2016 NC Land Trust Assembly Rising Conservation Leader of the Year: Hanni Muerdter
At the 2016 Land Trust Assembly in Raleigh in May, North Carolina’s 24 local land trusts announced annual awards for five conservation leaders, including our Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director, Hanni Muerdter!
Hanni started her career as a Project Conserve AmeriCorps Member in western North Carolina and continued her career by joining the staff at SAHC. She has made an impact in her current position by strengthening our land and easement stewardship program through the creation of modern policies and procedures that will ensure our easements will last.
Hanni is chair of the Blue Ridge Forever Conservation Committee; she has served in this role since 2010. She leads development of meeting agendas and facilitates knowledge-sharing among land protection and stewardship staff of 10 land trusts in WNC, which in turn enhances the capacity of these organizations to respond to an ever-changing conservation landscape. As Committee Chair she led the development of Blue Ridge Forever’s region-wide conservation vision with discreet
focus areas, and is currently updating that tool as the coalition moves into its second decade.
“Hanni’s dedication and approach to conservation are inspiring. She regularly takes on responsibilities well beyond expectations, manages her ever-more-complex workload with calm focus, and approaches every interaction with empathy. Inspiring, understanding, hard-working, and forward-thinking – these are all characteristics of a good leader, and Hanni embodies each,” said Jessica Laggis, Director of Blue Ridge Forever.
Hanni is an active member in the Asheville community. She is the past Chair of the Board of Directors of Jubilee Community Church. Under her leadership and organizational skills the church was able to create a more formal framework, which will guide the church into the future. She is also an accomplished actress in the local theater.
Inspired by our conservation work in the Highlands of Roan, landowner Ken Davis recently donated 47 acres to SAHC. The property adjoins Pisgah National Forest and our Big Rock Creek preserve, which we purchased in 2014, thus filling an important gap in the protected landscape.
Visible from the Appalachian Trail, the tract contains important forest habitat and headwater resources. Forest types include Appalachian hemlock hardwood forest, Appalachian oak forest, and southern Appalachian montane pine forest. The property contains a portion of Dave Branch stream and a headwater stream for Big Rock Creek, which flows into the North Toe River. These waterways are designated Wild Trout Streams by the NC Division of Water Quality.
Fred and Alice Stanback made a generous gift to support transaction costs and long-term stewardship of the donated land. We plan to own and manage the property as a preserve for the long term.
Landowner Perspective: Ken Davis
Ken Davis bought this property in 1991 after several years of service as a park ranger. He and his wife settled in the area to teach at Lees-McCrae College. His motivation in purchasing the property was driven by a love of parks, and the couple have worked to reestablish native species on the property to allow it to return to its natural state.
“I decided to donate the land because SAHC represents a trans-generational effort by courageous people who love the land as much as I do and use the best conservation science they can muster to arrest the destruction of magnificent places of refuge,” says Ken.
“As has been illustrated many times in history, wilderness has been a most effective refuge. Though some of the land in this area of the Southern Appalachians is suitable for farming and other activities, I believe the best use for much of it is what it once was — wilderness. Due to the loss of many species, such as the chestnut, it can never be exactly the same, but some of it can become once more a sublime refuge. When asked what the steep, “unbuildable” land is good for, I often reply that it is good for ‘howling wilderness.’
I hope that our donation will provide a one-inch increment of the thousand-mile journey to return to wilderness in the Southern Appalachians. “
We purchased 70 acres on Big Yellow Mountain in the Highlands of Roan, located just 2,500 ft from the Appalachian Trail. Adjoining Pisgah National Forest, conservation lands held by the State of NC, and other SAHC-protected properties, the forested high-elevation tract is visible from the Overmountain Shelter on the AT.
“This acquisition was a high conservation priority because of the property’s location on the biologically sensitive and stunning scenic slopes of Big Yellow Mountain near the Appalachian Trail,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It was the highest elevation, privately-owned unprotected tract between Grassy Ridge and Bradley Gap.”
Elevations on the property range from 4,440 feet to 5,380 feet above msl.
It contains rare beech gap forest and high elevation boulder fields with seeps and springs that form headwater tributaries of Roaring Creek. The entire property is within the state-designated Big Yellow Mountain Natural Area and the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. Nesting Golden-winged Warblers have been identified in areas surrounding the tract.
In addition to protecting high elevation habitat and clean water sources, this acquisition helps preserve the sense of solitude for hikers and backpackers in the Roan.
“The tract is very visible from the Overmountain Shelter on the AT,” continued Pugliese. “This 2-story, red barn shelter is one of the most iconic and beloved of all the shelters along the Trail, and it would have been devastating to hikers’ experiences if homes were built on this land. Now that SAHC has purchased these acres, that will never happen.”
We are deeply grateful to Fred and Alice Stanback for making a generous contribution which made this acquisition possible.
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.
“We are deeply grateful to Fred and Alice Stanback for making a generous contribution which made this acquisition possible,” said SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein.
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.
Have you visited our Community Farm in Alexander, NC? We have THREE great opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks!
Land Trust Day Hike
Date: Saturday, June 4
Time: 10 am
Difficulty: Easy (2)
Cost: Free for SAHC members; $10 for non-members. Pre-registration is required
Join us for a moderately easy, family-friendly guided tour along the Discovery Trail at the SAHC Community Farm in Alexander. Along the way, you will learn about the various projects under way at the farm, including our Farmer Incubator Program. We will walk through active farming areas, see the successfully restored streams flowing through the property, discuss our shortleaf pine restoration project, and give you a preview of our newly renovated education facility. We will accomplish all of this in plenty of time for you to return to town to shop and enjoy lunch at one of the businesses participating in Land Trust Day.
Optional: You may bring a lunch and blanket or camp chairs and enjoy a picnic on the farm following the hike.
For more info or to register, contact Haley Smith at 828.253.0095 ext. 205 or email@example.com. Directions and additional details will be provided after registration.
Community Farm Workshop: Protecting Your Biggest Asset on the Farm, Your Body
SAHC Community Farm, Alexander, NC
Date: Sunday, June 5
Time: 2 – 4 pm
Cost: Sliding scale $10 – $20 at the door
Presented by SAHC in partnership with Jamie Davis of A Way of Life Farm. During this workshop you will learn the most beneficial & efficient ways to move while performing various tasks on and off the farm to prevent injury and keep your body pain-free. We will cover manual task and machine task movement while thinking about how we use different body parts like the neck, shoulders, knees, back and wrists. All are welcome; this information is relevant to anyone who gets out of bed in the morning!
To register to attend, email Chris Link at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the co-presenter: Jamie and Sara Jane Davis started A Way of Life Farm in January 2009 in Bostic, NC where they grow 2 acres of organic vegetables and raise organically fed non-gmo pork. Due to an injury earlier in his life Jamie found that attention to body movement and a daily practice of yoga on the farm was the way to sustain his work.
Community Farm Workshop: Pasture Walk – Invasive Plant ID, Control and Removal
SAHC Community Farm, Alexander, NC
Date: Thursday, June 9
Time: 5 – 6:30 pm
Presented by SAHC in partnership with NC Cooperative Extension . During this workshop we will take a walk through the SAHC Community Farm pastures. We will identify invasive species and discuss control methods, desirable and undesirable forages, soil testing and overall pasture health. This will be a Q & A walk-about so everyone is welcome to bring their questions! If you own and or manage land this will be a worthwhile and informative workshop.
To register to attend, email Chris Link at email@example.com.
Join us in celebrating 42 years of conservation in our community!
Because of you — our dedicated members, volunteers, and community supporters — we can continue protecting the special places we all love.
IF you are a current SAHC member and cannot attend the Appalachian Spring celebration, please take a moment to submit this online Proxy Form. As part of the event, the membership will elect nominees to the SAHC Board of Trustees.
Event Ticket Price includes: Small plates, one drink ticket, music and fellowship.
Purchase your tickets early to save!
At the door: $40 for everyone.
You can purchase raffle tickets online now or during the event. We have a wide selection of exciting prizes to choose from, and proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets will go to support our conservation work.
Thank you to our Event Sponsors!
- Buddy Tignor
To become an event sponsor or donate raffle items, contact Cheryl Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.253.0095 ext 209.
Today we celebrate Earth Day with the closing of an exciting new project which will enable more people to learn about and enjoy the incredible Rocky Fork region!
We worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to purchase a 1-acre tract to facilitate public access for Rocky Fork State Park.
“This 1-acre tract is a critical acquisition because it contains the only public access into Rocky Fork State Park,” said SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We are proud to have been able to work with the State of Tennessee and other partners over the past decade to conserve the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed. This recent acquisition is an integral part of these efforts, as it will afford public access for visitors to enjoy trails and trout streams in this stunning area.”
Rocky Fork State Park lies within a half mile of the Appalachian Trail and contains a system of existing and planned public trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, including a future connection to the Appalachian Trail. The park also contains pristine mountain streams, including Rocky Fork Creek, Flint Creek, South Indian Creek and the headwaters of Long Branch. The main branch of Rocky Fork, designated as a TN Exceptional Stream, flows through the recently acquired 1-acre tract. These streams are home to native Southern Appalachian Brook Trout and are available to the public for fishing.
The 2,036-acre State Park, together with approximately 8,000 adjoining acres now owned by the US Forest Service, comprise the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed. SAHC worked from 2006-2012 to protect this iconic area, in partnership with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), The Conservation Fund (TCF), the State of Tennessee, the U.S. Forest Service, and other public and private partners. The Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund provided $6 million for the State of Tennessee to acquire the land for the Park, which was officially designated Tennessee’s 55th State Park in October 2012.
“The partnership between the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Tennessee State Parks has been pivotal to preserve and protect the unique and critical tracts of land in the southern Appalachian Mountains,” said Park Manager Jesse Germeraad. “This 1-acre tract is very important, because it provides Rocky Fork State Park, visitors, and Appalachian National Scenic Trail hikers access to the beautiful and pristine natural and historical resources Rocky Fork State Park and the Cherokee National Forest has to offer in the Rocky Fork Watershed. We are looking forward to the continued support and partnership we have with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.”
Several federally listed endangered species can be found within Rocky Fork State Park. The diverse cove forest is home to the Peregrine Falcon, the Yonahlossee Salamander, and the Woodland Jumping Mouse, as well as many native wildflowers. The property is also part of the Unicoi Bear Sanctuary and lies within an Audubon Important Bird Area.
Currently there is very limited parking. Long-term goals for the newly acquired 1-acre parcel at the Park entrance include improvements for an expanded parking area and visitor center.
Conservation doesn’t end with recording a land protection document. Stewardship of protected lands extends in perpetuity, and sometimes requires remediation of past problems for a property. Dedicated East TN State Univ. students responded to our call for a “Service Saturday”, helping clean up debris from illicit dumping on a protected, historic TN property.
The benefits of working with these student volunteers extended far beyond the impressive mountains of trash pulled out of waterways and forests. Through our partnership, the students glimpsed some of the challenges of managing natural resources — in this case, hundreds of acres bordered by a public road.
During the workday, volunteers tackled heaps of trash and debris that for decades had been dumped from cars on the public route encircling the 377-acre cove. Illegally-dumped debris had accumulated in gullies and on hillsides of this secluded corner in Unicoi County, which features the historic homestead of US House Representative and majority leader John Q. Tilson.
Landowners and caretakers Ken and Lotta Murray have been steadily reducing these debris piles for years, but the situation required a concerted effort to make a big impact.
By the end of the day, our trash-removal efforts overflowed a dumpster-trailer, a second trailer bed, and a truck bed. Our team of ten removed a total of 1,300 pounds of assorted trash and debris from the conservation easement property, along with a number of tires — including one from a Model-T Ford.
Impressed by their impact, the students began talking about organizing other cleanups on campus and in the region. It is empowering to tackle a problem with such a visible result, and that empowerment is contagious!
The Highlands of Roan are home to some of the most unique and globally rare ecosystems in the world, including montane grassy balds and spruce-fir communities. The Highlands are also one of the richest repositories of biodiversity in the southern Appalachians and support many rare plant and animal populations, including both state and federally-listed species. SAHC and our partners recognize that as recreational uses in the Roan increase, so does the importance of educating users about environmentally conscientious hiking and camping practices. Last summer, SAHC and our partners took a step toward doing just that by building an educational kiosk at the entrance to the Trail on Round Bald, near the popular Carvers Gap access.
The construction of this kiosk was made possible by the cooperation of many partners. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Tennessee license plate grant program provided SAHC with funds for purchasing the bulk of building materials. The US Forest Service, Pisgah National Forest constructed the kiosks, and the Cherokee National Forest created the posters. Eastman Chemical Company donated Spectar© UV-resistant plastic to cover the posters. The final installation and gravel work was completed by volunteers from SAHC and Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club.
We hope the kiosk will be a helpful educational resource and we look forward to working with all of our partners on future educational projects in the Roan!