Land Protection Updates

7-acre Carvers Gap Inholding Protected

horner4At the end of December we purchased a 7-acre inholding surrounded by protected land just below Carvers Gap in the Highlands of Roan. The tract adjoins an SAHC preserve and Pisgah National Forest. Although small in acreage, it was a high conservation priority because of its location and visibility from the Appalachian Trail at Round Bald and Jane Bald.

“People often ask if SAHC has a minimum acreage requirement for land protection projects,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “This is an excellent example of a small property with large conservation benefits.”

horner3“Surrounded by permanently protected land, these seven acres were essentially an ‘inholding’ — the type of property people seek out for private residential development,” continued Pugliese. “This tract was the closest unprotected land to Carvers Gap, the public access to the Highlands of Roan and the Appalachian Trail. In buying this property, we carry forward our organization’s roots of protecting the Roan and preserving views from the Appalachian Trail.”

horner2Dominated by northern hardwood forest, the tract rises to an elevation of 5,220 ft. and has 435 ft. of road frontage on Highway 261, the route to the Carvers Gap parking area. The property lies within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area and the state-designated Roan Massif Natural Area. Two tributaries of Johns Camp Branch flow through the parcel; Johns Camp Branch empties into Fall Creek, which is classified as High Quality Waters and Trout Waters.

“We are deeply grateful to Fred and Alice Stanback for making a generous contribution which made this acquisition possible,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “Our purchase of this tract means that one more critical piece of the Roan landscape will never be developed.”

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146-acre Little Creek Headwaters Property — Protected!

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Tributary of Little Creek, photo by Owen Carson of Equinox Environmental.

Today we purchased 146 acres in Bald Creek Valley in the Crabtree Community of Haywood County — a beautiful, forested cove with streams running through it, now conserved for future generations.

“This high-elevation, relatively untouched forest — once slated for development — will now be permanently protected,” said Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “I’m so excited to have worked on protecting this land in Bald Creek Valley, one of the most beautiful rural valleys in the area. It’s just stunning!”

Little Creek Headwaters was a high conservation priority because it is a large tract that expands the growing network of lands protected by SAHC in Haywood County, adjacent to Sandy Mush. Once marked for the second phase development of a gated community, the tract rises to 4,280 ft in elevation and contains a variety of microclimates. The headwaters of Little Creek, which flows into Bald Creek, originate on the property.

The land is entirely forested — predominantly Appalachian oak forest with small areas of cove forest and hemlock forest. Little to no evidence of invasive species has been observed — making it a “gem” in the area.

“This property is remarkably free from the slow creep of invasive species that has become more common throughout the region,” added Pugliese. “It is a new anchor of protected land that SAHC is actively working to expand in this area.”

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Bedrock/boulder outcrop on the property, photo by Owen Carson of Equinox Environmental.

There is a wide range of elevations on the property, one of the factors that contributes to resiliency for climate change. It ranks “above average” for climate change resiliency with the Open Space Institute’s Southern Blue Ridge Focus Area.

“I’m extremely proud of the completion of this project,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We are grateful to Brad and Shelli Stanback for making a donation to SAHC to acquire this significant swath of forested land for conservation.”

We plan to own and manage the property as a preserve for the long term, and explore potential future use for our outreach program.

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Vote for us to win $10,000 for conservation!

Land is My Gateway
Our AmeriCorps Roan Highlands Volunteer & Outreach member, Travis Bordley, has put together a FANTASTIC video about the meaning of our mountains —“Land is My Gateway.” 
Please check it out with the link below, and please vote for his video in the Land Trust Alliance video contest for a chance that SAHC could win $10,000 for our conservation work!! 
Each person can vote for ONE video PER DAY, so save this link and keep voting to help us win. And, please help us spread the word. This is a wonderful, and fun, opportunity to get people involved in conservation and help fund the continued protection of these magnificent mountains!
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Big Rock Creek Donation

bigrockcreekmapInspired 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

kendavisKen 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. “        

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Big Yellow Mountain

This acquisition continues our conservation efforts in the stunning Roaring Creek Valley area, near Big Yellow Mountain and Little Hump Mountain. Photo courtesy Southwings.

This acquisition continues our conservation efforts in the stunning Roaring Creek Valley area, near Big Yellow Mountain and Little Hump Mountain. Photo courtesy Southwings.

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.”

The property contains forest habitat and boulder fields with seeps and springs that feed into Roaring Creek.

The property contains forest habitat and boulder fields with seeps and springs that feed into Roaring Creek.

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.

bigyellowmap“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.

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Cold Mountain – 162 Acres Protected!

Cold Mtn Vicinity_Topo_DixCreek landscape 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.

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The tract is heavily wooded, with an exceptional variety of forest communities.

“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.

Southern Pygmy Salamander, photo by Chris Wilson, Conservation Ecology LLC

Southern Pygmy Salamander, photo by Chris Wilson, Conservation Ecology LLC

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.

Timber Rattlesnake, photo by Chris Wilson, Conservation Ecology LLC

Timber Rattlesnake, photo by Chris Wilson, Conservation Ecology LLC

“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.

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SAHC helps Rocky Fork State Park acquire tract for public access

 

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Rocky Fork Creek

Mist rising in the Rocky Fork watershed.

Mist rising in the Rocky Fork watershed.

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.”

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Hiking along Rocky Fork Creek.

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.

David Ramsey (right) leads an SAHC guided group hike into Rocky Fork.

David Ramsey (right) leads an SAHC guided group hike into Rocky Fork.

“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.”

Yonahlossee salamander, photo courtesy David A. Ramsey.

Yonahlossee salamander, photo courtesy David A. Ramsey.

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.

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Cold Mountain Game Lands Assist

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Newly protected Caldwell Tract, adjoining the Cold Mountain Game Lands in SAHC’s Balsam Mountains Focus Area.

We assisted the NC Wildlife Resources Commission in purchasing a 64-acre tract adjoining the Cold Mountain Game Lands near Lake Logan.

The forested tract, formerly owned by the Caldwell family, adjoins the Cold Mountain Game Lands and Significant Natural Heritage Areas, ranging in elevation from 3,400 – 4,000 feet.

It was purchased by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NC WRC) for addition to the Cold Mountain Game Lands.  Ownership by the state agency will help reduce land fragmentation and ensure that this area is protected and properly managed.

SAHC and NC WRC staff visit the property.

SAHC and NC WRC staff visit the property.

Timber on the property includes large yellow poplar, oak, and black cherry trees, and common wildlife species found on the tract include grouse, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, black bear, various songbirds, salamanders, and small mammals.

Protection of this tract was made possible through the partnership of SAHC and NC WRC. We assisted in the purchase by raising 25% of the purchase price through private philanthropic gifts.

The property will be open to the public for recreational opportunities, including hunting, hiking, bird-watching, and photography.

SAHC’s Land Protection in the Cold Mountain Area

Our assistance in helping NC WRC acquire this tract for the Cold Mountain Game Lands is part of ongoing conservation efforts in our Balsam Mountains Focus Area. The Balsam Mountains contain some of the most recognized public lands in the Southern Appalachians, including the Shining Rock Wilderness, Cold Mountain Game Lands and Mount Pisgah.  They are a biodiversity hotspot and critical wildlife corridor between the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, characterized by fertile cove forests, rich species diversity, and hardwood forests.  IMG_3724

Since 1999, we have protected nearly 11,000 acres in this area.

We hold conservation easements on more than 800 acres on Crawford Creek on the east side of Cold Mountain adjoining the Shining Rock Wilderness and the  8,000-acre Waynesville watershed (co-held with the Conservation Trust for NC).

SAHC is committed for the long haul to protecting more tracts in this iconic location.

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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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