the Community for the Transfiguration — an order of Episcopal nuns — 409 acres were conserved in Bat Cave, of which 368 acres were purchased by CMLC to host the future Hickory Nut Gorge Teaching and Research Reserve. The unspoiled landscape will soon serve as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for local universities, schools, and agencies to widely benefit our region.
Teeming with picturesque waterfalls, majestic hemlocks, and a variation of green salamander which may soon be classified as a new, distinct specie, the now protected property also contains more than a mile of the scenic Rocky Broad River.
This newly conserved 19-acre gem near the Henderson-Transylvania County line harbors an intact, mature mixed hardwood and conifer forest as well as a portion of Shoal Creek, home to brook trout. The land was generously donated by Susan Dunkel of Sebring, Florida, and an anonymous local landowner. It may soon become part of DuPont State Recreational Forest, which it presently borders on two of its sides.
Headwaters State Forest
The continued partnership of N.C. Forest Service, The Conservation Fund, and CMLC made more headway at Headwaters State Forest last year, growing it by 787 acres. Headwaters, North Carolina’s newest state forest and host to one of the primary sources of the French Broad River, now consists of just shy of 5,000 acres of publicly owned and protected land. Partners are striving to add 3,000 more acres to complete the project in the coming years.
Mouth of Mud Creek
The confluence of Mud Creek where it empties into the French Broad River has long suffered from erosion that — as its name suggests — has muddied our mountain waters. With the protection of 101 acres where stream meets river, the federally endangered Appalachian elktoe muscle as well as the elusive musky, highly sought by anglers, may better thrive in cleaner waters.
CMLC is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and N.C .Wildlife Resources Commission to restore the property’s original wetlands and natural hydrology.
French Broad Paddle Trail Stop
While not a traditional path through our mountains, did you know that the French Broad River is designated as a State Recreational Trail? This one-acre tract in Etowah was acquired by CMLC to potentially serve as an overnight camping spot for paddlers floating down this “blueway.” Protecting land alongside the river will also ensure its banks remain naturally vegetated, forever benefiting its water quality.
Your local land trust typically conserves the mountains of Henderson, Transylvania, and parts of Rutherford and Polk counties, but occasionally reaches north to Buncombe County when a natural treasure is especially worthy of protection. That was the case with 50 acres on Baird Mountain, which forms part of the scenic backdrop of Asheville.
Preserving part of this mountain will ensure it forever retains its forest that provides habitat for grouse and several rare plants and always keep headwater streams of Herron Creek clear and clean.
Regardless of whether or not you venture into our region’s natural lands by foot or boat, you have undoubtedly explored its scenic treasures by automobile. Some of WNC’s thoroughfares so abundantly showcase inspiring vistas and charming scenery that they receive federal or state designation as a “Scenic Byway.”
To preserve the gorgeous scenery from the stunning Whitewater Scenic Byway south of Sapphire, the Mockridge family of Brevard and CMLC partnered to forever protect 35 acres visible from N.C. Highway 281. This conservation easement will also keep clean the waters of mountain streams flowing into Corbin Creek before they careen over picturesque Lower Whitewater Falls.
Ruth Jones Farm
Ruth Elaine Jones, a lifelong Cedar Mountain resident and career Transylvania County health educator, tragically passed away in 2011 but not without leaving an enduring legacy that will forever benefit our region. Jones bequeathed her pastoral mountain farm to CMLC to forever preserve its rural character and natural heritage that she held dear throughout her life. Permanent conservation of the farm was completed in 2015, honoring Ruth’s generosity to the community and love for our mountains.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.