Branching Out from the Forest

Two months ago, this column took a look back at the origins of one of our region's beloved natural gems, DuPont State Recreational Forest. While it was a story told by many before, I was intrigued to learn the lesser-known tale of how a small local land conservancy played an instrumental role in bringing it to fruition.

But the story didn't end there. The relationship between that little land trust — then called the Natural Heritage Inventory of Henderson County — and the forest was just getting started. Nearly two decades later, DuPont Forest continues to benefit.

The involvement of that land trust — now Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) — in DuPont's creation caused a collateral effect. "Natural communities and rare species don't stop at the county lines," explained state Rep. Chuck McGrady, the father of CMLC's bond to DuPont and longtime forest champion.

Realizing that the natural heritage it sought to protect extended into and beyond DuPont, the organization decided to expand its scope of land protection to include Transylvania County. Since then, conserving the natural heritage surrounding the forest — and in many cases within it — has been one of its top priorities.

Only a few years after the establishment of the state forest, CMLC partnered with the Sylvan Habitat neighborhood south of Brevard to place a conservation easement on land immediately adjacent to DuPont. The easement will forever keep natural 220 acres on the western border of the forest.

"Conservation easements bordering DuPont benefit the forest in multiple ways," said Tom Fanslow, CMLC land protection director.

These benefits include preventing development from encroaching on its boundary; preservation of unbroken natural land for habitat and migration of wildlife; and keeping unspoiled the scenic views enjoyed by visitors from within the forest.

Don and Mary Wauchope also sought CMLC's help to support the forest, donating a conservation easement on 20 acres of their Transylvania property in 2005. The easement, near Cascade Lake, will serve as another forever-natural buffer on DuPont's western border.

Perhaps of greatest magnitude in buffering the forest was CMLC's partnership with the Schenck family in 2006. That year, 2,600 acres of the property hosting the Green River Preserve summer camp were entered into a permanent conservation easement.

Green River Preserve's protected lands — nearly a quarter of the size of DuPont itself — share a seven-mile boundary with the forest to its south. Teeming with natural significance like rare species of plants and animals, it also hosts the headwaters of the Green River, some of which begin on boundary with the forest along the Eastern Continental Divide.

"We are delighted that this land will always remain natural — as we have always known it and as those who came before us cherished it," said Sandy Schenck, Green River Preserve landowner and camp director. "It can forever be a place where young minds can develop an appreciation for the natural world."

That same year, James and Rose Buckner boosted DuPont's size by working with CMLC and the N.C. Forest Service to add 118 acres to the Forest. This acquisition made possible the linkage of two previously separated parcels of DuPont Forest near Old CCC Road in Henderson County.

Twice more CMLC facilitated the expansion of DuPont. In 2009, the Forest grew by 17 acres when property adjacent to the south was conveyed to the N.C. Forest Service by the Terra Nova Center in Cedar Mountain. Terra Nova, a nondenominational spiritual retreat center surrounding charming Lake Reasonover, then buffered DuPont in 2011 by making its natural lands permanent via a conservation easement on 255 acres along the forest's southern boundary.

In 2012, CMLC teamed up with private conservation partner Tom Oreck to add 65 more acres to DuPont on Stone Mountain. The Henderson County tract off Old CCC Road hosted rare green salamanders and scenic rock outcroppings that are now part of the Forest.

"It was a property that needed to belong to DuPont State Forest," said Oreck. "I'm excited that I was able to do something good for the community."

These projects that buffered or grew DuPont State Recreational Forest were made possible by funding from North Carolina's Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Natural Heritage Trust Fund and contributions from private donors. Most of all, it took the generosity of private landowners seeking to better DuPont by protecting their properties and the N.C. Forest Service's steadfast stewardship of the forest.

Recently, CMLC and partners have been exploring the possibility of linking DuPont to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness in South Carolina via a recreational trail through the acquisition of a publicly accessible conservation corridor. Such a connection — dubbed "the missing link" — would make possible the concept of the Southern Appalachian Loop Trail.

Called "SALT" for short, the route could create a nearly contiguous connection of trails from DuPont Forest to venerable long-distance paths like the Foothills Trail, Bartram Trail and Appalachian Trail.

Jeff Jennings, a former DuPont Corp. employee and one of the forest's first conservation champions, is glad that supporting that state forest has been an enduring legacy for the land trust.

"CMLC has exceeded my expectations in helping to build the forest as well as protect its borders," Jennings said. "They played a significant role in making the forest a reality, and they have only made it better since," he added. "I have no doubt that they'll keep it up."

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.

http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20150726/ARTICLES/150729924/0/search?p=all&tc=pgall

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