Thunder on the Mountain

Sporting mid-October splendor, the view from Waterrock Knob was gorgeous.

Sporting mid-October splendor, the view of the Plott Balsam Mountains from Waterrock Knob was gorgeous.

Drew Stevenson from Highland Brewing Company  and Kana Miller (SAHC AmeriCorps PR and Outreach Associate) fearlessly led our group of hikers into the clouds for a strenuous but fun October hike — the Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership hike to  Blackrock Mountain. Drew recounts this trek through the Plott Balsams in Jackson County, our 2nd Partnership  hike of the fall season:

“The hike group met at the Waterrock Knob overlook (elevation 6,292 feet), which gets its name from a cool stream where hunters and farmers came to quench their thirst. About 1/4 mile down from the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center we started the trail, which covers approximately 2.2 miles of up-and-down terrain, becoming very skinny at times to hug the steep mountainside.
Relics from old logging days merge with the moss-dotted forest.

Relics from old logging days merge with the moss-dotted forest.

With occasional views of puffy clouds floating in the valley below,  the route provided a handful of opportunities for hikers to display some simple rock climbing skills. We reached the summit of Yellow Face Mountain about a mile into the hike and enjoyed a water break with a view, surrounded by trees and blackberry bushes.

On our next descent into the forest, before the trail began to climb again, we stopped in a flat, mossy area full of lichen, fungi and a large metal structure left over from the days of logging around the area. It kind of resembled something Steebo, a local metal artist, would have utilized for one of his projects.
"British soldier," an interesting species of lichen named for its bright red color.

“British soldier,” an interesting species of lichen named for its bright red color.

We also admired all the British soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) growing on a group of fallen trees on the edge of the forest. They are a species of lichen with erect, hollow branches that end in distinctive red fruiting bodies from which the popular name is derived. Then, we headed back up the trail into thicker forest and hiked beside large rocks, some draped with smooth rock tripe that looked like slick strips of vinyl peeling  off from the surface. An abundance of ferns and moss also covered many of the rocks bordering the trail to the top.

A pause before the final push before the summit.

A pause before the final push to the summit.

After successfully maneuvering through a couple of the most challenging spots on the trail, we passed a “Conservation Area” marker, which signified the important work that SAHC has done in this particular area and provided us with an indicator that we were nearing our destination.

Before reaching the Blackrock Mountain crest, we approached our last difficult climb and popped out onto the rock that would be our lunch spot. Clouds engulfed the majority of the long range views in front of us, but as the wind pushed them through, we managed to get glimpses of Yellow Face and some sights of autumn color change.

SAHC member and avid hiker, Bob Roepnack points out interesting landmarks as the clouds break.

SAHC member and avid hiker, Bob Roepnack points out interesting landmarks as the clouds break.

This peaceful place provided an opportunity for fellowship with our hiking group and time to talk about the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership with those who were hiking with us for the first time. As we made our way back, the clouds lifted just as we ascended Yellow Face Mountain, allowing us the chance to get a peek at the beautiful view below.

On the way back to Asheville, Kana  and I stopped at the Thunderstruck Ridge overlook to see the ridge for which the latest Highland Brewing Company seasonal — Thunderstruck Coffee Porter — was named.”

About the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership:

Highland Brewing Company (HBC) partners with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and US Fish & Wildlife Service in order to support our conservation efforts and heighten awareness of the unique peaks, natural features, and native species which make our area so special. As part of this partnership, Highland Brewing Company donates a portion of pint sales from each release party to SAHC to support land and water conservation.

The “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership activities, including free guided hikes, occur throughout the year, centering around each of HBC’s seasonal releases. Each HBC seasonal brew is named for a feature of the Southern Appalachian landscape.

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Alternative Fall Break — Emory Students and American Conservation Experience

Alternative Fall Break students from Emory University - making a difference!

Alternative Fall Break students from Emory University – making a difference!

When you think of a fall break from college, you might think of a ski trip, or going camping, or spending time with your family — but you probably wouldn’t think about doing volunteer work. The students of Emory University have different ideas. Over a September holiday weekend, they drove up from Atlanta to do just that. On Monday, Sept. 13th, SAHC welcomed 21 students to the Community Farm for an entire day of trail work and invasive plant removal. The students came from all grades and fields of study; including neuroscience, Arabic, and dance.

Installing erosion control devices.

Installing erosion control devices.

In addition to the Emory students, SAHC was lucky enough to have five representatives from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) along for the work day. ACE is a non-profit that provides environmental service opportunities through conservation corps, conservation vacations, and volunteer outings. Started in Arizona in 2004, the organization has worked with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. This year, they started a branch in North Carolina lead by Adam Scherm. The organization specializes in trail building, invasive plant removal, fencing construction, and wildlife monitoring.

One group of students helped with work on the farm's Discovery Trail.

One group of students helped with work on the farm’s Discovery Trail.

The students split into two groups and worked on building erosion control devices along the trail and removing overgrown vegetation from the livestock fencing. As a team, they moved logs, dug drainage swales, and pulled multi-flora rose. Students exclaimed about how much they felt like they accomplished. At the end of the day, the group excitedly talked about how much they would like to come back again for next year’s fall break trip. Adam explained how the day was also valuable for his organization in that it “was a great leadership opportunity for Max and Lindsey,” two ACE AmeriCorps volunteers. SAHC hopes to continue building partnerships with these two groups at the Community Farm and throughout our properties.

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The Right Tools for the Farm

Weed wiper

Grassworks Weed Wiper

The cost of farm equipment is something that can make starting a farm feel impossible. Tractors alone can cost upwards of $30,000, and then there are all the implements and attachments that are specific to each agricultural activity. In order to assist farmers in having access to more equipment,  the Buncombe County Soil & Water District and Buncombe Cooperative Extension Service have each purchased several common tractor implements. Purchased through TVA Ag and Forestry Fund grants, these tools are available for local farmers to rent from the respective offices for minimal fees. Use of such equipment can result in higher farm profits by increasing efficiency and land productivity.

Shaver hydraulic post driver

Shaver hydraulic post driver

To help increase community knowledge of the program and show how each machine operates, SAHC, Buncombe County Soil & Water District, and Buncombe Cooperative Extension Service teamed up to provide an equipment demo day free to the public. The implements demonstrated included  were a weed wiper, a hydraulic post driver, a bed maker and mulcher, and a transplanter. On October 1st, 20 local farmers and agency personnel met at the SAHC Community Farm to see these machines in action.

The four implements demonstrated could increase productivity on almost any farm. The Grassworks Weed Wiper is a simple trailer-hitch attachment that can be pulled either by a tractor or by a pick up truck. It is unique in that it applies herbicide only the tallest plants, thus avoiding indiscriminate die-off. The Shaver hydraulic post driver cuts post setting time to just a few minutes. You do not even need to start a pilot hole! This makes the idea of building acres of fence-line a lot more manageable.

Rain flo transplanter

Rain flo transplanter

The bed maker/mulcher is for farmers that would like to either do unformed raised beds or are working in plasti-culture. With a few adjustments the machine can run hundreds of feet of even rows with both drip tape and plastic mulch. The Rain Flo transplanter is an excellent machine that both punches a hole for transplants and waters that space. The riders on the machine simply place the plugs into the holes as they roll by.

Bed maker/mulcher

Bed maker/mulcher

All of the farmers at the demo expressed interest in the machines and how having them available could increase their productivity and efficiency. Having these resources available as daily rentals will allow more farmers to experiment with different implements and farming techniques, without the risk of purchasing each implement alone.

For more information on renting this equipment, contact Buncombe County Soil & Water District and Buncombe Cooperative Extension Service.

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Honey Harvest

Yael uses a smoker to calm the bees before opening the hive.

Yael uses a smoker to calm the bees.

Mmmmmmm, sweet, sweet honey — Fresh from the hive! The chronicle of our rescued honeybee hive continued this fall with our first honey harvest. What could be sweeter than seeing this thriving, rescued hive proliferating through the summer and making new honey stores to last through the coming winter? A learning experience that tastes good, too!

Pulling frames to harvest from the top super.

Pulling frames to harvest from the top super.

A small group of SAHC staff and volunteers gathered in early September on our Community Farm to help crack open the hive and see what our busy little bee folks had in store. Well — a group gathered but mostly watched as Community Farm and Food Assistant Yael Girard did the hands-on pulling of the frames from the hive. First, she demonstrated some protective gear and explained safety to the spectators, suggesting that people get only as close to watch as they felt comfortable, staying out of the bees’ flight path and remaining calm.

Lighting some pine straw in a tea-kettle-shaped gadget called a smoker, Yael began ‘pouring’ smoke under the lid of the hive to calm the honeybees.  She pulled frames one-at-a-time from the top super (the box-like layer of the hive that contains the frames). Brushing away most of the bees gathered on the honeycomb, she placed the frames to harvest in a large, lidded plastic container.

We selected frames that were mostly full and capped.

We selected frames that were mostly full and capped.

As she worked, Yael explained how she had kept the hive alive through the last winter by feeding them with bags of sugar water. “This year, we’d like to see the bees survive on their own, so we don’t want to harvest too much. Since some of these frames from the top are still pretty empty, we’re going to swap them with a couple of full frames in the second super. Then, the bees can finish filling them with honey stores for the winter.”

Holding up a full frame, Yael pointed out the wax “caps” on the cells of honey. “That’s what we’re looking for,” she said, “When the bees are done filling a cell with honey, they cap it with wax. So, we want to harvest a few of the frames that have been finished off and capped.”

Removing the caps.

Removing the caps.

After she removed the selected frames, Yael moved the box away from the hive, dislodged more bees, then carried the box into the garage of the farm house for processing.

Spinning the frames in the extractor required a bit of elbow grease.

Spinning the frames in the extractor required a bit of elbow grease.

This is where more volunteers were able to chip in! First, we removed the caps from the honeycomb and loaded the frames into a manual extractor. Unlike larger operations, which use a powered extractor, we used a hand crank to spin the frames. The centrifugal force of the extractor spun the honey out of the frames, and then we poured it from a tap in the bottom and strained it to remove chunks of wax.

Filtering the honey.

Filtering the honey.

Taking the separated honey to the work table, volunteers took turns pouring it into jars, garnished with honeycomb, to take home.

We only harvested a small amount of honey this year — Just enough for the assisting staff and volunteers to take a sample to taste. However, we hope to see our hive continue to thrive, and can’t wait to see what happens next year! Perhaps we’ll even find someone in our Farmer Incubator Program interested in beekeeping operations.



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June Jamboree 2014

Before we head full into cold weather, here’s a sunny memory to tide you over until next year. For the June Jamboree this past summer, a group of around 50 people joined together for a beautiful day of hiking and exploring in the Highlands of Roan, celebrating 40 years of conservation with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. In addition to the classic Carver’s Gap to Grassy Ridge hike, Yoga on the Mountain, Kids in the Creek, and Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens, this year we also featured another strenuous challenge hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail. Our Former AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR & Outreach Associate, Anna Zanetti, helped co-lead the Challenge Hike, and here is her story…


The Challenge Hikers head off single file down the Appalachian Trail.

“Early on the morning of the Jamboree, 16 people met to embark on our 12-mile, intensive Challenge Hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan. We all piled into cars and shuttled our way to the Appalachian Trail along 19E in Tennessee. It was 8:00 am and people were yawning, still waking up — but before we knew it we were at the trailhead ready to begin the day. Hikers trekked into the woods and steadily climbed steep rocks though a canopy of trees for three miles, taking our first group break at Doll Flats.


Once proposed as sites for mountaintop resorts, Little Hump and Hump Mountains were protected in the early 1980s, due in large part to conservation planning efforts led by SAHC founders.

As we sat down to rest, we all tried to guess our current elevation, eventually learning that Doll Flats rests at 4, 560 feet. Sufficiently rested, we gathered our packs and headed off single file southbound along the AT.

The trail wound in and out of the trees until we reached the base of Hump Mountain, where we became fully exposed to the 360-degree views. The sky was clear, the breeze was cool and everyone was thrilled to see the surrounding peaks. We continued our ascent to the top of Hump Mountain (5,587 ft) where we congregated to hear a brief presentation from our Stewardship & Conservation Planning Director, Hanni Muerdter.

“This property was slated as a potential site for Beech Mountain Resort,” explained Hanni. “SAHC’s founders identified Hump and Little Hump Mountains as priority concerns in the early 1960’s, and they were protected by the early 1980’s.” Turning to take in the open surroundings, we all realized how lucky we were to be sitting amongst these protected peaks.

From a vantage point atop Hump Mountain, Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director Hanni Muerdter points out SAHC's protection work across the landscape.

From a vantage point atop Hump Mountain, Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director Hanni Muerdter points out SAHC’s protection work across the landscape.

It was 11:30 am when we reached Hump Mountain, so we decided to push forward and hike to Little Hump for lunch. You could see Little Hump straight ahead in the distance resting at an elevation of 5,459 ft.  It seemed like it would be a simple 2 mile stretch, but the AT takes a sharp left and zigzagged us through a thicket of trees with no site of the balds around us. As the trees became shorter and the sun became brighter we eventually made our way to the top of Little Hump with a few rocks and scattered trees to provide us with shade for our lunch. We were all happy to rest at this point. One of the hikers, Bev McDowell, brought food to share with the group — the hot ticket items were the chocolate bars that she kindly passed around.


“The views were endless, the weather was perfect and the company was joyful.”

Once we ate and stretched we got back on our feet heading southbound toward the Red Barn shelter and the intersection of the AT and Overmountain Victory Trail. Along our descent the fields were filled with wild angelica. It is a species of plant that is tall and creates large compound white flowers. This section of the trail took us a little longer than expected because everyone was taking photos of the beautiful fields. We took a short break at the AT intersection for a group shot and then kept hiking toward the Stan Murray shelter. After a long steady hike to the shelter we all regrouped and began our descent into the National Trails Tract, where the post-hike celebration awaited us.


After a stunning day at the top of the world, Challenge hikers trekked down to SAHC’s National Trails tract for refreshments and fellowship.

Slow and steadily we followed Elk Fork Branch that started as a small water resource but progressed into a stable stream. We bushed whacked for nearly 45mins down a steep and slippery terrain till we connected with an established trail on the National Trails Tract. The hikers were able to walk out onto large rock slabs in the center of the creek to check out a few waterfalls more closely. After a couple hikers took a quick dip in the water we all hiked down to the post gathering on the National Trails Tract where snacks and drinks awaited the tired challenge hikers.

The day was an overwhelming success for all of the hikers. The views were endless, the weather was perfect and the company was joyful. The beauty of the natural grassy balds is unlike any other and they are always enticing hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to come back to the Highlands of Roan.”

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A Tree Named Walter


Anthony Giordine has a very can-do, generous spirit. He jumped right in to help plant apple trees for the orchard.

“I think that tree needs a name. It looks like a Walter to me.”

“Little” Anthony Giordine is full of surprises. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and legendary vocalist of doo-wop group ‘Little Anthony and the Imperials,’ he seems equally comfortable at a down-home farm or snazzy performance venue. We had the great fortune to meet Anthony when he visited SAHC’s Community Farm in late September to help plant apple trees for the beginning of our orchard. The trees should start bearing fruit in just 2-3 years.

Helping to plant the tree named Walter, Anthony jokes with SAHC staff Yael Girard and Kristy Urquhart.

Helping to plant the tree named Walter, Anthony jokes with SAHC staff Yael Girard and Kristy Urquhart.

A man with an illustrious career and decades of experience in the music industry, Anthony has a wonderful sense of humor — of charm and wit. He spoke easily of times and people, places traveled, and memories marking  a life full and well-lived. Approachable and just plain fun to be around, he certainly has a roll-up-the-sleeves, can-do kind of spirit.

Driving through the scenic countryside on the way to our Community Farm, Anthony remarked “This is the way America really is — red barns and fields. You come to a place like this and it gives you hope. A guy could really live in a place like this.”

Anthony_yael close-upShortly after arriving at the Community Farm and making introductions, he picked out a GoldRush apple tree to plant and said, “Okay, let’s do this thing.”

A group of SAHC staff and members had gathered to help plant a small assortment of apple trees, just the beginning for a future orchard on the farm. Eager to get started, Little Anthony shared stories of farm experiences from his own youth as he dug to plant the apple tree dubbed Walter.

“My mother’s people were from Savannah. They were farmers, and growing up, I’d hear them talk about it. I grew up in Brooklyn but spent a lot of summers in Wainscott on Long Island, on the farm — learning how to milk cows and everything. It’s the Hamptons now, but back then it was a lot different — it was all farmland.”

Little Anthony with SAHC's AmeriCorps Associates Caitlin Edenfield and Kana Miller.

Little Anthony with SAHC’s AmeriCorps Associates Caitlin Edenfield and Kana Miller.

Anthony shares more about the story in his new biography, Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny by Arlene Krieger, available for purchase now.

“My mother had a green thumb. We lived in an apartment, but she always had something growing. Well, she passed that green thumb on to me. I take care of all the plants in our house.”

After finishing the tree-planting,  Anthony and SAHC staff and visitors enjoyed a few refreshments, joking and swapping bear stories. As we wrapped up and began to depart, he remarked, “I will have to come back to visit and see how that tree is doing, too.”

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Public Notice – SAHC is Reapplying for Accreditation

LTAC_seal_greenInvitation for Public Comment on Our Accreditation Renewal

The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. SAHC is pleased to announce that we are applying for renewal of accreditation. A public comment period is now open.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. SAHC first received Accreditation by the National Land Trust Alliance in 2010; this accreditation is for a period of five years, before the end of which a land trust must submit an application for renewal. This process provides external verification that SAHC is meeting national quality standards, exhibiting a high level of professionalism and commitment to long-term conservation in the public interest.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how SAHC complies with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards see

To learn more about the accreditation program or to submit a comment,
visit or email your comment to

Comments may also be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn: Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Comments on SAHC’s application will be most useful by November 22, 2014.

Categories: The People Behind SAHC | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Rattling Good Time

Our newest AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR and Outreach Associate, Kana Miller, jumped full into the outings program last month with her first “For Love of Beer & Mountains” guided hike — and a bit of a surprise along the trail!

The 2014 "For Love of Beer & Mountains" Clawhammer hike.

The 2014 “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Clawhammer hike.

“On September 20th, a beautiful and sunny Saturday, my initiation into the SAHC family truly commenced as I led my first event and “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership hike up Clawhammer Mountain. As the newest AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR and Outreach Associate, part of my responsibilities include teaming up with Highland Brewing Company and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to lead these partnership hikes to namesakes of Highland’s seasonal brews, raising awareness and support for our conservation efforts to protect clean water, unique plant and animal habitat and scenic beauty. While I was nervous about leading my first hike, I was quickly put at ease by the cheerful demeanor of our hiking group. Within the first couple of minutes on trail a fellow AmeriCorps member and Stewardship Associate, Andrea Thompson, heard the soft rattle of a young rattlesnake! The rattler was sunbathing just a foot of trail. How Andrea was able to hear the quite rattling still amazes me.

A young rattlesnake sunbathing just a foot off the trail.

A young rattlesnake sunbathing just a foot off the trail.

Our group was able to admire the rattler from the trail and everyone was able to keep a safe distance, respecting the snake’s privacy. From that exciting encounter, the day only got better. Saturday was a perfect day for a hike – you could feel Fall right around the corner! As we climbed through wildflower patches and rich forests, the small yet chatty group enjoyed conversations ranging from native species identification to beer and ‘old school’ Nike hiking boots.

View from the summit.

View from the summit.

The final push to the summit of Clawhammer Mountain is steep but worth the view. A beautiful vista of Looking Glass and Pisgah National Forest lies just a couple hundred feet past the summit. This rocky outcrop makes for a fantastic lunch spot, where we soaked up the sun and pointed out various features, like the Blue Ridge Parkway and a few of the infamous balds of the region.

Hikers at the summit of Clawhammer Mountain.

Hikers at the summit of Clawhammer Mountain.

After a while deserved and relaxing lunch, we made our way back down the mountain. The hike down was equally as enjoyable as our ascent. I’m very grateful my first group of hikers was such an amiable and awesome bunch! As we neared the trailhead, the group was both relieved and disappointed to see that our rattlesnake friend had moved on, to a different sunning spot. I can’t wait to see what my next hike will have in store!”

Interested in joining us for our next “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership hike?

The newly protected tract is visible from overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“For Love of Beer & Mountains” Thunderstruck/Blackrock Mountain Hike
Off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Plott Balsam Overlook (milepost 458.0)
Date: October 11
Time: 10:00 am

Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous

Enjoy views of Thunderstruck Ridge, for which Highland’s Thunderstruck Coffee Porter is named, and Blackrock Mountain, which SAHC protected in 2013. We will travel over 5 miles of rugged terrain, through red spruce and fraser firs, red oak forest, and other high elevation trees while occasionally stopping at rock outcroppings for views of Thunderstruck Ridge. The group will hike through the 1,595-acre Plott Balsam Preserve and eventually reach Blackrock Ridge at a towering 5,600 feet of elevation.

This hike is free for all participants, but pre-registration is required. For more info or to register, contact Kana Miller at 828.253.0095 ext 205 or Directions and additional details will be provided after registration.

We are pleased to offer this hike as part of our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership with Highland Brewing Company and US Fish & Wildlife Service.

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Rice Creek – Protecting the View from the Appalachian Trail


The view from the AT (Rice Creek tract in the foreground).

The view from the AT (Rice Creek tract in the foreground).

The Rice Creek tract is located 500 ft. from the AT and adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest.

The Rice Creek tract is located 500 ft. from the AT and adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest.

Located barely 500’ from the Appalachian Trail (AT), the beautifully wooded Rice Creek tract has been a conservation priority for the US Forest Service (USFS) and Appalachian Trail Conservancy for over 15 years. We purchased the 77-acre property near Rocky Fork in Unicoi County with the intent to later transfer it to the Cherokee National Forest.

With a top elevation of 4,300 ft., the tract is visible from the AT north of Lick Rock and around Sugarloaf Gap.
“This acquisition will provide permanent protection for the AT corridor,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “When the landowner decided to sell the tract, we were pleased to be able to purchase it to preserve the views and wilderness experience for hikers along the Trail.”

The purchase also protects bird habitat and a tributary of Rice Creek, which runs along the southern tip of the property.
Fred and Alice Stanback made a generous gift to enable SAHC to move quickly to purchase the tract. SAHC will eventually transfer the property to the Cherokee National Forest. In the short term,
we will manage the undeveloped land for forest health.

Feet on the Ground: Partners for Protecting the AT Corridor

Standing on the Appalachian Trail, looking towards the Rice Creek tract: (L to R) Morgan Sommerville of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, SAHC’s AmeriCorps Associate Caitlin Edenfield, and Dave Ferguson and Scotty Meyers with Cherokee National Forest.

Standing on the Appalachian Trail, looking towards the Rice Creek tract: (L to R) Morgan Sommerville of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, SAHC’s AmeriCorps Associate Caitlin Edenfield, and Dave Ferguson and Scotty Meyers with Cherokee National Forest.

“While working on this project, I hiked on the AT with our partners from the Cherokee National Forest and Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  Our mission – to  locate the upper boundary of the Rice Creek property and assess its visibility from the AT.  There is no substitute for hiking boots on the Trail when evaluating these issues!  Adjacent to the property boundary, the forest cover is mature and offers a relatively open view into the property, confirming that any construction on the upper elevations would in fact be visible from the Trail.  We stopped to enjoy the view from the AT, with the Rice Creek property prominent in the viewshed [photo below].  The trip was an excellent opportunity for collaboration, as well as a fun day of hiking.”

— Michelle Pugliese, SAHC Land Protection Director

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Big Rock Creek

Rhododendron thicket on the Big Rock Creek tract.

Rhododendron thicket on the Big Rock Creek tract.


Formerly operated as a camp and retreat, the Big Rock Creek tract adjoining the Pisgah National Forest in Mitchell County, NC has been imbued with love and memories for decades. We purchased the high elevation 58-acre parcel in the Highlands of Roan to permanently preserve this cherished place west of Hughes Gap, just a half mile south of the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Once occupied by TrailRidge Mountain Camp and later Camp Pleiades, the tract can be viewed from the AT south of Hughes Gap and from Roan High Bluff. Landowners Jacque Allen and Barbara Benisch, who operated Camp Pleiades for eight years, reached out to SAHC to preserve the land’s natural, recreational, and cultural  features.

“We loved the property for what it gave us — friends, fun, great memories, and summers in the mountains,” says Allen. “When we decided to sell the property we knew we wanted to protect it from development, and that is when we learned about SAHC. I am so glad to know that the place we so loved will always be taken care of and looked after by a great group of caring people.”

The Big Rock Creek tract is located west of Hughes Gap near the AT.

The Big Rock Creek tract is located west of Hughes Gap near the AT.

The tract rises to 3,940 ft. elevation on the north side, and four tributaries to Big Rock Creek flow through it. Big Rock Creek provides trout habitat and is part of the North Toe River watershed.

Fred and Alice Stanback made a generous contribution which enabled us to purchase the property. The owners generously agreed to sell the tract to SAHC below appraised market value.

“Preserving this remarkable property in the shadow of Roan High Knob will secure habitat and clean headwater sources as well as recreation opportunities for generations to come,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein.

We plan to manage the undeveloped land for forest health, and maintain a hiking trail through the property to the adjoining Pisgah National Forest and the AT.  The spirit of education and community that began with TrailRidge Mountain Camp and carried forward with Camp Pleiades will now be
honored by SAHC.

TrailRidge Mountain Camp

Coming off a TrailRidge backpacking trip in the 1980s, Michael Andry was the leader. (Photo courtesy /

Coming off a TrailRidge backpacking trip in the 1980s, Michael Andry was the leader. (Photo courtesy /

“For two months I slept in a hammock under a plastic tarp and showered from a solar-heated water bag. We had torrential rains and mud everywhere, but it was wonderful.”

Former SAHC President Michael Andry spent the summers of 1982 and ‘83 as a counselor at TrailRidge Mountain Camp, helping to build the camp’s trails and facilities and guiding youth outdoors.

“We built the trail that connects to the AT and particularly enjoyed the full moon camping trips on Roan’s grassy balds. For two summers, we had a grand old time roaming over those mountains. In fact, it was a major reason I moved to the Asheville area. Hearing about SAHC’s work in the Roan brought back a lot of old memories, so I was happy to become involved with the organization.”

Categories: Land Protection Updates | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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