On Friday, June 17, we purchased a 162-acre tract of land on the northwestern slope of Cold Mountain, in the Dix Creek watershed. The Haywood County tract contains an exceptional variety of forest communities and potential habitat for rare species.
“Lying on the northwestern slopes of the iconic Cold Mountain, this property adds to a network of public lands that includes Pisgah National Forest, Shining Rock Wilderness and the Cold Mountain Game Lands, as well as being in close proximity to Lake Logan,” said Michelle Pugliese, SAHC Land Protection Director. “It is a region that exemplifies both the beauty and ecological significance of our mountain lands. SAHC is proud to be a part of expanding the area’s protected landscape.”
The recently purchased, high elevation property adjoins the Cold Mountain Games Lands to the southwest and shares a 1.2-mile boundary with Pisgah National Forest on the east side. The property is approximately one half mile from the Panther Branch Cove Natural Area and the Shining Rock Wilderness Natural Area, and is located within the Audubon Society’s Great Balsam Mountains Important Bird Area. Elevations on the tract range from 3,900 to 5,540 feet above msl.
The previous owner completed a Biodiversity Conservation Values Assessment on the property, which found the tract to contain nine natural communities, including three globally imperiled natural community types: Carolina Hemlock Forest (a highly threatened habitat), High Elevation Red Oak Forest, and Pine-Oak Heath. The site also contains rare high elevation boulderfield forest and three significantly rare plants: Kelsy’s locust, Trailing Wolfsbane, and Northern Lady Fern. Wildlife found on the property include: the State-listed Brown Creeper, Timber Rattlesnake, Southern Pygmy Salamander, and Appalachian Cottontail, as well as the watchlist species Common Raven, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Winter Wren. Biologists completing the report also found excellent potential for several other state endangered species.
“The high quality of native habitat, pristine creeks and wide variety of dominant tree species make this tract exceptional,” said Pugliese. “The fact that it contains almost six acres of hemlock forest is particularly exciting because these special forests are rapidly declining due to disease.”
There are eight tributaries that flow through the property, including the main branch of Dix Creek, which flows into the East Fork Pigeon River. The NC Division of Water Resources has classified the waters of Dix Creek as Trout Waters (freshwaters which have conditions that sustain and allow for trout propagation and survival of stocked trout on a year-round basis). Conservation of the tract will protect aquatic habitat, including waters for trout fishing, downstream.
“Preserving headwater streams has the greatest impact on protecting water quality downstream,” added Pugliese.
SAHC intends to own the tract in the short term and transfer it to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) by 2017 to be added to the Cold Mountain Game Lands, at which time it will become open to the public.
“This is a great example of how we work in partnership with other entities, being able to step in and provide short-term ownership for a priority tract until the state is able to receive funding to purchase it,” said Pugliese.
In the vicinity, SAHC has helped protect almost 9,000 acres. We hold conservation easements on approximately 800 acres on Crawford Creek on the east side of Cold Mountain and the 8,000-acre Waynesville Watershed (co-held with the Conservation Trust for NC). We have also assisted the NCWRC in protecting land for the state-owned Cold Mountain Game Lands.