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Conserving Land is Tumblin' Fun
‘I’ve always wanted to be out in the woods, away from urban areas,” said Patrick Horan of Sapphire. “And I’ve always been interested in plants and animals.”
Horan spent much of his childhood searching for nature where it wasn’t found in great abundance. Growing up in an industrial part of northern Indiana, he sought to escape the unnatural impacts of the area’s many steel mills.
“It was horribly polluted. There were lots of people and hardly any trees,” he recalled.
Such exposure to overdevelopment in his youth followed by a long career in academia left Horan with a longing for the natural world, a longing that would eventually lead to an insatiable lust to save it from the many threats that face it.
Horan and his wife, Noel Thurner, began visiting Western North Carolina in the early 1980s to cross-country ski on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They were drawn to the natural beauty of the region, seeking an escape from their urban lifestyle.
Ultimately, they decided to make that escape permanent.
“This is where, and how, I want to live,” Horan said after discovering the area of Bohaynee, a tucked-away hollow in southwest Transylvania County. In 1988, the couple purchased more than 100 acres of the cove and soon after constructed a log cabin on the property.
Their new property was exactly what they were seeking: a natural wonderland. It hosted scenic waterfalls, a plethora of wildflowers and towering hemlock trees. They discovered from locals that one waterfall on their property — a series of cascades at least 50 feet in height — came with an interesting name: Tumblin’ Fun Falls.
The curious name is often — and incorrectly — attached to another falls in the vicinity on Mill Creek. But descendants of the Hinkle family — former owners of the property dating back to the mid-1800s — tipped them off to the true identity of their waterfall and how it got its name.
According to local author and historian Jim Bob Tinsley, the falls were named by “Chucky Joe” Huger, a world traveler and poetic naturalist who visited dozens of falls in the region in the early 1920s. For more than a year, Huger based his explorations out of the residence of Perry and Mary Nancy Hinkle, long ago owners of the property.
Huger bestowed the name Walters Well to a nearby spring in honor of the Hinkle’s son. The spring was long known as one of the most reliable in the area, and it was such an important source of clean drinking water that it even had its own deed. The deed — a piece of history now treasured by Horan and Thurner — dates back more than 100 years.
Tinsley writes that Huger christened the nearby falls Tumblin’ Fun “because neighborhood children had so much fun frolicking below the limestone leap of the stream in placid pools where swim the nixies and nymphes.”
“There are a lot of stories around here,” Thurner said of such local tales. “Some are so wild that I don’t even tell them. They’re really hard to believe.”
Finally surrounded by the nature that they craved, the couple’s appreciation for it grew deeper and deeper. Further fueled by local lore and the meaning that the landscape has had to so many, their longing to experience nature soon shifted to a yearning to protect it.
Protecting the water
In 2007, Horan and Thurner partnered with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy to place a conservation easement on 122 acres of their picturesque property, including Tumblin’ Fun Falls and Walters Well. The spring is one of several on the property that make up the headwaters of Laurel Creek, the stream that hosts the scenic falls before flowing into the Whitewater River.
The conservation easement with CMLC prevents future development of the property, forever protecting its natural character and safeguarding its water quality.
“The water was the most important thing to us with the easement,” they explained.
Ensuring that water stays clean at its source — free of sediment and pollution that often results from development on mountain slopes — is paramount to preserving its quality further downstream.
“If it’s polluted at the point it comes out of the ground, it’s going to be polluted for its entire course,” Horan explained.
Since placing the conservation easement, their passion for saving nature from threats has only grown larger. Horan has also become devoted to saving the region’s hemlock trees from the hemlock woolly adelgid, studying and employing biological pest management with use of the Sasi beetle, a natural predator to the invasive parasites that kill the venerable trees.
Since 2006, Horan has donated and released more than 4,000 beetles to mitigate HWA on his own and other CMLC-conserved lands. His particular focus has centered on pest management for hemlocks on private, protected lands in the Hickory Nut Gorge — a particular focus area for CMLC’s conservation efforts.
And when another opportunity arose to protect additional land last year, Horan and Thurner wasted no time.
“We weren’t looking at all to buy more property,” Horan said. But when two sisters who owned land just east of their property expressed interest in selling for the purpose of conserving it, Horan and Thurner were eager buyers.
After review by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, the adjacent property was found to host several threatened rare plant species, garnering them a nomination for inclusion in the Silver Run Significant Natural Heritage Area. An SNHA is a special designation by the state to denote lands possessing particularly high conservation value. The property also harbored additional headwater springs of the Laurel Creek watershed and a quarter-mile of streams.
“Why not protect it?” Horan said of his decision to purchase a total of 16 acres — the sisters’ tract as well as three additional lots from a neighboring failed development — to add to their ownership. “We can protect this watershed one stream at a time.”
Following the sale, Horan and Thurner again worked with CMLC to add their new acreage to the conservation easement to forever preserve its natural character. When the easement was completed at the end of 2013, the 16 newly conserved acres brought the protection of natural lands on the couple’s property to 138 total acres.
“It wanted to be protected,” Horan chuckled as he gazed out upon the newly CMLC-conserved tract, speaking above the roar of the water tumbling over the falls. “Do you blame it?”
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.