Federal Legislation: Conservation Tax Incentives and the Land & Water Conservation Fund

Protection of Rocky Fork Creek was made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Photo by Ken Maness.

Protection of Rocky Fork Creek was made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Photo by Ken Maness.

In December, the US Congress passed and the president signed into law legislation making the enhanced tax incentive for conservation easement donations permanent.

First enacted as a temporary provision in 2006 (which expired in 2014), the incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who sign a conservation easement. In a strong bipartisan action, the House voted 318-109 and the Senate voted 65-33 to pass the bills that included the tax incentive.

Also in December, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included temporary, 3-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which had expired in September.

“Looking forward we all need to make sure that Congress understands that short-term fixes are welcome, but that our threatened natural heritage calls for a permanent solution,” said SAHC Trustee Jay Leutze. “I’m really proud that several members of our region’s Congressional delegation stood up and let leadership in both houses know how important public land is here at home.”

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Hampton Creek Cove, A Hidden Gem in Tennessee

Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area

Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area

The 693-acre Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area (HCC SNA) is a breathtaking haven for wildlife with ample opportunity for outdoor recreation. Time spent visiting the pastoral cove, trekking the miles of hiking trails, or fishing cold trout streams will be well spent. Check out these recent updates from the cove!

Golden-winged Warbler Habitat Restoration

Golden-winged Warbler, a neotropical migratory songbird.

Golden-winged Warbler, a neotropical migratory songbird.

Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area is one of only three state natural areas in the Blue Ridge province of Tennessee and is home to one of the largest breeding populations of Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA) in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Golden-winged Warbler is a species in need of additional conservation management, and is undergoing review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for potential listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Because HCC is so important to this warbler, the National Audubon Society designated it an “Important Bird Area” in 2005. The Golden-winged Warbler, along with many other important game and non-game bird species, relies on early successional, scrubby habitats for breeding and nesting. Past efforts to restore early successional habitat in Hampton Creek Cove SNA have focused on shrub management, tree thinning, and native grass restoration.

In 2015, SAHC and our partners at North Carolina Audubon and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation received a generous grant from the Tennessee State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which enabled us to manage seven acres of early successional habitat in HCC.  The newly managed area is adjacent to a field that was previously restored by mowing and native grass restoration. It also adjoins habitat known to occupied by GWWA. We believe our recent work in this area will provide immediate benefits to the species.

Installation of Hiker Stiles

Multiple publicly-accessible hiking trails cross through the cove.

Multiple publicly-accessible hiking trails cross through the cove.

Several trails traverse Hampton Creek Cove SNA. The Birchfield Trail and the Shell Hollow Trail are popular birding spots, due to the variety of habitats found along their routes.  The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail — the historic route of the Overmountain Men in their march to the Revolutionary War’s 1780 Battle of King’s Mountain — also runs through the cove. Because the trails at Hampton Creek Cove traverse agricultural areas, hikers must pass through a series of farm gates. These gates can be difficult to open and can be left open, allowing livestock to enter areas where they should not be, and potentially injuring themselves or causing damage to sensitive wildlife species.

The hiker stiles in HCC were designed and built by Paul Cremer of Carolina Trailbuilders, from Weaverville, NC.

The hiker stiles in HCC were designed and built by Paul Cremer of Carolina Trailbuilders, from Weaverville, NC.

We installed three hiker stiles on the busiest sections of trail in HCC. The stiles are based on a design that has been used successfully along the Appalachian Trail in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, VA. This design does not require hikers to climb over fencing (a safety hazard) and is built to ensure that the gate will swing closed even if a hiker forgets to latch it behind him or her. Our work was sponsored by a grant from the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation “connections” grant program which funds greenway or trail projects connecting nearby communities to Tennessee’s beautiful State Parks and Natural Areas. Since 1999, the Tennessee State Park Connections program has awarded over 193 grants statewide totaling over $300,000.

Small Game Hunting

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Wild Turkey. Photo courtesy of Witt Langstaff, Jr.

In fall 2015, the State of TN reopened Hampton Creek Cove SNA for hunting on a limited basis. Hunters are allowed to take wild turkey, grouse, rabbits, squirrel and other small game. Deer hunting (archery only) has also been authorized for the site. No dogs, ATVs, or other motorized vehicles are allowed in the natural area and hunting must be conducted in accordance with current State of Tennessee Hunting Seasons and Regulations.

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Farm Workshop: The Two-wheel, Walk-behind Tractor

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SAHC Community Farm and Food Program Associate, Chris Link, demonstrates the ease of steering the two-wheel tractor.

Why choose a two-wheel tractor for your home garden or small farmstead, instead of a standard four-wheel tractor or tiller?

This small but mighty tractor is a versatile investment. With over forty implements available, it is designed to be an all-in-one performer for hobby farms, market gardeners, and backyard homesteaders alike. It is a favorite around the world, known for comparative ease of maintenance and operation, with a lower initial price that puts it within reach of beginning and small-scale growers.

Community Farm and Food Associate Chris Link explains how to connect and operate various attachments which make the two-wheel tractor a versatile and efficient tool for small farms.

Chris explains how to connect various attachments which make the two-wheel tractor a versatile and efficient tool for small farms.

“The two-wheel tractor is just right for many operations — not too big and not too small,” said Community Farm & Food Program Associate Chris Link. “They are also particularly nimble and user-friendly on our hillsides and small pathways, and therefore, more efficient when you are working with a compact site.”

Last fall, Chris led a workshop demonstrating two-wheel tractors at our Community Farm.

“I first saw the two-wheel tractor used at a farm in Maine, which was scaled as a market garden around a homestead, under three acres,” he continued. “This is the size farm that is feasible for a couple of people farming. Although many farmers will scale up to larger acreages in time, others who practice intensive growing methods will stay right around this size and will not need larger equipment.”

Background

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Attachments for the BCS tractor include a sickle bar mower.

In the United States, Gravely Brand developed a walk-behind tractor as early as 1911, but by the 1970s production had all but halted because commodity/cash crops had replaced much of what were once small family farms.

The BCS brand two-wheel tractor was first developed in Italy in 1942 as a walk-behind sickle bar mower for small-scale hay mowing on mountainsides. The design gained popularity in the 1950s and replaced draft power on small farms in Europe. With more than one million customers in 80+ countries, BCS is now the largest manufacturer of two-wheeled tractors and attachments in Europe.

Today, both Italian brands Grillo and BCS are available through dealers in the US, and are rising in popularity among small commercial growers as well as land managers, landscapers and hobbyists due to the lower cost point, reputation for quality, and versatility.

“Overall, you could expect to pay $1,550 to $4,500 for a new machine (and add $800 for a diesel engine model),” commented Chris. “There are also used models available.”

Benefits and Main Features

Two-wheel tractors are designed with one engine that can attach to a variety of implements.

Two-wheel tractors are designed with one engine that can attach to a variety of implements.

A two-wheel tractor is designed to attach many different implements in order to perform a variety of tasks, in contrast to the more traditional method of using multiple dedicated tractors/machines for each task. Less time, and money, are necessary to acquire, learn to safely operate, maintain and store walk-behind, two-wheel machine. Ease of switching multi-tasking implements and ease of switching implements is a major benefit of these smaller machines.

“The two-wheel tractor works best for a growing area between 5,000 SF and 3-5 acres. It is great for smaller, tighter cultivated areas because of its small turning radius,” explained Link.

Special features that come standard include: reversing handlebars, lockable differential with steering brakes, PTO drive (separate from wheel drive for different speeds), gas or diesel capability and electric start, quick-attach coupling, and being completely gear driven.

“As with traditional tractors, safety is paramount: all the same rules apply when it comes to safety when operating this smaller tractor as a larger one — it is still a tractor.”

Some of the most common implements for two wheel tractors include:

  • Rotary Plow, Tiller, Power Harrow
  • Wood Chipper, Wood Splitter
  • Snow Blower, Snow Blade, Power Sweeper
  • Rotary mower, Flail mower, Sickle bar
  • Root Digger
  • Power Washer
  • Utility Trailer, Sulky

SAHC plans to host more educational workshops (free and open to the public) on our Community Farm throughout 2016. Visit Appalachian.org or follow us on Facebook for updates!

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22854.  for Farm Pathways: Access to Land, Livelihood, and Learning.

“Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

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Broad Branch, in the Highlands of Roan

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This 48-acre forested parcel, which was previosly slated for development, is now permanently protected.

Located less than 2 miles from the Appalachian Trail and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, the 48-acre Broad Branch tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and contains a broad mix of habitat. We acquired it in December, and plan to own and manage it for long-term forest health and water quality.

“This tract shares a nearly one-half mile boundary with Pisgah National Forest,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It certainly earns the description of ‘highlands,’ with elevations exceeding 4,500 feet where it joins the National Forest.”

Located within the state-designated Roan Mountain Massif Natural Area, the tract is forested with mature trees and potential habitat for rare plant and animal species. Approximately 75% of the property falls within the Roan Mountain Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society.

A headwater tributary of Broad Branch runs through the property, emptying into the trout waters of Big Rock Creek.

A headwater tributary of Broad Branch runs through the property, emptying into the trout waters of Big Rock Creek.

A headwater tributary of Broad Branch orginates in the adjoining Pisgah National Forest and flows through the property, emptying into Big Rock Creek (classified as Trout waters by the NC Division of Water Resources). SAHC will complete a biological inventory and protect the water and forest resources.

“The tract was slated for development,” continued Pugliese, “but SAHC was able to work with the developers to purchase the land for conservation.  It’s a great example of conservation serving as a viable alternative to an unrealized development.”Located less than 2 miles from the Appalachian Trail and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, the 48-acre Broad Branch tract adjoins Pisgah National Forest and contains a broad mix of habitat. We acquired it in December, and plan to own and manage it for long-term forest health and water quality.

What is the Roan Mountain Important Bird Area?

 

Gray Catbird, photo by Witt Langstaff, Jr.

Gray Catbird, photo by Witt Langstaff, Jr.

Important Bird Areas (IBA) are designated areas of state, national, or global importance, which are prioritized for conservation because they provide critical habitat for threatened, endangered, or declining bird species. The Roan Mountain IBA has among the great diversity of birds in the NC and TN mountains. To date, 188 species have been recorded, 31 of which are high priority species.

On a short, late-morning visit to the Broad Branch tract, Roan Stewardship staff recently heard Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Ovenbird, Gray Catbird, and Red-breasted Nuthatch — as well as three birds on the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture conservation priority list: Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, and Eastern Wood PeeWee.

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Reeves Homeplace Farm

The higher elevation mountain pastures are used in summer, where cattle flourish because of lower temperatures, rich native blue grass, and less insect pressure.

The higher elevation mountain pastures are used in summer, where cattle flourish because of lower temperatures, rich native blue grass, and less insect pressure.

“This project represents five years of hard work by the land trust, the landowner, and the agencies involved,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. “This farm is representative of agriculture in Western North Carolina, and we are thrilled that the Reeves family will be able to continue owning, living and farming on this land in the future.”
Located in the Little Sandy Mush community amidst a scenic landscape of family farms, the property was part of a US land grant that once encompassed a much larger area. Landowner Betty Reeves is a 6th generation member of the Reeves family to farm the land, and she wanted to protect it with an agricultural conservation easement so that that it would be a resource for current and future farmers.

Lower elevation pastures of the Reeves Homeplace Farm are used in fall and winter.

Lower elevation pastures of the Reeves Homeplace Farm are used in fall and winter.

“People are always going to need healthy food to eat, and if we use all the land for development, we won’t have anywhere to farm,” said Betty. “When you think about it, we’re not getting any more land.”

Betty had worked the land alongside her husband, lifetime farmer Burder Reeves, who passed away a few years ago. Both Betty and Burder have been inducted into the NC Mountain State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame — Betty in September 2015 and Burder in 2010. Continuing the family tradition, one of their daughters, Robin, manages a diverse enterprise on the farm today, producing cattle, hay, and pasture-raised broilers and turkeys.

“Developers have offered substantial sums for this place, but Daddy never wanted it to be sold,” recalls Robin. “He wanted it to stay in the family, and wanted to see it continue to be used as farmland.”

Protecting the land also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

Protecting the land also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

The recently protected property consists of distinct parcels, each necessary for the farm operation: a lower-elevation farmstead in the valley and a high-elevation mountain field used as summer grazing pasture, rising to 4,544 ft. above sea level.  The cattle graze on the mountain pastures from May to October, flourishing with cooler temperatures, less insect pressure, and nutrient-rich native blue grass.

Conservation of the Reeves Homeplace Farm also protects water quality in the region, including Fall Branch, a significant tributary to Little Sandy Mush Creek.

“We are grateful to the partners involved who helped make this happen,” said Hamilton. “Their programs provide necessary financial incentives for a landowner to permanently restrict their land from subdivision and development.”

The historic Reeves family home was built with bricks produced on the farmstead.

The historic Reeves family home was built with bricks produced on the farmstead.

The Reeves Homeplace Farm conservation project was made possible by funding from the USDA — Natural Resource Conservation Service Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program; the NC Department of Agriculture — Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund; and a generous private donor. The project brought the first federal and state funds specifically for the purpose of purchasing an agricultural conservation easement to Madison County.

“SAHC is proud that we serve the community in this way,” added Hamilton. “ We competed for grants across the nation and the state to bring these resources to Madison County to protect this historic valley farm and scenic mountain grazing land.”

Part of a Farming Family

Robin and Betty Reeves (L to R)

Robin and Betty Reeves (L to R)

Robin and Betty Reeves are as incredible a pair of ladies as one will find in the hollers and hills of Sandy Mush. Robin considers herself lucky because as a teenager she was able to raise produce – like green beans – to sell to Ingles grocery stores for “spending money” instead of getting a job in fast food.

Robin continues the family tradition of raising cattle on the farm.

Robin continues the family tradition of raising cattle on the farm.

“Selling to Ingles as a teenager gave me confidence and the foundation to realize that I could succeed in a farm business,” she said. Her first forays into farming came even earlier. Starting around age 11 or 12, Robin showed cattle through 4-H at the Mountain State Fair, with the support of her parents. She quickly demonstrated a talent for it and regularly won awards until she aged out of the competition at 21.

“You have to do all the handling yourself,” she recalls, “Gentle them, groom and feed them, and get them calm enough to show in an arena, with the loudspeaker blaring and all the people and noise.”

Betty and Robin are still very much supporters of youth programs like the Future Farmers of America and 4-H. Betty emphasizes that it is important for our future to have both “people and the land to farm.”

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Why We Give

As 2015 draws to a close, we would like to thank all of our members, supporters, volunteers, and partners for everything you do to continue protecting the land and water resources of the Southern Appalachians in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee.

This year you have enabled the protection of incredible places, like a 318-acre mountain farm that has been in the same family over 160 years and a unique high-elevation 150-acre tract in the Highlands of Roan. Thank YOU!

We also want to thank you for sharing your stories and love for these very special mountains with us. From our membership events to written notes in the mail, from e-mail messages to conversations on guided hikes, we love hearing about the connections between people and land — and the myriad reasons why you all have chosen to support SAHC. We are humbly grateful for ALL the people who have made conservation in the Southern Appalachians possible, and look forward to many more exciting projects in the coming year.


family testimonial pieceWe’d also like to extend a special ‘thank you’ to the Barnhardt family, who have been passionate supporters of SAHC for years and who graciously shared this message about why they support local land and water conservation.

“To whom much is given, much is expected.  Luke 12:48

We have tried to raise our children with this bible verse in mind. God has gifted all of us with a beautiful world, including our treasured Appalachian Highlands.  We raised our 3 children hoping to inspire a love of nature and the outdoors.  Every summer we hiked trails in the Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains, traveled to waterfalls for swimming and sliding, and camped along mountain rivers where we went tubing, biking, fishing, and rock hopping.

Kids_max_mtnsWe also raised them to understand the importance of philanthropy, which is reflected in one of their favorite Christmas traditions. They are given an amount of money to donate to the organizations of their choosing. As they have gotten older (now 27, 25, and 20 years old), their gifts are more focused and thoughtful.  We are proud of their passion for donating to organizations they know make an important impact in our community and in our world.

When our children choose which organizations to give to every year, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) is always on the list. SAHC is a leader in protecting the beautiful world we’ve been gifted with and educating us on how important it is for us to care for it now for future generations. Without organizations like SAHC, all of the places where we had so much fun hiking, swimming, and camping while our children were growing up would gradually disappear. We are so happy our entire family believes in and supports an organization that is so committed to conservation.  After all, the beauty around us is a gift to appreciate and protect. That is the expectation!”

Tom and Kim Barnhardt
Jennifer, Emily and Lucas

 

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Protecting Farmland in Fairview

This year, SAHC protected 30 bottomland acres along the Drovers Road Scenic Byway in Fairview.

This year, SAHC protected 30 bottomland acres along the Drovers Road Scenic Byway in Fairview, including portions farmed by Bel Aire Farm and Flying Cloud Farm.

This year, SAHC protected a bucolic stretch of land along the Drovers’ Road Scenic Byway in Fairview. We placed 30 acres of fertile bottomland into conservation easements to safeguard the scenic vistas of the valley and working, productive agricultural land. The three adjoining tracts contain high percentages of nationally significant, prime agricultural soils, with portions actively farmed by Flying Cloud Farm and Bel Aire Farm.

“My Fairview farm holds special memories,” said landowner Popsie Lynch. “The land has been in my family for over 150 years. Over the years, this place provided home, livelihood, sustenance, and recreation for family and friends alike, offering opportunity to experience the outdoors and the beauty and tranquility of the mountains.”

Landowner Popsie Lynch is pleased that her land, which has been in the family for over 150 yeras, is now protected for future generations.

Landowner Popsie Lynch is pleased that her land, which has been in the family for over 150 yeras, is now protected for future generations.

These Fairview Bottomland tracts adjoin lands already in conservation easement with SAHC and near more than 1,500 protected acres in the region. 85-93% of these parcels contain nationally significant prime agricultural soils, primarily Statler loam, Toxaway loam, Rosman fine sandy loam, Rosman loam, and Dillard loam.  The concentration of nationally recognized prime soils on the parcels is extremely important.

Prime soils in the Appalachian Mountains are a rare and threatened resource — only 2% of the land mass consists of prime soils, and much of that has already been converted to some other use. Prime soils take thousands of years to form through the geologic processes of flooding, freezing and thawing. Because of these soils, the Fairview Bottomland farms qualified for highly competitive federal and state conservation funds.

The protected tracts contain a high percentage of prime, fertile soils.

The protected tracts contain a high percentage of prime, fertile soils.

The project was initiated by SAHC Fairview Project Director Mike Green, who moved to the area with his wife Sydney in 2005 and became inspired by the unique conservation values embodied in the lands along this stretch of 74A. Mike’s volunteer efforts and experience gave SAHC the capacity to pursue conservation on relatively small parcels by grouping tracts together in order to protect an uninterrupted landscape along the NC Scenic Byway.

“Ordinarily it is difficult to complete conservation easements on small parcels of 5-10 acres,” says Green. “Funders generally prefer larger parcels, and the amount of work – surveys, appraisals, creation of baseline reports, drafting the conservation easement, etc. – is the same as for larger parcels. The Fairview bottomland farms competed with farms across NC for federal and state conservation funds, but because of cooperative land owners and the packaging of projects in groups of 30 acres each SAHC has been able to permanently protect 60 acres of prime soil working farms in the Ashworth Creek basin over the past five years.”

The Fairview Bottomlands conservation projects were made possible with generous contributions by Fairview residents and others in WNC who wanted to support the permanent preservation of the valley, donations by the landowners, Buncombe County, and the Federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program of the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The conservation easements also protect 2,170 linear feet of Ashworth Creek and frontage along the NC Scenic Drovers Road Byway.

The conservation easements also protect 2,170 linear feet of Ashworth Creek.

These agricultural conservation easements also protect 2,170 linear feet of Ashworth Creek and frontage along the NC Scenic Drovers Road Byway. Having a well-vegetated, forested buffer along Ashworth Creek protects water quality and provides important wildlife habitat, including corridors or aquatic species, small mammals and migratory songbirds.

“We treasure the unspoiled beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains, the prime soils that continue to nourish crops and pastures, and the fields, streams, and woodlands that are home to varieties of plants and wildlife,” continued Lynch. “I am so grateful to the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy for helping preserve our magnificent mountain landscapes and rich agricultural resources. Doing so requires effort and commitment, and deserves support from us all. I am thankful to know that the views through this valley will remain as magical in the years to come as they are today, thanks to the work of SAHC.

AnnieandIsaiahPerkinson“A crucial element of any great farmland preservation effort is the people who work the land,” said William Hamilton, SAHC Farmland Program Director. “Isaiah and Annie Louise Perkinson of Flying Cloud Farm grow organically produced vegetables and fruits on two of the recently protected tracts. Their presence and hard work on the land is a testament of why protecting these tracts for continued agricultural use is important.”

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SAHC merchandise is now on Shopify!

blue_canning_frontCheck out our new Shopify gift shop, and help support our conservation work while you shop! Purchasing items from our gift shop helps spread awareness about our work — and we have designed a variety of find quality, locally-produced items. Check it out at: http://shop.appalachian.org/

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Ken and Lotta Murray: From DC to the AT, to the hills of TN

Ken and Lotta Murray

Ken and Lotta Murray

Ken and Lotta Murray have transitioned from the hustle-and-bustle of Washington, DC, to the quiet coves of mountainous East Tennessee, carving out an idyllic home and garden on a tract where Ken’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 160 years ago. Introduced to SAHC while managing one of our conservation easement properties, they have become committed philanthropic leaders and engaged members, frequently exploring the Southern Appalachians through our guided group hikes.

Ken Murray became acquainted with SAHC when his mother, Katharine Tilson Murray, had the foresight to permanently protect the family homeplace with a conservation easement in 1999. Since retiring to the land in Unicoi County, where he often vacationed as child, Ken and his wife Lotta have become passionate supporters of SAHC, joining our Gray’s Lily Leadership Circle and frequently participating in guided outings on our other protected tracts.

The Tilson homeplace occupies an expansive, bowl-shaped cove just south of Erwin, TN.

The Tilson homeplace occupies an expansive,
bowl-shaped cove just south of Erwin, TN.

After Ken retired from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC in 2011, he and Lotta hiked the Appalachian Trail together for six months.

“It was amazing, the most incredible thing I’ve ever done,” recalls Lotta. The timing was excellent. “It was a good transition, coming from the remote experience of hiking the Trail to live at the Tilson homeplace, which is also quiet and out-of-the-way. A simple lifestyle is what we wanted.”

Ken’s decision to return to the family homestead and enthusiasm for SAHC stem from summers exploring and adventuring in this wooded corner of TN.  Throughout childhood, he spent time on the property during school vacations.

Ken collects historic farm implements found on the tract, which provide a snapshot of the family’s life in years gone by.

Ken collects historic farm implements found on the tract, which provide a snapshot of the family’s life in years gone by.

“When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine why everyone in the world wouldn’t want to be here,” Ken said. He and a neighbor would trek through the creeks and cove. But it wasn’t all play — a framed photo in the farmhouse shows Ken as a youth, discing ground for the garden with a team of mules.  “For a kid growing up in the suburbs of Connecticut this was a really cool place,” he added. The experiences sparked a passion for the land that has only gotten stronger over the years.

In 1977, Ken began making improvements and repairs to the family homestead,  starting the process of land management. In recent years, he has worked to remove invasive species and address erosion issues on the property.

“We support the mission of SAHC because they’re helping us protect this land, and because of the very active hiking program,” notes Ken. We are grateful to Ken and Lotta for their ongoing support, and love seeing them on the trail!

The Tilson Homestead Farm, Unicoi TN

The road from NC to TN ran directly by the Tilson home. Travelers frequently stopped to rest, sharing perspectives on the wider world.

The road from NC to TN ran directly by the Tilson home. Travelers frequently stopped to rest, sharing perspectives on the wider world.

Recently painted and well cared-for, the Tilson farmhouse remains much as it appeared in the late 1880s.

Recently painted and well cared-for, the Tilson farmhouse remains much as it appeared in the late 1880s.

Growing up in a backwoods corner of Unicoi County wasn’t for the faint of heart – but having a main travel route run right by the doorstep could bring a new world of opportunity and excitement to the hearth.

With the main route between Jonesborough, TN and Asheville, NC, running right by the Tilson homestead, travelers – including influential politicians – would often stop to rest a for a night, sharing stories and perspectives of the outside world that nurtured the growing young minds of John Q. Tilson and his siblings. They grew up to have successful careers as doctors, teachers, a federal court judge, and leading US Congressman.

The subsistence farm had a springhouse, grain storage, and smokehouse familiar to many mountain homesteads from the late 1800s, all still standing. To assist with hardships suffered during the Great Depression, John Q., who had prospered as a lawyer, purchased the original homestead tract from his siblings. He often hosted gatherings for friends and family, and the land is now owned collectively by his descendents.

The original 2-story log cabin was relocated on the tract & reassembled as a 1-story structure.

The original 2-story log cabin was relocated on the tract & reassembled as a 1-story structure when the family built the 2-story white farmhouse in the late 1800s.

In the 1990s, his daughter, Katharine Tilson Murray, worked with SAHC to permanently protect  the 377-acre tract with a conservation easement.

“Placement of the conservation easement on this property, and providing for SAHC in her estate planning, enabled it to be preserved,” said Ken Murray. “My mother had a vision, and we are very grateful for that.”

Ken notes that as families grow, they typically divide their homestead into smaller and smaller pieces over time. “The conservation easement alleviates a lot of pressure on future generations because it has to be owned as one parcel,” adds Ken. The family plans to own and enjoy this property for many years to come.

John Q. Tilson

John Q. Tilson

John Q. Tilson

John Q. Tilson and siblings, with parents sitting in the front, center.

John Q. Tilson and siblings, with parents sitting in the front, center.

John Quillin Tilson, or John Q. as he was frequently known, served as a US Representative from Connecticut for almost 22 years and House Majority leader for six. He spent early life on the Tilson homestead. With roots tracing back to the Mayflower, Tilson’s family had migrated to the Nolichucky River and then to a secluded cove south of Erwin, TN.

“In this house, humble though quite the best in the community, entirely without the aid of doctors and nurses, were born eight children,” he remarked in a published account of The Tilson Family.

They lived in the existing log cabin on the property, until his father built the 2-story white farmhouse in 1879. Moving to New Haven, Connecticut, in later years, John Q. frequently returned to his birthplace, and festive gatherings on the homestead attracted influential leaders from across the area.

 

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“For Love of Beer & Mountains” Lost Cove Excursion

20150725_093647Late this summer, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Highland Brewing Company were joined by The Aloft Hotel, Altamont Environmental, Traveling Chic Boutique and USA Raft to explore Lost Cove, where SAHC protected a 95-acre tract in 2012. We hiked into the gorge and rafted the Nolichucky River while learning about the historical significance of the area.

The day began with a hike, to the crest of Flattop Mountain, passing through abundant fields of milkweed spread across the upper elevation meadow — a hopeful sign for Monarch butterflies.

IMG_2628After taking in beautiful, clear views from the top, we descended into the gorge. Hiking down the trail was like hiking a ‘boulder-fall’ ­— it appeared a bit like a waterfall, but instead of water, massive moss-covered rocks and boulders rippled one after another. They blanketed the path with rich textures and varying shades of green.

Upon reaching the edge of the abandoned community, the trail leveled out and our group felt as if we were walking back in time. Imaginations soared as we pondered what it would have been like, ‘once upon a time.’ The remoteness of the place affected us deeply. We explored and imagined, talking about how it might have felt to live so removed from the outside world. Lost Cove provided a great space for reflection.

20150725_114407Last year, with help from USA Raft, we led a successful “Raft Out the Trash” volunteer day, removing over a ton of garbage from the cove. We were gratified, and pleased, to see that the cleaned up areas had remained mostly clear. This trip, we picked up and removed just 3 small bags of litter.

untitled-1000483After exploring the area, we continued down the soil ‘road’ where the old-time moonshiners would have driven illicit goods to the river and railroad tracks. It was really just a crumbly soil path, strewn with boulders and hard to walk on. We couldn’t imagine navigating the route with any sort of vehicle. We reached the river and prepared for the final, waterborne leg of the outing.

The USA Raft guides were great — personable and capable — they definitely knew their way around the river. Even though the river was low, it was still a fun ride! We rafted down to take out at USA Raft’s outpost in Erwin, TN, where our Duke Stanback summer intern, Martha Dawson, had a picnic lunch spread and cold beverages laid out, awaiting our arrival.lost_cove_h

What a great way to end an incredible excursion! We enjoyed fellowship with partners on the trip, reflecting back on the events of the day. Thank you, USA Raft, for providing the space — and for guiding us down the river!

 

About the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership

HBC_logo_largerHighland Brewing Company  has partnered with SAHC to support conservation and heighten awareness of the natural treasures of the Southern Appalachians. As part of the partnership, HBC names each seasonal release for a feature of our natural landscape. Their latest seasonal, Lost Cove American Pale Ale, is named for this area.

Special Thanks to USA Raft

untitled-1000461USA Raft is based in Erwin, TN with another location in Marshall, NC. They offer whitewater rafting on the Nolichucky, French Broad and Watauga Rivers — plus some unique recreation opportunities such as wild caving, whitewater stand up paddleboard, kayak lessons and bellyak instruction. The Erwin location offers bunkhouse and cabin rentals, river frontage, stocked trout pond and Appalachian Trail access, all on the property.

USA raft“We are very proud of our relationship with such an active and wonderful organization,” said Matt Moses, USA Raft General Manager. “We specifically choose this group to support because it is full of people that are actively making our surroundings better for future generations. There have been many land acquisitions and projects close to both of our locations, including Lost Cove, that our staff and guests benefit from. We appreciate the opportunity to be a part of SAHC.”

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