Posts Tagged With: SAHC

Winter Tree ID in Montreat

Cold but pristine headwater streams in the wilderness area.

Cold but pristine headwater streams in the wilderness.

This year’s winter tree identification hike took place in the beautiful Montreat Wilderness. As our intrepid, aspiring dendrologists hiked near Montreat’s streams, cold conditions and overcast skies gave way to a wonderfully pleasant western North Carolina winter day. Our guests were treated to a variety of topics, including native plant communities, forest health issues, and the cultural history of Montreat.

Chris Coxen, SAHC's Field Ecologist, led the winter tree identification hike.

Chris Coxen, SAHC’s Field Ecologist, led the winter tree identification hike.

Chris Coxen, SAHC’s Field Ecologist, discussed basic tips for winter tree identification success. Examine the form of the tree — is it straight or does it dramatically bend to seek out sunlight (like a sourwood tree)? What does the bark look like? Are the twigs coming off of the main branches alternate or opposite?

Participants put the tips into practice along the hike.

Participants put the tips into practice along the hike.

One of the most important steps someone can take when identifying anything in the field, flora or fauna, is to think about the forest community in which it is located. When you consider the elevation, aspect (north or south facing slope), proximity to a stream, or soil (thin and rocky or dense and rich?), you can narrow down the possible forest communities and create a smaller pool of potential plant or animal species.

The group hiked a 3.5-mile loop along the Sanctuary, Harry Bryan and Grey Beard trails, stopping at various points to talk about tree identification and the history of the area. We hiked near the old hydroelectric dam, reviewing times past when it provided electricity to the community in the 1920’s. SAHC was fortunate to also have Bill Sanderson, a local high school teacher and ranger of Montreat, join our hike. Bill gave the hikers a behind-the-scenes tour of the dam, old reservoirs used for drinking water and general history of the town of Montreat, which was created in 1967.

Educating hikers about the impact of ginseng & galax poachers.

Hikers learn about ginseng and galax poachers.

Toward the end of the hike the group gathered at a rock outcrop near a small stream where Chris Coxen and Bill Sanderson educated the hikers about the ongoing poaching of threatened species in the area, including galax and ginseng. Ginseng is a fleshy root often used in energy supplements and herbal medications. This plant only grows in the Appalachians and in the Himalayans. Ginseng is not as plentiful and harder to find in comparison to galax.

Blog post author and SAHC's AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti on the trail.

Blog post author and SAHC’s AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti on the trail.

Galax is a small, high elevation, cool-weather plant with broad, waxy, heart-shaped leaves. It’s picked mainly for floral arrangements because the leaves hold their green color for up to several weeks after they’ve been picked. Galax poachers are hired to rummage through the woods of the Appalachian region, illegally packing duffle bags full of galax which can weigh as much as 100 pounds. Montreat has had a hard time curbing the poaching population that enters its woods. Once the galax has been picked it cannot be replanted. We hope that educating hikers about poaching problems for these unique plants will lead to better understanding and assistance in reporting illegal activity.

Overall, the 30 hikers on SAHC’s Winter Tree Identification hike not only learned how to identify the barren woody companions but also learned about the overall health of the forest and a community like Montreat that works hard to protect these features for present and future generations. Thanks to all who came out to join us!

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Preserving Farms – And “A Way of Life”


52 acres of Watalula Farm in Leicester, NC were recently placed under agricultural conservation easement.

Over the past few years, the terms ‘local food’ and ‘farm to table’ have gained greater and greater prominence in our daily conversations. What you may not hear as frequently, however, are some of the underlying concerns for farmland conservation – namely, that local food production requires both local farmland and successful farmers, and that not all farmland is created equal. These concerns are an integral part of the story behind two recent farmland conservation projects completed by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC).

SAHC recently created conservation easements on two tracts of important, working agricultural lands in northwestern Buncombe County totaling 88 acres. The newly protected 52-acre Watalula Farm tract in Leicester and 36-acre portion of Duckett Farm in Sandy Mush each contain prime agricultural soils.

SAHC Farmland Program Director William Hamilton explains, “Only 2% of the land mass in Western North Carolina consists of nationally recognized prime soils.  In most places, this land is also the most threatened by development, and a good bit of it has already seen a change in land use. As a land trust working in the Southern Appalachian mountains, we recognize that preserving rich bottomland must be a high priority.  It is vital that we preserve this natural resource to secure our food supply into the future.”

Anne Grier of Gaining Ground Farm, working the land they lease at Watalula Farm.
Anne Grier of Gaining Ground Farm, working the land they lease at Watalula Farm.

Watalula Farm – 52 acres
Landowner Will Jeffers purchased the farm in 2011 from the previous landowner, who had grown up in the area and  shared his desire to keep the land available for farming. An insightful young professional and graduate of Warren Wilson College, Jeffers learned that the property had come up for sale from his friends and neighboring farmers Anne and Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm.

“After living in Asheville for a number of years and feeling helpless as countless farms were developed, we always dreamed of viable ways to preserve land for agricultural use,” says Jeffers. “Thanks to an open dialogue between the seller, SAHC and neighboring farmers this dream became a reality with the preservation of Watalula Farm.  We hope the story of this farm’s placement into conservation can be an example for future efforts.”

Gaining Ground Farm leases the pastures at Watalula Farm for their herd of Red Devon cattle.

Gaining Ground Farm leases the pastures at Watalula Farm for their herd of Red Devon cattle.

Jeffers leases land at Watalula to young farmers of Gaining Ground Farm and First Blossom Farm to keep the land agriculturally productive. Gaining Ground Farm leases some of the bottomland and the pastures on Watalula, producing vegetables and local beef for local tailgate markets, local restaurants, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs).

“We can produce a lot more and do better crop rotation by leasing and using the Watalula land in addition to the land we already lease as Gaining Ground Farm,” said Anne Grier. “It has been especially helpful in improving our ability to sell to local restaurants. And, with the new conservation easement on the Watalula Farm land, we have a sense of security that the land will stay available for us and for others to use for farming now and in the future.”

According to Hamilton,”This farm has been a constant agricultural contributor for the last one hundred years.  It has and is continuing to provide local jobs for the community. As needed, it has evolved to survive the changing economics of agriculture, and the new farmers will continue to seek economic viability through direct marketing of produce and meat to the local market.”

This critical 52-acre property consists of 80% important agricultural soils (including 21% “prime” – nationally significant soils). A section of Newfound Creek also flows through the farm. The tract adjoins the Snelson Farm conservation easement preserved by Buncombe County.

“This is a great farmland preservation project,” says Hamilton. “The farm has all the right components: valuable soils, a great water supply, and beautiful scenery, all located within 10 miles of downtown Asheville. There was a significant threat of development, and we are proud to be able to preserve this innovative, highly productive, sustainable, and forward-thinking family farm for the future.”

Duckett farm – 36-acre tract

The rich bottomland of the Duckett tract is currently used for winter grazing lands and hay.

The rich bottomland of the Duckett tract is currently used for winter grazing lands and hay.

This 36-acre tract is a portion of 330 acres of family farm owned by Bill & Mabel Duckett, of which 260 acres have already been protected under conservation easement with SAHC. The Duckett farm is a 4th generation family farm operation located in the remote Big Sandy Mush area of Buncombe County. 

“Bill’s 36 acres is situated right in the middle of the Sandy Mush Valley,” says Hamilton. “This parcel is especially good because 26 of the 36 acres are recognized nationally as prime soils.  Prime soils take thousands of years to form, and usually consist of a balanced combination of sand, silt, and clay.  They can be cultivated year after year and never suffer from erosion if managed well. “

Presently, the bottomland tract is used for hay and for winter grazing land for cattle; it was used for row crops in the past. Duckett practices a historic tradition of wintering cattle on bottomland in Sandy Mush valley and driving them up to summer grazing at higher elevations, including his land at Chestnut Gap, which is also protected by conservation easement with SAHC. The pastures connect to a remarkable network of protected lands in the Sandy Mush valley and the Newfound Mountains.  While the cattle are at summer pasture, the newly protected conservation easement area is planted with hay, an erosion-minimizing practice encouraged by the farm’s Buncombe County Soil and Water conservation plan.

The recently protected 36-acre conservation easement on Duckett farm land (outlined in red) lies in the heart of Sandy Mush.

The recently protected 36-acre conservation easement on Duckett farm land (outlined in red) lies in the heart of Sandy Mush.

Remarking on the recently completed conservation easement, Bill Duckett said, “I’d like to see the land stay in farm use and not be developed, and that’s what my boys wanted, too. It’s good for the area to have more open land. This program works well for someone at my age. I can’t farm like I used to, and it can serve to help me retire. That’s something all farm families have to face, eventually – a way to change over to the next generation.”

Duckett’s children are interested in continuing the farming tradition of the land, although they do not have plans to take over farming as a full-time operation. Placing the land under conservation easement is a way for the current generation to continue the traditions of the past and ensure that the farm’s rich, agriculturally important soils will not be lost in the future. 

“Most farms are passed down — they didn’t happen in one generation,” continues Duckett. “It takes more than one generation to put a farm together. It’s more a way of life than just property, not something you want to sell and see disappear. I’d also like farmers to be aware of the farmland preservation program – and the fact that there is funding available to preserve farms through the Farm Bill. It’s not something that you’ll be forced into, but it’s nice to know that it is available.”

The Duckett farm tract of 36 acres is 100% open agricultural land, and 73% of soils on it are classified as “Prime” – Nationally Significant.  26% of Duckett Bottomland Soils are classified as “Statewide Importance” – State Significant. The tract is bordered by Sandy Mush Creek, which flows into the French Broad River.

NewSAHCfarmlandconservation projectsSAHC successfully applied for Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) funds to protect the prime agricultural soils on both these tracts. We also secured funding and support for the projects from partners at the local, state, and national level, including Buncombe County, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina – Farmland Forever Fund, North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust, and the US Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service. The landowners also made generous contributions to make completion of the projects possible.

“These are both incredible successes for local farmland preservation efforts,” sums up Hamilton. “The high occurrence of prime soils and the continued use and expansion of agricultural operations on these tracts made them priorities for conservation. We are grateful to the landowners for working to preserve their lands, and to our partners for providing critical funding for these projects.”

If other farm landowners  are interested in working with SAHC to preserve their land for agricultural use, we would be happy to help with the process. Contact William Hamilton at 828.253.0095 ext. 211 or for more information.

Categories: Farmland Preservation Program | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Music in the Forest – Protecting Bob Moog’s Big Briar Cove

Sunbeams in forest_briarcove

SAHC accepted a conservation easement on 105 acres of Bob Moog’s land at Big Briar Cove.

Musicians around the world know the name Bob Moog and respect his groundbreaking innovations in electronic instruments. However, what they may not know is that a quiet cove outside Asheville, NC provided a setting of respite and inspiration to nourish his uncanny genius.

In December, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) accepted a donated conservation easement on 105 acres of Bob Moog’s property in the South Turkey Creek community of Buncombe County. The quiet cove includes the former home and workshop of local music icon Bob Moog. His widow, Ileana Grams-Moog, donated the conservation easement to SAHC to protect forest habitat and clean water resources on the property.


Completing the conservation easement in December (L to R): SAHC Stewardship & Conservation Planning Director Hanni Muerdter, Ileana Grams-Moog, SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese, SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein.

“Bob would have been very happy about the conservation easement at Big Briar Cove,” said Grams-Moog. “People do not often think of him as an outdoorsman, but Bob was very passionate about the outdoors and the wilderness. I know that donating this conservation easement to protect the land for the future is something he wanted.”

The property contains rare natural communities including rich cove forest, a stand of old growth forest, and a small remnant southern Appalachian bog. Ten creeks flow through the cove, including several streams that serve as headwaters of South Turkey Creek.  These pristine waters flow through the Sandy Mush Game Lands before emptying into the French Broad River.

Headwaters of South Turkey Creek originate on the Big Briar Cove tract.

Headwaters of South Turkey Creek originate on the Big Briar Cove tract.

“When he first learned about conservation easements, Bob was very interested and thought it would be a good thing to do for the cove,” Grams-Moog continued. “In his will, he directed me to preserve the environmental values of the land. I’m pleased to honor his wishes by donating the conservation easement at Big Briar Cove to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.”

In addition to the natural resources on the tract, the completion of this conservation easement protects scenic views in the northwest corner of the county. Rising to 3,700 feet in elevation, the property is visible from a scenic rural route and in the distance from Old Marshall Scenic Byway. As the home and work site of Moog, who is widely regarded as an early pioneer in electronic music, the property is also important for its cultural and historical context.

Bob Moog, photo courtesy of Ileana Grams-Moog.

Bob Moog, photo courtesy of Ileana Grams-Moog.

When Moog purchased the property in 1978, he was already well established in his career as an inventor and entrepreneur. He founded Big Briar, Inc. and built and sold custom electronic musical instruments under the Big Briar name until 2002, when the name was changed to Moog Music, Inc. At the workshop on the Big Briar Cove property, Moog experimented with designs for his electronic instruments and produced many instruments that were sold through his company.


Big Briar Cove

“This property is a biological gem situated near 6,000 acres that SAHC has protected in the Sandy Mush farming community,” according to SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We’re grateful to Ileana Grams-Moog for protecting this lovely cove with its significant forest, habitat, water resources, scenic value and historic connection to Bob Moog. We are deeply proud to be able to preserve it for posterity.”

Transaction costs for this donated conservation easement project were covered in part by the ‘Money in the Ground – Mountains & Coasts’ grant program of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

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

Hiking Into The Lost Cove

Although we are in the midst of an arctic freeze in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, we’re eagerly looking forward to the slate of outdoor adventures our outreach team has planned for this year. To whet your appetite, here’s a narrative from one of our 2013 fall hikes – a trek into the 95-acre Lost Cove tract that SAHC purchased in 2012, led by our AmeriCorps PR & Outreach associate Anna Zanetti:

Paddlers along the Nolichucky River on the edge of the Lost Cove property.

Paddlers along the Nolichucky River on the edge of the Lost Cove property.

“Lost Cove, once a self-sustaining community nestled on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, has become a mere ghost town with the occasional company of a destination hiker.

In late November I led 22 people on a hike to the old settlement where only abandoned and crippled buildings now exist. The group hiked up to Flat Top Mountain where we peeked over the edge looking down on the Nolichucky Gorge catching a glimpse of the Lost Cove Property. During the 1940s, from this point, you would have been able to see white buildings consisting of homes, the schoolhouse and the church, but all we saw was overgrowth amongst the color changing leaves. We headed west and began to descend two miles along the old soil bed road until we came to an intersection in the trail. This intersection marks the beginning of the Lost Cove settlement and to the left marks SAHC’s property.


View from Flat Top Mountain looking down upon the Lost Cove.

We walked quietly under the dark clouds that came rushing in, covering the sun. Searching around the group examined the free standing stone chimneys and the decaying structures. Every few feet we would see old deteriorating cans, rusty car parts and we even found a wood-burning stove. We all navigated around on and off trail as if we were investigating an ancient civilization. Everyone was dispersed when a hiker called out, “Come up here, I found their cemetery.” We all rushed together to the top of a hill off of the trail to find a small gated graveyard with tombstones and some flowers. We knelt down reading the literature engraved in the stones — some had poems or just the family name, in places the letters were a little off and the p’s and d’s were backwards. On top of the hill we had a brief snack, but we were too engaged to turn around at that point. As a group we decided to push forward and hike down to the Nolichucky Gorge to see the train tracks and where the train platform once existed.


The group hiking down to the edge of the property.

The group hiked about 1.5 miles descending through bolder fields with moss and lichen in every nook and cranny. It was like a sea of rocks flowing and rising within the tress. This section of the trail is by far my favorite because of its natural beauty. We reached the edge of our property looking upon the Nolichucky River and the train tracks nestled between the surrounding mountains. We all dispersed around the edge of the property to explore. Then we reconvened around an abandoned campsite,  all quiet and ready to eat our lunch. As I was getting settled the ground began to shake and we all stood up to see a train coming around the bend along the river. The graffiti covered railroad carts rushed by caring black coal and other cargo.


The train coming around the bend along the Nolichucky River.

After the train was gone a fellow hiker said aloud, “These people had to hike 1.5 miles down here for goods and then proceeded to hike back up the steep and rocky trail with extra weight on their backs.”  This reminded everyone that Appalachian folk were and still are resilient people who don’t back down from a challenge. We packed up our belongings and I handed out trash bags and gloves to anyone willing to pickup and pack out the garbage from the abandoned campsite. Buddy Tignor, President of SAHC’s Board of Trustees, single-handedly packed out around 30 pounds of empty propane cans and debris.

The train was long gone and we were finishing packing up when it began to rain. We didn’t think much about it until the rain became worse, eventually turning into hail. We all looked at each other and understood that it was time to begin the trek up and out the gorge. The hail stinging our bare skin was not our only concern —  the slippery unsure footing made me nervous. A total of 45 minutes later and 1.5 miles up the steep terrain the rain and hail had stopped, giving us the opportunity to catch our breath.

The hike back was severely strenuous especially with the added weight from the trash we had picked up below. That morning we began the hike at 10:00 am and did not make it back to Flat Top Mountain till 5:00 pm. To say the least we were all exhausted, but we had formed an undeniable bond and gained a deeper appreciation for all the settlers who chose to call the Lost Cove their home.”

Group photo within the Lost Cove settlement.

Group photo within the Lost Cove settlement.

The next Lost Cove Hike will be held on April 26, 2014. Due to the increased popularity of this guided hike, we will open registration to SAHC members from March 1st through the 31st, followed by open registration for the general public after March 31. Please email for more info or to register.

Categories: Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Continued Hickory Nut Gap Protection – 62 acres

turtleon HNGByway

This new conservation easement protects habitat adjacent to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s Florence Preserve.

In mid-December, SAHC protected another tract at Hickory Nut Gap. This new conservation easement preserves 62 acres adjacent to the Florence Nature Preserve and close to the Drovers Road Scenic Byway.  The property will remain privately owned, with permanent protection against future development.

“You may recall SAHC reporting on the three properties we protected at Hickory Nut Gap in December 2013, which totaled 173 acres spanning both sides of the Drovers Road Scenic Byway,” said Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s Land Protection Director. “This year we were able to expand the protection in the Gap by ensuring that the headwaters and tributaries of Ashworth Creek, and the intact forested views from the Drovers Road Scenic Byway, will remain pristine forever.”

Headwater streams of Ashworth Creek originate on the tract.

Headwater streams of Ashworth Creek originate on the tract.

Five tributaries of Ashworth Creek flow through the conservation easement property, three of which are headwater streams originating on its wooded slopes.  The southern portion of the property also lies within the Audubon Society Chimney Rock-Hickory Nut Gorge Important Bird Area and provides wildlife habitat.

This newly protected tract is adjacent to the Florence Nature Preserve, a popular public recreation area for hikers that is owned by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.  Placing a conservation easement on the adjoining 62-acre parcel will help preserve the public’s wilderness experience on the existing trail system at the Florence Nature Preserve.  There may be an opportunity to expand the public trail system onto this property, in accordance with the regional trail planning effort for the Hickory Nut Gap area, according to Pugliese. The regional trail planning is being done in partnership with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and other stakeholders in the region.

Contextual Map of Hickory Nut Gap Scenic Byway and surrounding conservation lands.

Contextual Map of Hickory Nut Gap Scenic Byway and surrounding conservation lands.

“This property has been a conservation priority in the landscape due to its location adjacent to the Florence Nature Preserve as well as its visibility from and proximity to the Drovers Road Scenic Byway,” said Pugliese.

The new conservation easement was completed using private donor funds and a grant from the NC Department of Transportation Scenic Byways Land Conservation Initiative.  Scenic byways are designated routes that have been carefully selected to embody the beauty and culture of the state while providing travelers with a safe and interesting alternate route. Funds from the Land Conservation Initiative of the NC Scenic Byways program help protect the characteristics that make these routes unique.

Categories: Land Protection Updates | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

New “View from the Highlands” online!

Peruse the latest edition of the View from the Highlands online with ISSUU.

Peruse the latest edition of the View from the Highlands online with ISSUU.

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Tales from the Bird House


View from the Bird House, perched in a high elevation meadow.

Earlier this year, we welcomed a series of interns and researchers to the cabin at our 601-acre Grassy Ridge tract in the Highlands of Roan, dubbed ‘the Bird House’ because of the ubiquitous winged wildlife in this rich upland habitat. Lee Farese, one of our first visitors to the cabin, spent several weeks observing and photographing the tract. He recently shared this account of his stay…

The Bird House perched in a high elevation meadow.

The Bird House at Grassy Ridge.

I arrived at Grassy Ridge one afternoon with a singing Junco and two hawks circling out over the barely-spring hills quiet and gray. The small red house sits amid blackberries on an east-reaching spur out from the ridge, looking out over Big Yellow, Grandfather, back to Little Yellow and Grassy Ridge Bald. The porch looks south over Martin’s Branch, over the hardwood hills still bare in late April but rich with the promise of budding maple and the white ghosts of sarvis. Jay leaves at dusk and I sit awhile on the porch with the guitar left for me, soon to be welcomed by a woodcock.

In the morning I am woken by yellowthroats, towhees, sparrows in the brush. The thrasher is on his beech branch and beginning his rough singing, and there is a thrush in the distance. Somewhere in the woods the thudding of a grouse.  It is cold, though, so I return to the cabin after a while, build a fire, drink tea, play guitar and wait for the day to come.

gr_9I take the day to feel my new home—stray down the creek to find ramps and wake-robins, spring beauties, anemone, wander up to the ridge with juncos and towhees for perspective and to meet the land. Down below in the hollows there is a faint blush of spring, but up here the season is still asleep. Walking down, though, the promise is voiced: two Black-throated Blue Warblers buzzing in the maples. I am eager to sit and wait and watch this season come, to listen closely to the out-breath of spring.

Lee at his red porch post.

Lee at his red porch post.

For three weeks I kept my red-porch post, sat with thrasher, warbler, sparrow and wren and watched how the world wakes up—watched the pears leaf out and break down into clouds of white bloom, watched the first Golden-wing come to the nearby beech. My only goal was to pay attention, “our endless noble work,” for “how can one help but grow wise with teaching such as these?” I watched the Phacelia erupt and the spring beauties fade, the sarvis light up on the opposite slope. Seeking to lend myself to a place, and to lend myself to spring, which felt like a season of ceaseless hope.

gr_3Along the way I kept note of the coming. Each morning the woods would be graced by some new voice—Ruby-throated hummingbird on the 23rd, Ovenbird and Black-throated Green Warblers on the 24th, Grosbeaks and a Black-and-white the 25th, Chestnut-sided and Golden-winged Warblers the 26th. “Spring is the time of endless distraction”, and more often than not books would lie forgotten, swept aside by song.  Mornings I would walk Jerry’s Creek or Martin’s Branch, finding newts, salamanders, and always more in bloom. Squirrel Corn, Trilliums, Anemone, Trout Lilies, Violets, Phacelia, Larkspur, Showy Orchis. In the evenings the Barred Owls would keep the chorus, sometimes joined by a Saw-whet and once by a moonstruck Field Sparrow.

gr_14This was my vigil. On cold mornings and evenings (and there were many) I tended and readied the cabin, sat reading by the fire, played music. Mostly I just watched, though, let myself sink into a place and let myself be filled by the music of the woods in spring. In the evenings I would take my dinner on the edge of the porch, and where I had a standing date with the cottontail who slept her days beneath the house, and I would wait for the woodcock’s beent! and “sky dance”.

gr_6I left Grassy Ridge a much different place from mid-April—the hills glowing with maple, buckeye, the swelling buds of beech; thirteen species of warbler filling the young woods with song. The first ephemerals beginning to fade, the woods were full with Solomon’s Seal and Larkspur, Foam Flowers and Sedum. Just before leaving Jay and I walked up to the Big Meadow above Jerry’s, where Pipits lifted from the tall grass like a chattering mist.

gr_8I am indebted to Grassy Ridge, as I am indebted to all the places I have let myself fall into. For three weeks I sought to be a citizen of it, to engage with its music and bear witness to something truly remarkable that slips beneath our gaze most days. And what can I do now but give voice? There is something incredible happening here, just waiting for a listening ear and an open eye. “And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here.”

Categories: Conservation Field Journal | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Blackrock Mountain – Protecting views from the Blue Ridge Parkway!

Blackrock Mountain summit.

Blackrock Mountain summit.

In October, SAHC purchased the summit of Blackrock Mountain in the Plott Balsam Mountains of Jackson County, with more than 250 surrounding acres. We plan to hold the property and manage it as a nature preserve until it can eventually be transferred to public ownership as park lands.

“All you need to do is stand at the Plott Balsam overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway or hike the trail from Waterrock Knob, to appreciate protecting Blackrock Mountain,” said Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s Land Protection Director. “The 5,700 ft peak contains rare spruce-fir forest and two headwater tributaries that flow down its slopes. We are so proud to have preserved this view for all to enjoy.”

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

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

The Blackrock Mountain summit is clearly visible from the Plott Balsam overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The entire property can be seen in the foreground view from the Plott Balsam overlook (mile post 458), the Waterrock Knob visitor center (mile post 451.2), and multiple locations along the parkway on the drive north from Waterrock Knob.

Blackrock Creek

Blackrock Creek

The tract’s proximity to and visibility from the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as the high-elevation forest communities and pristine headwater sources found on the site, made it a priority for conservation. Two headwater tributaries of Blackrock Creek originate on the property and flow into Blackrock Creek, which empties into Soco Creek.

Hikers enjoyed stunning views from the summit.

Hikers enjoyed stunning views from the summit.

A publicly-accessible hiking trail originates on the Blue Ridge Parkway below the Waterrock Knob overlook, and the Blackrock Mountain summit purchased by SAHC contains a destination vantage point reached via this trail. Earlier in October, we led our Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership group hike to the Blackrock Mountain summit to enjoy clear long-distance views of the surrounding ridgelines. We plan to lead similar hikes to the area in the future.

Map of Blackrock Mountain tract and surrounding area.

Map of Blackrock Mountain tract and surrounding area.

The Cherokee nation owns land to the north in the Qualla Boundary, and the newly protected tract adjoins other conservation lands: SAHC’s 60-acre Blackrock Ridge tract (protected in 2010), the Sylva Watershed (protected with a conservation easement held by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee), and The Nature Conservancy’s Plott-Balsam Preserve.

“The efforts of multiple conservation partners highlight the priority of habitats, scenic views, and water quality of the Plott Balsam Mountains,” added Pugliese.

Categories: Land Protection Updates | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Youth volunteers tackle stuborn invaders

FBRA volunteers in Sandy Mush.

FBRA volunteers in Sandy Mush.

This fall, 6th and 7th grade boys from the French Broad River Academy (FBRA) volunteered to help heal a 45-acre conservation tract in the Sandy Mush area. They spent three days identifying invasive species and learning how to properly eradicate them without disturbing indigenous plants nearby.

Each morning, the boys arrived promptly at 9:30 am, ready to work hard weeding out the invasive plants. Kids and supervising adults split into three groups, and each group received a pair of loppers, hand clippers, rubber gloves, leather gloves, protective eye wear, a trash bag and a little bottle of herbicide that only adults could apply.

The young volunteers took their invasive species removal duties seriously.

The young volunteers took their invasive species removal duties seriously.

The groups hiked to designated areas on the  property and went to work on oriental bittersweet and multi flora rose. They followed a three-step process to assist the eradication process. The students cut the plant an inch from its root, a supervising adult dabbed the cut area with herbicide, and they all bagged up the remaining parts of the pants. The invasive species that the students were working with have adventitious roots — meaning that if part of the plant is cut and left on the ground it will re-root itself. This makes the eradication process very tricky but the students were up for the challenge, scouring the area to carefully recover all the cut portions of the invasives.

Invasive species - carefully bagged for removal.

Invasive species – carefully bagged for removal.

We were impressed with the great attitudes, eagerness, and work ethic of the FBRA volunteers.

We were impressed with the great attitudes, eagerness, and work ethic of the FBRA volunteers.

The students were working on a property densely populated with poplar, oak and witch hazel trees with a small stream flowing through the scenery. The students of FBRA are no strangers when it comes to water. Their education heavily focuses on the French Broad River and includes outings such as kayaking and canoeing. The students were enthusiastic about what was in the stream, and they found all sorts of creatures like crawfish, salamanders, and a small northern water snake.

Shortly after time spent in the stream, one student asked, “Why can’t we just spray all the invasive species instead of slowly cutting and dabbing?”

Investigating a stream on the property.

Investigating a stream on the property.

In response a fellow student replied, “Spraying the herbicide will kill the indigenous plants and get into the stream.” Outings like this volunteer day provide the boys with educational adventures in the environment and hands-on interactions that allow the students to teach each other. These experiences help the students to make connections between human actions and impact on nature.

FBRA is a one-of-a-kind school, and it was a pleasure working with well-behaved young boys. These students have the willingness to work hard to create a better environment for present and future generations. Thank you!

Categories: Volunteer & Stewardship Activities | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership Hikes


Group photo atop Blackrock Mountain for the Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike.

Our new AmeriCorps PR and Outreach Associate, Anna Zanetti, launched into a full schedule of fall hikes when she came on board with us in September. Part of that slate of fall hikes included our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Clawhammer and Thunderstruck partnership hikes — which luckily occurred on two lovely October weekends. The Thunderstruck hike also gave the group an opportunity to visit one of SAHC’s newly protected tracts  — Blackrock Mountain. Below is Anna’s take on the experience:

“SAHC partnership hikes with Highland Brewing and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are one of the highlights of my job. These popular group hikes feature protected peaks that are namesakes of Highland Brewing Company’s seasonal beers. The “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership, including our guided hikes, helps raise public awareness of the places and species that make our mountains so special.


Twin Falls

The first hike I led was to Clawhammer Mountain in Pisgah National Forest, close to Brevard. Twenty-five people attended this hike in celebration of Highland’s Oktoberfest named after Clawhammer Mountain. The hike was a 12-mile loop that traversed along equestrian, biking and hiking trails. During our ascent up the mountain we stopped at Twin Falls for a beautiful view. With the top tucked into the tree line, the 150 ft falls appear as if they are flowing from the sky.

Group photo atop Clawhammer Mountain.

Group photo atop Clawhammer Mountain.

After enjoying a break at the falls, we continued along the trail. At the summit of Clawhammer Mountain we saw clear views of Looking Glass Mountain where the trees meet the large open-faced rocks. This made for a great lunch spot, and everyone relaxed before the long trek back down the mountain.

Hikers had to overcome some obstacles.

Overcoming obstacles on the hike.

On October 12th , we held our second autumn “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership hike across Blackrock Ridge to celebrate the release of Highland’s  Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. At the peak of Blackrock Mountain, you can see Thunderstruck Ridge zigzag like a thunderbolt on the horizon. We parked near Waterrock Knob Visitor Center and walked to the trailhead along the road. The Blackrock Ridge hike was a 5-½ mile out-and-back adventure crossing private, public and SAHC owned land.

Blue Ridge Parkway, visible from the hike.

Blue Ridge Parkway, visible from the trail.

During this time the government shutdown slightly affected our hike because parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed, including the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center where we had planned to park and rendezvous for the hike. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the hike, and we were fortunate enough to still go through with our plans.

View pic from the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of Perry Keys.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of Perry Keys.

The day of the hike there were many tourists on the parkway enjoying breathtaking views of the autumn leaves. It was nice to see people out and about, but many disregarded the barricaded areas and continued to use closed facilities. This caused slight issues due to the fact that no one was managing these areas during the shutdown. A new member of SAHC, Perry Keys, organized a trash pick up along the parkway after our hike. This was a great effort on the group’s part to help mitigate the impact of visitors within the Blue Ridge Parkway boundaries.

These partnership hikes continue to be successful due to the unique makeup of our partnership with Highland Brewing Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For those who love to celebrate local craft beer as well as the beautiful mountains of the Appalachian region, our “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership gives them a way to enjoy themselves and support land conservation at the same time.”

Categories: Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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