Stories of the Land: 1,000 More Acres Conserved in 2014

Two decades ago, a small group of community members gathered around a kitchen table in the interest of preserving our region’s precious natural heritage. What resulted from their vision would prove to have far-reaching impacts on the quality of life for a community, a region and beyond. Those impacts would not just benefit their own generation, but countless others to come.

In the 20th year since those selfless citizens banded together to form a local land trust, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) furthered the legacy of its founders by forever protecting 1,095 more acres of the places you love in Western North Carolina. These permanently preserved places keep us healthy, bestow our identity, and inspire us to live and love within our community.

Now surpassing the conservation of 28,000 acres of our region’s most treasured natural resources, CMLC is proud to present its 2014 additions to our community’s protected landscapes.

DEERLAKE

1.8 more acres

A decade after conserving 37 acres of undeveloped land in Brevard’s Deerlake Village, CMLC partnered with two of its resident landowners and the Deerlake Village Community Association to protect an additional 1.8 acres in the Transylvania County community.

Both landowners generously donated lots — previously slated for new homes — to the association and collectively placed them into conservation easements.

One lot — a lakefront property — was considered eminently developable by project partners, and the other hosts sensitive wetlands of particular conservation importance. The added land protection at Deerlake safeguards water quality on Lambo Creek and preserves scenic views surrounding the shoreline.

While small in size, the latest conservation at Deerlake is an important example of preserving a balance between developed and undeveloped land.

“We recently purchased a home adjacent to the Deerlake easements because of the perfect marriage between a residential community and conservation lands,” said Brevard resident Owen Carson. Carson, a plant ecologist for Equinox Environmental, said that it is the perfect place to raise a family.

“To live close to town yet know my children will always have access to the natural world out our back door is priceless. I’m grateful for the vision of CMLC and the Deerlake POA.”

HEADWATERS STATE FOREST

1,018 more acres

The momentous effort to conserve the East Fork Headwaters in Transylvania County reached its most significant milestone yet in 2014.

Project partners The Conservation Fund and N.C. Forest Service acquired 1,018 more acres for addition to Headwaters State Forest and thereby passed the halfway mark of acquiring the acreage proposed for the new state forest.

The acquisition included the tributaries of Jane Cantrell Creek and the South Prong of Glady Fork Creek — the latter hosting one of the tract’s most stunning waterfalls, Gravely Mill Falls.

North Carolina’s newest state forest now consists of 4,229 acres. “We hope to complete acquisition within the next two to three years,” said Michael Cheek, NCFS assistant regional forester.

Protecting the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River was initiated by CMLC and its landowner, former Congressman Charles Taylor, in 2009. The undeveloped property — the largest remaining contiguous private tract in WNC — is teeming with waterfalls, 25 miles of trout streams, mountain bogs hosting rare species, and more than nine miles of the venerable Foothills Trail system.

Partners utilized federal funding from the Forest Legacy program, North Carolina’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, and donation of some of the land value by the Taylor family.

BEARWALLOW MOUNTAIN

5 more acres

Henderson County’s most iconic peak, Bearwallow Mountain, has been a focus of CMLC’s conservation efforts since 2009. Since then, 165 acres have been protected in conservation easement as well as a new public trail constructed to its scenic summit.

Following the resolution of an uncertain property boundary, five new acres were added into the conservation easement at Bearwallow Mountain in 2014. The new addition includes the trailhead of the popular Bearwallow Mountain Trail, the starting point for hikers seeking the inspiration of its majestic view from above.

CMLC gratefully acknowledges that preservation of Bearwallow, and its enjoyment by visitors has been made possible with the cooperation of its owners, past and present. One of those owners, George Henry Barnwell, sadly passed away in December, two years following the death of his mother, Pearl Barnwell.

“The Barnwell family’s vision and commitment to conservation will continue to be treasured by all those who are inspired by the beautiful views from this protected peak,” said CMLC Executive Director Kieran Roe.

CMLC is striving to conserve an additional 306 acres atop the mountain with the ultimate goal of protecting 476 acres in total at the locally beloved summit.

THE PARK AT FLAT ROCK

68 acres

In support of more community green space and outdoor recreational opportunities, CMLC aided in the establishment of the new The Park at Flat Rock in 2014.

CMLC provided assistance to the Village of Flat Rock to secure funding for land acquisition — including the authoring of an N.C. Parks & Recreation Trust Fund grant — of the former Highland Lake Golf Club. The grant provided significant funding to help defray the costs of acquiring the land.

The Village intends the 68-acre park to be a “place for all generations to enjoy its natural beauty and reap the benefits of outdoor recreation and leisure while protecting and preserving the wildlife that make its home there.”

It already features a 1.5-mile natural surface perimeter trail that is suitable for users with a wide range of physical abilities, as well as multiple uses beyond walking, including bicycling, strollers and dog-walking.

“We’re grateful to be a part of this project because it offers multi-use recreational opportunities that are not found elsewhere in the Village,” said CMLC Administrative Director Rebekah Robinson.

FRENCH BROAD RIVER

Etowah Access

1.7 acres

CMLC acquired 1.7 acres in Etowah at Highway 64 along the French Broad River in order to create a new public access point for paddlers and anglers. The land was generously donated by Patten Seed Co., producers of Super-Sod turfgrass. The company owns the adjacent Horseshoe Bend Farm, on which it donated a 360-acre conservation easement in 2003.

CMLC donated the new river access tract to Henderson County Parks & Recreation, which plans to make it a new park. N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will construct a new boat ramp and parking area.

Currently, only two public access points — 18 miles apart — exist for boaters on the French Broad River in Henderson County. The new Etowah access will enable shorter and more manageable trips for river enthusiasts. It could also one day serve as a trailhead for the proposed Ecusta Rail Trail between Hendersonville and Brevard.

Support for this project was provided by the Fitzpatrick Foundation.

PRESERVE AND IMPROVE

CMLC’s conservation initiatives in 2014 were not limited to only newly protected lands. Stay tuned next month to learn about a year’s worth of impacts that make these special protected lands accessible for you to explore, that restore and enhance their natural heritage, and preserve their ability to inspire and fulfill the residents and visitors of our region.

CMLC has protected more than 28,000 acres at more than 150 projects among the Blue Ridge Escarpment, French Broad River Valley, Hickory Nut Gorge, and beyond since its inception in 1994. For more information and to support land conservation in WNC, visit carolinamountain.org.

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

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

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