The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) recently purchased 492 acres of land adjacent to the Asheville watershed, permanently protecting stunning vistas and watershed headwaters just 19 miles outside the city of Asheville. Preserving this Laurel Ridge property from potential future development also keeps intact a major portion of views from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Craggy Gardens Visitor Center.
“This acquisition is particularly exciting because the size and location of the property strengthens the protected landscape between the Asheville and Bee Tree watersheds,” says Carl Silverstein, Executive Director for SAHC. “This provides a positive impact on water quality as well as keen advantage in protecting wildlife habitat, forest quality, and other conservation values.”
Approximately 4 miles of streams exist on the property, including Laurel Branch, a significant tributary of the Swannanoa River. From the Asheville Watershed to Mount Mitchell, the Laurel Ridge property connects to an expansive network of protected land in the Black and Craggy Mountains. The property rises to 4800 feet in elevation, and contains hundreds of acres of high quality hardwood forest and several rare natural communities.
Funding for this project was made possible through a $1,499,000 grant from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF), the landowners’ donation of a significant portion of the land value, and the generosity of private donors, Fred and Alice Stanback. This major investment from the state CWMTF directly benefits the people of Western North Carolina by protecting clean water sources adjacent to public water supply watersheds.
“The exceptional conservation values on this land enabled us to receive a grant from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund toward the purchase of the property,” says Michelle Pugliese, Land Protection Director for SAHC. “With the major changes to the state budget over the past two years, this grant marks a significant commitment by the state during these tough economic times. We are extraordinarily grateful for these public and private partnerships, and the tenacity of everyone involved in this project over the past three years, to help us achieve protection of this special landscape.”
Simultaneous with SAHC’s purchase of the property, the organization conveyed a permanent conservation easement to the State of NC. SAHC will own and manage the property for the long term as a nature preserve.
This project is one of the latest success stories in SAHC’s long history as one of the region’s oldest and most respected land trusts. SAHC is one of only nine accredited land trusts in the state of NC. Through innovative and creative partnerships, the generosity of committed donors, and support from a loyal base of members & volunteers, SAHC has protected 49,846 acres since the organization’s incorporation in 1974.
This year, SAHC has accomplished 11 remarkable land conservation projects, including permanently protecting land for recreation near the Appalachian Trail, working & historic farmlands, rare & endangered species habitat, clean water sources, and viewsheds which help draw seasonal populations contributing to economic development in the region.
“We are fortunate in having the committed support of conservation-minded donors and landowners interested in voluntary conservation,” says Silverstein. “We have been able to leverage this support with careful & strategic planning processes to successfully complete several truly impressive projects, despite the economic recession.”