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One Woman Makes a Difference
“My heart just goes out to the animals,” exclaimed conservation property owner Diana Richards of Lake Lure. “I feel a real ache for all the losses that wildlife endures as a result of the development in our region.”
When Richards relocated from Louisiana to Western North Carolina, wildlife habitat — and doing her part to embrace it and protect it — was her greatest interest. “I had a particular interest in properties with high priority ecosystems for conservation,” she explained.
A friend at The Nature Conservancy tipped her off to land for sale just south of Lake Lure, in a secluded cove between Chimney Rock Mountain and Cane Creek Mountain. The tract had been classified as an important habitat along the flight paths of migratory birds. A self-proclaimed bird lover, Richards was instantly intrigued.
When the land was described to her as being “right next to where The Last of the Mohicans was filmed,” Richards decided to view the movie to get a sense of the landscape. Upon watching it, she was sold. When she finally got to see the land in person, she was taken aback by its dramatic beauty.
Richards has long worried that wildlife is losing its rightful representation in our society, being undervalued and forgotten by humans. She fears that the fragmentation of the landscape brought upon by overdevelopment is too severely disrupting the ability of plants and animals to thrive. “Many of our ecosystems are teetering on the edge of destruction,” she explained.
So after purchasing the property, Richards was thrilled to discuss the opportunity to place a conservation easement on her land through Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. She was elated at the prospect of solidifying her commitment to keeping the property's ecosystem and wildlife habitat forever intact.
In 2003, she entered 38 acres of her property into a conservation easement with CMLC. She also permanently protected about 220 acres of her land with The Nature Conservancy.
Connectivity of the landscape is one of the most important aspects of conservation to Richards. “It is critical that natural land is available for wildlife corridors. And as a corridor for plants, too,” she said. “We can't keep covering everything up with concrete and asphalt.”
Richards' conservation easement ultimately protected one of the most critical tracts for plant and animal habitat connectivity in the region. Her property borders three Significant Natural Heritage Areas, or SNHAs: Chimney Rock Natural Area, Worlds Edge/Sugarloaf Mountain and Cane Creek Mountain.
SNHAs are sites identified by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program as having special biodiversity significance. An area's significance might be because of the presence of rare species, exemplary or unique natural communities or habitat, important animal assemblages, or other important ecological features. Part of three SNHAs, Richards' property has all those characteristics in great abundance, and more.
Much of those SNHAs that surround her property are now part of Chimney Rock State Park, one of the state's most geologically stunning park lands. Because the conservation easement on her property ensures that it will always remain in its natural state, Richards is pleased to know that her land will forever be a bridge for wildlife to travel and make their habitat in and around the park.
Richards' property includes the upper reaches of two steams, Wolf Creek and Poole Creek, which drain the Worlds Edge basin higher up on the mountain. More than 1,500 acres of the Worlds Edge tract was conserved by CMLC in 2006 and later incorporated into the state park.
Safeguarding the water quality of the land with the conservation easement is as important to Richards as protecting wildlife habitat, especially because one depends so much on the other. “There's just so much water on this property,” Richards said. “There seems to be waterfalls everywhere you look.”
Wolf Creek Falls, near the boundary of Richards' property and Chimney Rock State Park, is particularly impressive. At the falls, Wolf Creek plunges more than 60 feet over the face of a vertical cliff. The falls have drawn particular interest from waterfall collectors and photographers. Richards periodically hosts CMLC members hikes across her land so others, too, can be awed by the falls.
Ironically, Richards' favorite part of her conserved property might not even be on the land itself. “One of the most exciting times to be here is during the seasons of bird migrations,” she said, gazing at the sky.
So deep is Richards' commitment to conserving wildlife and habitat connectivity, she intends to honor it well after her own time on her property. “This land will be left to Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in my will,” she explained with enthusiasm. “It will always be a habitat for the wildlife and plants.”
Richards' heart indeed goes out to the animals. And through her commitment to conservation, so will it forever.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.