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Couple Preserves Treasures on Land Purchased in 1992
‘We know you’re here to talk about conservation, but you’ve got to have the background. There’s a foundation to all of this,” landowner Morgan Jones told me. Standing with him underneath the canopy of a 150-year-old oak and adjacent to several weathered farm buildings nearly as old, he continued: “We’ll start at the beginning and tell you how we got here.”
Morgan and Betty Jones of Brevard began searching Western North Carolina for mountain property to call home in 1992. “We were looking for about 10 acres,” Morgan Jones said. “We ended up with 68,” he added with a chuckle.
Those 68 acres ended up holding treasures beyond their wildest dreams, and, ultimately, that they cherished so much, they would seek to protect them forever.
The land they found — and fell in love with — had been a farm for the previous two centuries. Their property surrounds Johnson Branch, a tributary that flows into the French Broad River only a few hundred yards beyond. In the Dunns Rock township south of Brevard, it rests on the western slopes of Becky Mountain.
“The Hogsed family owned this land beginning in the 1790s,” Betty Jones explained. “It was a dairy farm, and they had several gardens.”
Outbuildings from the farm still dot their property: a chicken coop, carriage house, hog pen and a spring house. “Some of them are over a hundred years old,” she added.
Many of the buildings were pieced together with different types of wood and materials.
“They didn’t have much. But they wasted nothing,” Morgan Jones said of the generations of Hogseds who inhabited the land.
Nearly a century ago, the property was heavily timbered, which prompted Morgan to inquire with the former owners — Hogseds who were in their 90s at the time of his inquiry — about the logging.
“Why did you cut down the whole forest?” he asked. “They told me ‘Because we were hungry.’ ”
It was May when the Joneses first visited the Hogsed property for sale on Johnson Branch. When the real estate agent walked them up a trail ascending the slopes, they found the entire forest floor blanketed with thousands of trout lilies. “My passion is plants,” Betty Jones said. “I decided right then that I had to have this.”
But their interest in the land had competition. The Joneses had to outbid another offer from a buyer who hoped to use the property commercially. Morgan Jones wasn’t pleased, having seen plenty of pristine land exploited and denaturalized across our mountains.
“We said, ‘Hey. This is ridiculous. We can’t just keep knocking stuff down.’ ”
When the Hogsed family asked the Joneses what their intentions were for the property, their reply was frank.
“Nothing,” explained Morgan Jones. “They were surprised. But that suited them just fine.”
The Jones’ favorite memories on the land came during their explorations of the property during their first few years living there.
“We really didn’t know what we had here,” remembered Betty Jones. ‘We had only taken a short walk on it to see the flowers.”
They were blown away with what they found, discovering waterfall after waterfall. Altogether, the property hosts at least a dozen separate falls and cascades — many that are among the most beautiful in the county.
Sometimes, their explorations discovered the unexpected.
“We were crawling on our hands and knees up a steep hill, and all of a sudden I looked up and there was somebody looking down at me,” Morgan Jones recalled. “And it wasn’t a person — it was a bear. We were both pretty surprised.”
But the discovery that Betty Jones has most enjoyed on their land is her flowers and plants — more than 300 species. Beginning in 2000, she began cataloging every plant that she found on the property. She records every detail, including location and date of discovery, so that she can look for it again in subsequent years to see if the plant reoccurs.
Her personal flora inventory of the property now exceeds nine pages. She has also accumulated two full albums of wildflower photos taken on their property.
“Every day it seems like I still discover something new out here,” she said.
Betty Jones’ burning passion for plants — she not only knows the quantity and location of all of the flowers on the property, but their Latin names, too — led to her involvement with the Western Carolina Botanical Club. Fittingly, it was club member Anne Ulinski who first detected the Joneses’ passion for their property and its natural resources, and suggested the idea of a conservation easement.
Ulinski is one of the co-founders of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, which was initiated in 1994 after the completion of the first-ever comprehensive inventory of natural areas in Henderson County. She put the Joneses in touch with CMLC, who discussed the high conservation value of their land and its many natural resources worth protecting in perpetuity. It’s only fitting that Ulinski is still protecting land, nearly two decades after she first started.
“We said, ‘Hey, we can’t let this thing go. One day somebody is going to build something on this land and ruin it. We have to leave it like it is,” Morgan Jones recalled. “So by giving a conservation easement … that stops it forever. That’s it.”
The Joneses consulted with their children about their desire to conserve the land at Johnson Branch. They explained to them that because the land cannot be developed after the easement, its monetary value would be reduced and subsequently, decrease the value of their inheritance. According to Betty Jones, “still, they were all for it.”
In 2009, CMLC partnered with the Joneses to complete a 61-acre conservation easement on their property. The easement protects nearly a half mile of the Johnson Branch tributary, as well as multiple seepage bogs teeming with biodiversity. It also protects its dozen waterfalls and significant natural communities such as a hemlock forest and several “spray cliffs.” Most important to Betty Jones, it protects her flowers — making sure that the land that hosts them will always remain in its natural state. The flowers she has so tirelessly documented will continue to come up in the same spots, each year, forever.
Ken Borgfeldt, a fellow member of the Western Carolina Botanical Club, admits that he has “property envy” with the Joneses land.
“This tract has more waterfalls than you can count,” he said. He is also enamored with the botanical diversity that it harbors. “Without question, it’s my favorite property that CMLC has protected.”
Borgfeldt periodically leads walks for groups at Johnson Branch to showcase its beauty to visitors.
Because the Joneses’ property hosts their private residence, the land isn’t open to the public. However, they relish the opportunity to share their natural treasures and stunning scenery once or twice a year to groups who have an interest in seeing it — including CMLC, which leads a hike at Johnson Branch each May. Bursting with wildflowers and waterfalls, the outing — open only to CMLC members — is one of the land trust’s most popular of the year.
Whether sharing it with others or reveling in its splendor on their own, Morgan and Betty Jones are teeming with pride to have protected their Johnson Branch property.
“This is important. We have beautiful land with a nice creek, but it’s a lot more than that,” explained Morgan Jones. “We’re saving something that can’t be duplicated.”
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.