Conservation Success in Avery County: 199 More Acres Protected in the Highlands of Roan!

View of Burleson Bald from the Avery County airfield.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently added 199 more acres of protected land within the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area planning boundary through a land purchase.  Located along the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, the Highlands of Roan project has been SAHC’s top priority since its founding in 1974.  Since then, SAHC has led an effort to protect nearly 19,000 acres in the landscape.  Other key partners working in the landscape include The Nature Conservancy, state parks agencies in North Carolina and Tennessee, the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service.

Located in a rural part of southern Avery County, this property on Burleson Bald adjoins land previously purchased by SAHC and also land SAHC has transferred to the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.  The addition of this tract creates a 740-acre swath of contiguous protected lands. The property is within the Yellow Mountain/ Raven Cliffs Significant Natural Heritage Area and much of it lies within a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area.  Acquisition of this property also protects the viewshed from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s North Toe River managed overlook.

A large band of rock outcrops called Wildcat Cliffs extends along the northern property boundary, which provides den sites for both large and small mammals. Northern hardwood forests and rich cove forests are also present on the property, features recognized as habitat for unique plants and animals.  The North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan targets these forest community types for inclusion in the inventory of protected lands in the state.

The property is also home to several plant species that are listed on the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) watch list. Among these are red ramps, bloodroot, and brook saxifrage. The large leaf waterleaf and Carolina saxifrage, two species that are considered significantly rare, are also abundant on the property.

SAHC’s Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese celebrated the purchase while acknowledging that land acquisition efforts have changed in response to the difficult economic climate.  “We are still able to purchase land because we have committed members and donors who recognize that this may be the best time we’ll ever see for executing deals at low prices,” she said.  “We have to be very disciplined and strategic because the public funding sources are in trouble right now, but our priorities have not changed.  We look for the best values on the lands with the most conservation merit in the world’s oldest mountains.  We’re very busy working on donated land easements right now, and we will continue to look for ways to secure land through purchase when we have the opportunity, especially in our flagship project area.”
The headwaters of White Oak Creek originate within the property’s boundaries and drain south and southeast into the North Toe River less than a quarter of a mile from the property.  The North Toe River and its tributaries, including White Oak Creek, are considered class WS – V/Tr waters, meaning that they support both wild and hatchey trout populations.

“Purchasing this property means the conservation values will be maintained in perpetuity,” according to SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein.  “Not only does this success protect headwater streams and plant and animal habitat, it also conserves the scenic beauty that visitors and locals experience when they head north on 19-E to visit the Highlands of Roan.”  He added. “We’re very excited about the progress we have made in this part of Avery County.”

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