Last week, SAHC hosted work days with Americorps Project Conserve Members on two of our significant properties in Minneapolis and Alexander, North Carolina.
Americorps Project Conserve Members have had an integral role with SAHC for the last six years, helping to accomplish goals and fill positions that SAHC would not normally have the resources for. While SAHC has four members who work full-time for eleven months, there are also 28 other Project Conserve Members who work in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee at land trusts and other non-profits. The two workdays enabled SAHC to work with almost all of the talented and passionate individuals within the Project Conserve program.
The workdays on SAHC easements were great opportunities for almost all of the Project Conserve members to see some of the beautiful pieces of land that have been protected and for members to participate in making a physical difference in the ecological landscape of western North Carolina.
As many SAHC members are aware, the golden-winged warbler, found in the Highlands of Roan, is facing the possibility of extinction. In response, the workday in Minneapolis, NC was devoted to creating additional habitat space for this incredible bird. Americorps members hiked up to Little Hump mountain under the leadership of SAHC’s seasonal ecologist, Chris Coxen, to restore the endangered grassy bald habitat. The golden-winged warbler relies on these early successional environments, such as abandoned farmsteads at high elevations, like that found in the grassy balds in Minneapolis, NC.
Americorps members worked hard to move timber and chopped down limbs, creating “windrows,” which provide a microhabitat for insects and small mammals. This process helps protect all organisms involved in this particular ecosystem as insects get eaten by wildlife, small mammals receive cover from predators and the elements, and the wood gets neatly stacked instead of spread across the mountain.
“It is great to work with like-minded young people who are so dedicated to conservation. They selflessly give to improve the world around them, injecting much needed excitement and new approaches to ongoing problems in the process,” points out the workday leader Coxen.
The other Service Day was led by former Americorps member and current SAHC employee, Allison Kiehl and SAHC Farmland Protection Director, William Hamilton. The goal of this project was to begin the cleanup process on a run-down but still functional farm in Alexander, NC.
The property lies just 15 minutes to the north and west of Asheville and is within the Newfound Creek watershed, an impaired waterway as identified by NC DWQ. Years of timbering and mismanaged cattle grazing have severely degraded the pastures, forests, and waterways of this property. SAHC has begun restoring the agricultural and conservation values of the property and are undertaking a large stream restoration project that will result in significant habitat and water quality improvement. SAHC is also working to improve agricultural management of the land and will eventually establish the property as a model farm for educational purposes.
The work day started with Americorps members arriving to a huge burn pile and plenty of wood to be split. The group worked hard all day, chainsawing and splitting wood, moving brush and downed branches to the burn pile, and transporting the firewood into a protected area for future use. By the end of the day, Anderson Farm looked in much better shape and is now well on its way to becoming a model for educational purposes.
Kiehl explains, “The AmeriCorps work days are a huge help to SAHC staff and the organization as a whole. At the Anderson Farm, we were able to get done in a matter of hours what would have taken a few days to accomplish without the volunteers. It was not easy work, but they all kept a positive attitude and were helpful throughout the entire day.”