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Saving the East Fork Headwaters
In land conservation related to our region, two things really get me excited: public access (and especially trails) and vast expanses of protected natural lands.
So it's no wonder why I find the East Fork Headwaters tract in Transylvania County to be so appealing. With all that it has to offer, and what its ongoing protection means to our region, I think you'll get excited, too. With that in mind, please allow me to update you on the efforts of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and its partners to protect this special place and make it accessible for your enjoyment.
At 8,000 acres, the EFH is one of the largest remaining undeveloped tracts of privately owned land in Western North Carolina. It contains the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River, rare Southern Appalachian mountain bogs, and miles of the bio-diverse Blue Ridge Escarpment.
In 2009, CMLC and partners began working toward conservation and public access at EFH in order to protect the scenic beauty and critical natural resources that so positively affect the quality of life for residents and visitors of our region.
Protecting the tract from development and making it available for public recreation — such as hunting, fishing and hiking — could represent the last opportunity in our region to conserve a landscape-scale portion of our beloved mountains and their precious natural resources.
New partners emerge
In 2010, CMLC and its partner The Conservation Fund achieved the acquisition of 786 acres at the EFH. The purchase spanned the tract's highest elevations along the Blue Ridge Escarpment itself. It included nine miles of the venerable Foothills Trail system, completing a corridor of publicly accessible protected lands that now stretches nearly 100 miles across the Blue Ridge from the Nantahala National Forest to DuPont State Recreational Forest.
But much remains to be conserved at EFH, so efforts haven't stopped there.
CMLC is excited to receive support from new partners working to protect the EFH tract — most notably the North Carolina Forest Service, who will become the owning and managing entity for future public acquisitions at EFH.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also seeks to protect EFH by supporting further acquisition of the tract.
These new allies, in addition to CMLC's longstanding partners, make up a coalition dedicated to the public acquisition of the remainder of the wild and scenic EFH tract.
More to be protected
Partners have sought funding from multiple sources in an effort to acquire more EFH lands. Recent funding granted from North Carolina's Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Clean Water Management Trust Fund will soon enable the purchase of about 1,800 more acres of the EFH tract.
The acquisition will include Turkey Mountain and more than a mile of Bursted Rock Creek, as well as land that buffers the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area and a private conservation easement held by CMLC at a property known as Happy Acres.
CMLC will contribute about $800,000 for an additional 200 acres of land acquisition at EFH. The funding, obtained from the N.C. Department of Agriculture, is the result of a legal settlement awarded to the state stemming from air pollution generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Altogether, about 2,000 more acres at EFH are slated for purchase for permanent protection and public ownership by early 2013. That equates to greater than three square miles of newly protected lands.
National wildlife refuge?
In 2012, the USFWS announced a new proposal for the protection of southern Appalachian mountain bogs, one of the nation's rarest and most imperiled plant and wildlife habitats.
The proposed Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge aims to protect some of the last remaining southern Appalachian bogs in our region, conserving habitat for migratory birds and protecting habitat for federally threatened and endangered species.
If realized, the national wildlife refuge would be the first such federal designation in the southern Appalachians.
The project scope includes support for the potential acquisition of EFH — home to several mountain bogs — to serve as one of the refuge's large "anchor" tracts, in addition to protecting many smaller bog sites across the region.
Where compatible, the national wildlife refuge also intends to provide increased opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, education, and interpretation on lands currently closed to the public.
Mountain bogs, like those found at the EFH, possess a natural capacity for regulating water flow by holding floodwaters like giant sponges and slowly releasing the water to minimize the effects of droughts and floods.
These mountain wetlands play an important role in many aquatic food chains, and contribute to the productivity and high water quality needed by downstream fish, including native brook trout.
EFH needs your help
Protecting more land and water resources at the East Fork Headwaters can't be achieved by CMLC and its partners alone.
The project has benefited from strong partnerships at the federal, state and local levels. But the most important partner of all is you. Without widespread support of the community, the effort to conserve the natural treasures at EFH on a landscape scale cannot come to fruition.
Some of the resources needed to preserve EFH might be available in various funds set aside by our state and federal governments. In North Carolina, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Natural Heritage Trust Fund and other funds were created to invest in conservation projects that have significant positive impact on water quality and biodiversity — projects such as EFH. On the national scale, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress to support the acquisition of special natural lands for public ownership.
These funding sources have conserved some of the most beautiful natural treasures in our state and in our nation. But their future is in jeopardy, and these funds likely won't continue unless you make your voice heard to your government representatives. Let them know of your support for these funds that make land conservation possible — and why you need them to protect EFH.
Excited about the East Fork Headwaters?
You can stay up to date with ongoing land conservation by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and its partners at EFH, and become involved with our efforts, by visiting www.carolinamountain.org.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.