Dr. William Davenport Tract – Recently Protected Jewel on the Crown of the Roan

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The recently protected 76-acre tract rises to 5320 ft. elevation and is highly visible in the foreground view from Jane and Round balds.

We finally sealed the deal on a treasured 76-acre piece of the Roan landscape just below Carver’s Gap, a popular access point for the Appalachian Trail! In so doing, we have protected scenic views and hiking experiences for future generations to enjoy along the trail — and honored a civic leader of Spruce Pine who committed a lifetime to serving his rural mountain community.

“This tract has been a priority for SAHC for over 40 years, and we are thrilled to be able to conserve it,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. “It was the last privately owned tract before you get to Carvers Gap, and because of its location and frontage on NC Highway 261, it was at high risk for development. We are so pleased that the landowners chose to sell to SAHC so that the land — and hiking experiences along the AT — will be preserved for the future.”

The Dr. William Davenport tract, viewed from the Appalachian Trail.

The Dr. William Davenport tract, viewed from the Appalachian Trail.

During the summer of 2013, over 3,500 people visited the grassy balds in the Roan by accessing the Trail via Carvers Gap. The recently protected, bowl-shaped property is highly visible from the AT at Jane Bald and Round Bald, lies approximately 900 feet south of the Trail at Engine Gap, and is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest.

Former SAHC Trustee and President (and avid Appalachian Trail enthusiast) Joe DeLoach added, “This tract was one of the closest private lands to the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands, in clear view between Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge.  Development would have not only been a visual intrusion, with its proximity it could have resulted in the sounds of civilization reaching the ridgecrest. Protection of this longtime conservation priority ensures that the user will continue to experience mountain scenery and countryside views along one of the most heavily used sections of the AT.”

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Carvers Gap Creek runs through the property.

The natural features on the property include globally significant resources whose protection is valued by federal, state and private partners throughout the region. The tract is part of the Roan Mountain Massif Natural Area, which contains one of the most outstanding clusters of rare species and natural communities in the Southern Appalachians, and lies within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. Clean headwater sources and trout streams originate on the tract, and the rushing waters of Carvers Gap Creek, classified as Trout waters and High Quality Waters by the NC Division of Water Quality, run through it.

Portions of the tract have also been historically farmed, used for raising Black Angus cattle and, more recently, Christmas trees. Once owned by Dr. William Davenport, a prominent dentist in the mountain town of Spruce Pine, the land resonates with memories for former landowners Paul and Diane Pritchard, who sold the property to SAHC.

The lower portion of the tract has been historically farmed, producing cattle and, more recently, Christmas trees.

The lower portion of the tract has been historically farmed, producing cattle and, more recently, Christmas trees.

Diane’s father, Dr. Davenport, purchased the tract in 1946 and began breeding Black Angus cattle. Although he did not live on the property, he visited frequently and cherished the respite it afforded — a special place to get away from the busy demands of his career, to relax and enjoy nature. He selected a tenant family to live in a cabin on the property and care for the cattle, and he continued to take a regular, active role in managing the herd.

Dr. William Davenport, with his herd of Black Angus cattle.

Dr. William Davenport, with his herd of Black Angus cattle.

“He would go up to check on them often,” recalls Diane, who enjoyed accompanying her father on such visits and even gave pet names to the gentle cattle. “It was a place away from the hustle and bustle, the calling of needs and wants in town.”

Cattle on the recently purchased tract.

As a girl, Diane accompanied her father to visit the herd and recalls giving pet names to calves raised on the tract.

Dr. Davenport continued to breed and raise cattle on the property until 1958. For a long time the land lay fallow, then the Pritchards inherited it and began farming Christmas trees on a lower portion of the tract. After evaluating many possible options for the land, they recently decided to sell to SAHC so that it could be permanently conserved.

“At this stage in our life it makes sense,” said Paul. “Twenty five years ago, we wouldn’t have wanted to sell it because of the sentimental value – the connection to Diane’s father. He was a great man and a great father – one of the finest men I’ve known.”

SAHC purchased the Dr. William Davenport tract using a combination of generous gifts and loans from private philanthropists. A portion of the transaction costs were supported by grants from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. We are actively working to raise funds to pay off the loan we took out in order to purchase the tract.

Categories: Land Protection Updates | Leave a comment

241 newly protected acres at Little Sandy Mush Bald

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SAHC recently purchased 241 acres containing the northern slopes of Little Sandy Mush Bald.

The view of Little Sandy Mush Bald, an iconic high elevation bald situated above rolling farms and coves, is prominent throughout the Sandy Mush community. Now, more of it has been permanently preserved for future generations. SAHC recently purchased 241 acres containing the northern slopes of Little Sandy Mush Bald. The tract also boasts some of the best northern hardwood forest in Madison County and adjoins two properties which had been previously protected with a conservation easement through SAHC.

LittleSandyMushmap“Our purchase and long-term commitment to conservation of this property rounds out the protection of this highly visible mountain bald,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese.

LittleSandyMush1The property rises to 4,800 feet in elevation at the summit of Little Sandy Mush Bald and is visible from the Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway (Highway 209). Little Bald Branch, classified as an Outstanding Resource Water by the NC Division of Water Quality, and three of its tributaries originate on and flow through the property. Additional forested communities on the property include Rich Cove, Acidic Cove, Montane Oak-Hickory, and High Elevation Red Oak.

“The eight members of the Grateful Union Family, Inc. who sold property to SAHC are an example of a group of people coming together with a common interest to share a piece of the earth, and making it work,” added Pugliese.

View from Little Sandy Mush Bald.

View from Little Sandy Mush Bald.

“Since 1979, they have shared this very special place, showing a commitment to their personal goals of living lightly on the earth and being good stewards of the land. It is rare to see this degree of cooperation among a group of people that stands the test of time. Now they have exhibited this same spirit of cooperation and passion to agree to sell the upper slopes of their land to SAHC so that it can be preserved forever.”

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Helping Hands on the Farm – French Broad River Academy

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French Broad River Academy students volunteered to work on the Discovery Trail at our Community Farm again this Fall.

Middle school kids these days have a bit of a bad rap — they watch too much TV, they have no work ethic, and they never go outside. Well, whoever says that has never met the students from the French Broad River Academy. Over the past year-and-a-half the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders from FBRA have volunteered over 700 hours at the SAHC Community Farm!

FBRA_blog4The French Broad River Academy was founded in 2009 as a place “to build character and integrity in young men for a lifetime of learning and service.” Since then, it has grown to the point that next year FBRA will be opening a middle school for girls. FBRA_blog3Service within the Asheville community is an integral part of the FBRA education and, as such, many of their “Field Lesson” Wednesdays are devoted to helping area non-profits. In 2013, the school contacted SAHC in hopes of working with us on some of our protected lands. We have since worked with the students numerous times on the Community Farm, and the school has been a valuable partner in so many of our projects.

IMG_0721Last fall, students removed dead Virginia Pine saplings from the Shortleaf Pine restoration area so that it could be prepared for the planting of 2500 additional Shortleaf trees. They helped to remove invasive plants along the trail corridor. This spring they mulched nearly a half-mile of trail that runs through one of our pastures. Upon returning this fall, they have worked diligently restoring sections of the trail that have been eroded.

FBRA_blog2SAHC Community Farm Assistant, Yael Girard, leads the middle schoolers on these service days and had this to say about them: “These students put their all into everything that they do. They work tirelessly with hand tools for hours, despite the fact that some of them only weigh 80 lbs. The teachers that lead the crews are incredible role models and I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to work with this group for the last year and half.”

Thank you all for your service!

Thank you all for your service!

By working on the SAHC Community Farm on a regular basis Andrew Holcombe, the teacher in charge of these outings, hopes that the students will find the value in striving towards a long-term goal and watching the changes on the property. He feels that they will become more invested in the projects and be more likely to understand conservation as something that affects them personally.

We thank them for their service!

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“For Love of Beer and Mountains” partners care for Grassy Ridge

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SAHC and Highland Brewing Company “For Love of Beer and Mountains” volunteers

On a brisk fall morning in October, a boisterous group of SAHC and Highland Brewing Company staff (and guests) met at the corner of Roaring Creek Road and 19 East, eager and excited for the busy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership work day ahead. The plan included removing invasive species and restoring habitat for Golden-winged Warblers (neo-tropical migratory songbirds that nest in the Highlands of Roan). Good company with cheery spirits, a gorgeous day on Grassy Ridge, and delicious food combined to create the recipe for a great workday!

The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Volunteers spread out from the Grassy Ridge cabin to work on habitat restoration. The high elevation Southern Appalachians highlands provide extremely important habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Marquette, our Roan Stewardship Director, gave a brief introduction of the Grassy Ridge area and the importance for Golden-winged Warbler (GWW) management before we began. The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important to the GWW, a bird that faces such significant declines in population that it has become a proposed candidate for the endangered species. Western North Carolina has a special and important role to play in protecting the warbler because WNC is part of their migratory path and the southernmost area for breeding.

Creating prime Golden-winged habitat, in the brush.

Part of SAHC’s plan for the Grassy Ridge property includes Best Management Practices for Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Half of our partnership work day group focused efforts on creating and improving habitat by weed-eating blackberry and other thick shrubs. Encouraging the growth of native grasses and wildflowers creates the perfect habitat for the GWW. The other half of the group created ‘early successional’ habitat by stacking brush-piles. This creates the sort of open edge habitat that GWWs need to thrive; other rare animals, like the Appalachian cottontail, also love nesting and foraging in these brush piles.

View from the ridge.

View from the ridge.

It was a chilly day on the mountain, but that didn’t stop us from working hard and having a good time. Later in the day, a group took a hike up to the top of the ridge, where a 360 view of the Highlands of Roan could be seen. Standing just below Grassy Ridge and Round Bald we all took in the view of Yellow Mountain, Little Hump and Hump Mountain and Grandfather Mountain way off in the distance. The ridgeline eyesore, a multi-story block resort building located on Sugar Mountain, could also be seen in the distance. This was my first time witnessing the incredible impact the building has on the scenic viewsheds in the Roan. While its stark silhouette stands out against the curves of the mountains, I was reminded that its presence along the ridge now serves as a reminder of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 and the importance of organizations like SAHC and their conservation efforts.

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The work day ended with a jovial atmosphere of camaraderie, and wonderful food!

As the afternoon slowly turned into dusk, Kristy and Marquette called for the group to put down their tools and come inside. A wonderful spread of homemade pickles, corn salsa and pepper jelly, cheese, and fruit, awaited us. Kristy’s famous vegan chili was on the stove and we all began warming up and filling our bellies with good food and drink. The workday ended and the night drifted into laughing and storytelling around the campfire before transitioning inside for the night.

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Year-round gardens growing in greenhouses

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Pulling the sheeting onto the new Community Farm greenhouses required teamwork.

If you have ever visited a nursery or a commercial farm, you have probably seen large “hoop houses” stretching out sometimes as far as the eye can see. Without these structures, farmers would be limited to growing only during the warm season, thus drastically cutting their production. These season extension devices can range from an unheated plastic covered tunnel too small to walk through, up to engineered glass buildings with automatic venting and precise temperature control. The main objective, however, is the same: to allow the propagation and growing of plants during the colder months of the year.

IMG_0794The SAHC Farmer Incubator Program was lucky enough to receive two of these hoop houses (also known as greenhouses or high tunnels) this fall. Cathy and George Phillips, of Early View Nursery, learned of our need for heated growing space and offered to donate two greenhouses. Although one of the donated houses was too small for our program, we were able to sell it in order to raise funds for other much needed improvements. The second new greenhouse for our Community Farm came through the TVA Ag and Forestry Fund grant that we were awarded this summer.

IMG_0772As you can see from the photos, the greenhouses that we have put up are steel hoops wrapped in a double layer of plastic. The double wall allows for an air pocket between the plastic, and greater insulation. The houses will be heated with propane furnaces and vented with fans that will be on timers. Putting these greenhouses together required work of numerous volunteers and real team effort. In fact, a group of volunteers will be coming out to the farm this Friday to put the plastic sheeting and final touches on the second greenhouse.

IMG_0771Thanks to everyone involved, Matt and Casara from Second Spring Market Garden will soon be able to produce vegetables to sell throughout the winter. This will greatly increase their sales and ability to compete in the local markets. When their time at the SAHC Community Farm is over, the greenhouses will be a resource for the next set of vegetable producers.

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New farm operation moo-ves into the Community Farm

Gina Raicovich watches her herd of Pineywoods cattle begin to settle on the farm.

Gina Raicovich watches her herd of Pineywoods cattle settle.

Last weekend, we welcomed Gina Raicovich and her herd of Pineywoods cattle to our Community Farm in Alexander, NC. Gina started and managed the 60-acre educational University Farm at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and is now branching out in her own agricultural venture.

Pineywoods cattle are a threatened heritage breed that thrives in hot, humid climates and can graze on lower quality forage. Originating in Spain, Pineywoods cattle were once used across the Southeast, but now only around 1,000 remain.

The sun sets on heritage breed cattle at SAHC's Community Farm.

The sun sets on heritage breed cattle at SAHC’s Community Farm.

Gina’s agricultural operation within our Farmer Incubator Program will involve breeding of Pineywoods cattle and grass-finishing for market, utilizing 26 acres of pasture on the Community Farm with rotational grazing and the possible addition of goats as inter-grazers. She is passionate about conservation and rejuvenation of this unique heritage breed, and feels that her interests (and needs for the herd) align well with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s mission as well as the resources offered at our Community Farm.

We look forward to seeing these charismatic cattle flourish. Stay tuned for future updates!

 

 

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SAHC joins #GivingTuesday Movement

GivingTuesday_SAHC4Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has joined #GivingTuesday, a national movement to encourage spending with a purpose.

Taking place Dec. 2, #GivingTuesday comes on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to create a better world. It harnesses the power of social media, creating a national moment around giving, inspiring people to take collaborative action that improves their local communities by supporting the causes and charities most important to them.

“We are incredibly grateful for the supporters of our organization,” said Carl Silverstein, Executive Director. “Their passionate commitment to conservation provides us with the resources to continue our work, as well as leverage to obtain state and national funds for the preservation of critical mountain tracts.”

Contributions to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy can be made at Appalachian.org or mailed to SAHC at 34 Wall Street, Suite 502, Asheville, NC 28801.

Gifts to SAHC help preserve places to recreate — such as the three critical tracts along the Appalachian Trail corridor recently preserved near Hughes Gap, Rocky Fork, and Carvers Gap. Contributions also empower the SAHC to continue our farmland preservation efforts, including the creation of a new Farmer Incubator Program at our Community Farm. Money given also funds protection of clean headwater sources for local drinking water supply, as well as habitat for rare plants and animals.

“Some of the most important and innovative work happening today in land conservation is happening at an intensely local level,” said Rob Aldrich, director of community conservation at the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization that counts SAHC among its 1,200 member land trusts. “Contributions to connect people from all walks of life to the land are what we hope this Giving Tuesday encourages.”

 

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Honey Harvest Video

Pictures are worth a thousand words — and videos are even better! Like our honey harvest video? Please share with your friends!

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SAHC at Farm Aid 2014!

10608491_10152670898941352_2143835467641210278_oOur Project Conserve AmeriCorps Land Protection Associate, Caitlin Edenfield, joined Community Farm and Food Assistant Yael Girard at Farm Aid 2014 near Raleigh this year!

In 1985, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp joined forces and organized the first Farm Aid Concert. These iconic artists were on a mission to draw attention to the increasing loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farmers on their land. Similar to SAHC’s Farmland Program, Farm Aid’s mission is to keep America’s farmers farming. 28 years after the first Farm Aid concert SAHC sent two representatives of our Farmland Program (Caitlin Edenfield and Yael Girard) to the event to promote the new  ‘Farmer Incubator Program’ on Our Community Farm.

In addition to spreading the word about our farmland preservation efforts, they visited a cutting edge restaurant owned by one of our agricultural conservation easement landowners. Here is Caitlin’s account of the trip:

farmaid2“Arriving in Raleigh on Friday, the day before the event, we maneuvered our way through the Walnut Creek Amphitheater to the Farm Aid 2014 HOMEGROWN Village. We met up with partners and other local land trusts, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Piedmont Land Conservancy, and Triangle Land Conservancy to begin setting up our booth. Within the HOMEGROWN Village there were organizations against factory farms, farmer assistance resources, and local food organizations. The HOMEGROWN Village was already teeming with people, and this was just the day before!

After getting everything set up we ventured out to downtown Raleigh. We found quickly that food has a very clear way of connecting people and organizations. We met with Will Jeffers who owns Watalula Farm in Leicester, NC. SAHC holds a conservation easement on a portion of Watalula Farm and is in the process of completing a conservation easement on the remainder of the farm. In addition to farming in WNC, Will’s primary occupation is part owner of Stanbury, an eclectic restaurant in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of downtown Raleigh.  Will, his brother Joseph (part owner and bartender at Stanbury), and Yael are all Warren Wilson College alumni. We met up with the Jeffers brothers as the dinner crowd was wrapping up, and they gave us the royal treatment. The Stanbury menu features local meats and produce with a wide variety of dishes – including roasted marrow and boiled peanuts.

10428365_10152670740761352_7840928470998446734_oSaturday we woke up ready to tout the SAHC Community Farm. By noon on Saturday the HOMEGROWN Village was lively, and Yael and I began connecting with folks from all over the state and even the country, spreading information about SAHC’s Farmland Access program. The crowd of people was so diverse, from old time farmers to students looking to become part of the local food movement. Yael was interviewed by a video blogger writes for the website Eye on North Carolina. The music played on with acts such as Delta Rae, Carlene Carter, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing throughout the afternoon. Many people signed up to receive information about the Farmer Incubator Program as well as information about outings and hikes at SAHC.

Later in the day, the HOMEGROWN Village began winding down as the big name acts were ramping up. Jack White started things off, followed by Dave Matthews Band. John Mellencamp and Neil Young continued with great tunes and reiterated the main message of the day – family farms are important, worth saving, and in need of our support; local food is not just a trend, but needs to be a conscious effort; farmland needs to be protected and maintained as productive land. Willie Nelson and Family finished the night off with classic tunes and inspiring words that sent the crowd off with a sense of the current conditions of our country’s farm system, hope for the future of farming, and ambition to make change in their own communities.”

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Grazing on Top of the World

Fred, Ted, and Jay with Grazing Lease and Spear Tops

Ted and Fred Hoilman sign a grazing lease with SAHC representative Jay Leutze, securing the future of the Big Yellow Mountain herd into the future.

According to Ted Hoilman and his brothers, the Hoilman family has been grazing cattle atop Big Yellow Mountain for over 150 years.  “There was never a time we can remember when there weren’t Hoilmans up on the mountain,” says Ted Hoilman.  That grazing history has given conservation biologists a trove of species to study and made the Hoilmans invaluable partners for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

“We don’t make any money grazing cows,” explains Hoilman.  “But we were born cattle men.  We do it because it’s in our blood.  It’s our family history.”  These days that that history might be hanging by a thread, but keeping the Big Yellow herd intact and healthy is important for SAHC and our partners at The Nature Conservancy.

They say change is the only constant. Certainly, change is no stranger to our flagship landscape — the Highlands of Roan. Conservationists have long puzzled over the existence of the signature grassy balds that cap the mountains comprising the Highlands of Roan.  Were they always treeless?  If not, when and how did they become treeless? Will they continue to be bald?

There is a body of evidence supporting the conclusion that the balds have been bald for at least tens of thousands of years, and probably far longer than that.  These were, after all, very tall mountains at their birth, with summits well above what would constitute a “tree line.”  They have eroded down to their current elevation, well below the tree line, yet some of the mountains remain bald.  The current prevalent theory goes like this: tundra-like summits were grazed and browsed by very large herbivores.  Think woolly mammoths, then, later, bison and elk.  When Europeans settled the area they quickly harvested all the readily-available protein, the bison and elk, and replaced those wild animals with domesticated beasts of burden. Many of the rare plants that evolved with grazing and browsing in place have remained in the landscape – and do, in fact, depend on grazers to create the openings they need to survive.

Ted Hoilman, atop the grass bald of Big Yellow with his cattle herd.

Ted Hoilman with his cattle herd on Big Yellow.

Other balds where grazing has been suspended have grown in, losing the relic species that tell of a time when this region lay in the frigid lock of arctic air.  “Cows, sheep, and horses grazed all over these balds for a couple hundred years,” explains Jay Leutze, SAHC Trustee.  “But when many of these lands were transferred to public ownership, grazing activity diminished and eventually disappeared.”  Almost everywhere in the Roan, that is, except for Big Yellow.  And Big Yellow is the one bald still supporting a wide range of rare remnant species.  The connection between grazing and the persistence of plants in the landscape since the end of the last ice age seems apparent.

Recently, the Hoilmans, whose cattle herd grazes Yellow Bald, and their conservation partners were faced with a troubling challenge.  The owners of the winter grazing ground for the herd decided to sell their land.  Loss of winter pasture down in the valley could have meant the end of the Hoilmans’ ability to sustain the herd — and potentially heralded doom for rare species atop Big Yellow which depend on the grazers to maintain the open, grassy bald. Recognizing that the tract for sale contained myriad conservation values, SAHC moved with an appropriate degree of urgency to successfully purchase the property and secure the coveted pasture land.

“We were not only protecting a gateway into the the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area,” says Leutze, “we were protecting the Hoilman legacy and the biodiversity of the Big Yellow Mountain Preserve. Luckily the sellers were as interested in protecting their land and this legacy as we were.”

“We are grateful to have been able to secure that property – and happy to support an important part of local mountain culture,” continues Leutze, “We all benefit from having the Hoilmans’ cattle herd creating conditions that enable the bald’s globally imperiled plant and animal habitat to persist.”

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