The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has secured another small but significant tract of land protecting the Appalachian Trail (AT). This 13.2-acre project will leave an indelible mark on the AT viewshed.
Buck Mountain’s visibility to the public makes the property an essential acquisition. Although there are no stunning viewsheds or overlooks from the property, Buck Mountain’s scenic and recreational value is immeasurable due to its lasting presence to any AT thru-hiker.
The property is located within the boundaries of the Cherokee National Forest, and abuts the National Forest System lands on two sides and will provide consolidation and conservation of open space, viewsheds and watersheds. The topography of Buck Mountain is gently sloping to moderately steep with good access and views of Beech Mountain. Buck mountain is located within the boundary of Laurel Fork Bear Reserve and will help protect a fragile and sensitive watershed at the headwaters of Laurel Fork, a tributary of the Doe River and Jones Branch tributary of the Elk River. The property is also located near wetlands at Jones Branch Bog, a designated rare community supporting a state endangered plant. Additionally, Buck Mountain will protect environmentally sensitive habitats for threatned animal species.
Besides Buck Mountain’s extremely close proximity to the AT, the property also sits close to a population of well over a million residents. Buck Mountain is situated within a 150 miles of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States, and several large metropolitan areas including Knoxville and Gatlinburg, TN, Asheville and Boone, NC. Buck Mountain will be visible to thousands every year who hike along the Appalachian Trail.
The US Forest Service has had its eye on Buck Mountain for a long time. The track of land will provide and improve public access to National Forest land while also enabling the Forest Service to better utilize resources to combat invasive species and fight forest fires.
Because of the threat of Buck Mountain being sold to developers, SAHC was able to act quickly and purchase the property from a combination of monetary donations and public funds. Even with dramatic budget cuts to the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, SAHC has still been very successful protecting land in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The acquisition of Buck Mountain stands as a testament to that.
Although not large in acreage, Buck Mountain will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on hikers in western North Carolina. SAHC’s Executive Director, Carl Silverstein explains, “properties of all different sizes can be significant” and Buck Mountain fits that mold.