Posts Tagged With: Conservation

Ken and Lotta Murray: From DC to the AT, to the hills of TN

Ken and Lotta Murray

Ken and Lotta Murray

Ken and Lotta Murray have transitioned from the hustle-and-bustle of Washington, DC, to the quiet coves of mountainous East Tennessee, carving out an idyllic home and garden on a tract where Ken’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 160 years ago. Introduced to SAHC while managing one of our conservation easement properties, they have become committed philanthropic leaders and engaged members, frequently exploring the Southern Appalachians through our guided group hikes.

Ken Murray became acquainted with SAHC when his mother, Katharine Tilson Murray, had the foresight to permanently protect the family homeplace with a conservation easement in 1999. Since retiring to the land in Unicoi County, where he often vacationed as child, Ken and his wife Lotta have become passionate supporters of SAHC, joining our Gray’s Lily Leadership Circle and frequently participating in guided outings on our other protected tracts.

The Tilson homeplace occupies an expansive, bowl-shaped cove just south of Erwin, TN.

The Tilson homeplace occupies an expansive,
bowl-shaped cove just south of Erwin, TN.

After Ken retired from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC in 2011, he and Lotta hiked the Appalachian Trail together for six months.

“It was amazing, the most incredible thing I’ve ever done,” recalls Lotta. The timing was excellent. “It was a good transition, coming from the remote experience of hiking the Trail to live at the Tilson homeplace, which is also quiet and out-of-the-way. A simple lifestyle is what we wanted.”

Ken’s decision to return to the family homestead and enthusiasm for SAHC stem from summers exploring and adventuring in this wooded corner of TN.  Throughout childhood, he spent time on the property during school vacations.

Ken collects historic farm implements found on the tract, which provide a snapshot of the family’s life in years gone by.

Ken collects historic farm implements found on the tract, which provide a snapshot of the family’s life in years gone by.

“When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine why everyone in the world wouldn’t want to be here,” Ken said. He and a neighbor would trek through the creeks and cove. But it wasn’t all play — a framed photo in the farmhouse shows Ken as a youth, discing ground for the garden with a team of mules.  “For a kid growing up in the suburbs of Connecticut this was a really cool place,” he added. The experiences sparked a passion for the land that has only gotten stronger over the years.

In 1977, Ken began making improvements and repairs to the family homestead,  starting the process of land management. In recent years, he has worked to remove invasive species and address erosion issues on the property.

“We support the mission of SAHC because they’re helping us protect this land, and because of the very active hiking program,” notes Ken. We are grateful to Ken and Lotta for their ongoing support, and love seeing them on the trail!

The Tilson Homestead Farm, Unicoi TN

The road from NC to TN ran directly by the Tilson home. Travelers frequently stopped to rest, sharing perspectives on the wider world.

The road from NC to TN ran directly by the Tilson home. Travelers frequently stopped to rest, sharing perspectives on the wider world.

Recently painted and well cared-for, the Tilson farmhouse remains much as it appeared in the late 1880s.

Recently painted and well cared-for, the Tilson farmhouse remains much as it appeared in the late 1880s.

Growing up in a backwoods corner of Unicoi County wasn’t for the faint of heart – but having a main travel route run right by the doorstep could bring a new world of opportunity and excitement to the hearth.

With the main route between Jonesborough, TN and Asheville, NC, running right by the Tilson homestead, travelers – including influential politicians – would often stop to rest a for a night, sharing stories and perspectives of the outside world that nurtured the growing young minds of John Q. Tilson and his siblings. They grew up to have successful careers as doctors, teachers, a federal court judge, and leading US Congressman.

The subsistence farm had a springhouse, grain storage, and smokehouse familiar to many mountain homesteads from the late 1800s, all still standing. To assist with hardships suffered during the Great Depression, John Q., who had prospered as a lawyer, purchased the original homestead tract from his siblings. He often hosted gatherings for friends and family, and the land is now owned collectively by his descendents.

The original 2-story log cabin was relocated on the tract & reassembled as a 1-story structure.

The original 2-story log cabin was relocated on the tract & reassembled as a 1-story structure when the family built the 2-story white farmhouse in the late 1800s.

In the 1990s, his daughter, Katharine Tilson Murray, worked with SAHC to permanently protect  the 377-acre tract with a conservation easement.

“Placement of the conservation easement on this property, and providing for SAHC in her estate planning, enabled it to be preserved,” said Ken Murray. “My mother had a vision, and we are very grateful for that.”

Ken notes that as families grow, they typically divide their homestead into smaller and smaller pieces over time. “The conservation easement alleviates a lot of pressure on future generations because it has to be owned as one parcel,” adds Ken. The family plans to own and enjoy this property for many years to come.

John Q. Tilson

John Q. Tilson

John Q. Tilson

John Q. Tilson and siblings, with parents sitting in the front, center.

John Q. Tilson and siblings, with parents sitting in the front, center.

John Quillin Tilson, or John Q. as he was frequently known, served as a US Representative from Connecticut for almost 22 years and House Majority leader for six. He spent early life on the Tilson homestead. With roots tracing back to the Mayflower, Tilson’s family had migrated to the Nolichucky River and then to a secluded cove south of Erwin, TN.

“In this house, humble though quite the best in the community, entirely without the aid of doctors and nurses, were born eight children,” he remarked in a published account of The Tilson Family.

They lived in the existing log cabin on the property, until his father built the 2-story white farmhouse in 1879. Moving to New Haven, Connecticut, in later years, John Q. frequently returned to his birthplace, and festive gatherings on the homestead attracted influential leaders from across the area.


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Ivy Creek: 102-acre conservation easement in Madison County


The farm at Ivy Creek is permanently protected for future agricultural use.

Chancellor Emerita of UNC Asheville Anne Ponder and her husband Chris Brookhouse have protected their 102-acre property in Madison County with a conservation easement, preserving pastoral and forest land for future generations.

“A convergence of truly great Asheville folks led us to establish a conservation easement on our property in Madison County.  Last year we were inspired by the creation of the McCullough Institute at UNC Asheville, created by the late Charles McCullough and his wife Shirley Anne to research conservation and sustainability. At an event announcing the Institute, financial advisor Michael Andry of Wells Fargo Private Bank introduced me to Carl Silverstein — and our conversations turned to action.

IvyCreek_mapI worked with Carl, Michael, and Farmland Director William Hamilton to place 102 acres of our property, acquired in 1995, into a conservation easement. My husband Chris Brookhouse and I knew that if we didn’t protect our farm and forest land now, its beauty and proximity to Asheville could provide an irresistible opportunity for future development.

Born in Asheville, I have had the great good fortune to return to this remarkable place, becoming chancellor of UNC Asheville in 2005. The natural beauty of our mountains is an asset for the environment, for prolonging the biodiversity of flora and fauna in our region, for preserving farm land, and for the sanity and grace that a walk in the woods or a view of the blue hills gives us. Because we placed our property in a conservation easement, generations to come will have the advantages which this natural beauty  affords.

We are grateful for each of the people we worked with along the way, as we pursue a  stewardship plan for our conservation easement in the years ahead.”

— Landowner Perspective by Anne Ponder

The conservation easement also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

The conservation easement also protects water quality in the French Broad River watershed.

Visible from the French Broad River, Ivy Creek farm is characteristic of Madison County’s rural landscape, with open pasture ridge tops and steep wooded slopes. The tract is approximately 30% pasture, grazed by cattle, and 70% forest, with a variety of forest types and mixed hardwoods.
The property contains seeps, springs, streams and water courses of high water quality, including Ivy Creek and unnamed tributaries of the creek, which flows into the French Broad River. Permanently protecting the tract preserves water quality, future agricultural use, open space, and wildlife habitat on a parcel that could otherwise have become a fairly dense development.

Concerned about this potential for future development, the landowners donated the conservation easement and made a gift toward future stewardship of the tract.

“We are grateful to Anne and Chris for their foresight in realizing the potential vulnerability of this property, and for proactively working with SAHC to protect the scenic value as well as water and agricultural resources of the farm,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein.

Conservation of the Ivy Creek farm was made possible by a Mountain Revolving Land Fund Mini-Grant from the Conservation Trust for NC and a gift from private donors, to cover the transaction costs of the project. Anne and Chris will continue to live and farm on the property, with the peace of mind that it has been permanently protected from development.

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Black Soldier Fly Digester Build Workshop


Black soldier flies are native, non-pest species that can help digest garden waste and provide a food source for small livestock.

“Black Soldier Fly” — the name resonates with fear and dread, and perhaps even conjures an image of winged, facet-eyed soldiers wielding guns. In reality, black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) are useful native critters that chew through organic remnants, helping turn organic material into compost while producing tasty treats for chickens.

The black soldier fly is a non-pest tropical and warm-temperate region insect useful for managing small and large amounts of biosolids and animal manure. They are native to this region but do not like to come indoors — so you won’t find them buzzing around the dinner table. They do not feed as adults or spread disease like other flies. Although large and potentially scary-looking, since the females can be about the size of a large wasp, they do not bite humans or livestock. After black soldier fly residue is vermicomposted, it can be used as a soil amendment.

spreading fill material_2

A medium-sized digester can process about 80 lbs. of bio waste material in a day.

The total life cycle of a black soldier fly lasts just over a month. Black soldier flies lay 600 to 1200 eggs at a time, in dry crevices above or around moist waste material. After five days, the eggs hatch and white larva drop into the waste material and begin to consume it, growing to about ¾ inch over two weeks. Between day 19 – 33 of the life cycle, the larva turn into gray pupae and quit consuming material; this begins the migratory stage, when they crawl up and out of the bin to burrow. These pupae contain essential amino and fatty acids, which make them great food sources for pigs, chicken and fish.

Black soldier flies can reduce organic waste material by as much as 95%, depending on temperature and content. A medium-sized digester can process about 80 lbs. of bio material in a day. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently hosted a Digester Build Workshop on its Community Farm, to demonstrate how to construct a digester for organic material using black soldier flies.

Building a digester

Explaining Brackets to mount cardboard

SAHC hosted a digester build workshop to demonstrate how to DIY.

For a regular household – for example, if you’re going to be feeding kitchen scraps, garden waste or small livestock manure – a 20-gallon tub is a good size to start. For a small vegetable farm, a 100+ gallon size would be best. During SAHC’s Digester Build workshop, we cut an olive oil tank in half and used it to construct a medium-sized digester. Both small and medium-sized digesters are modular, so you can add as many as you need over time. The basic construction is the same for each: a tub or container to hold the organic material; ramp for the pupa to crawl up and out; collection bucket to hold the pupa that crawl out; cardboard or similar medium for oviposition by the female black soldier fly; and lid or cover if the digester is not placed under a roof, to keep rain out.

The flexible ramp rests on top of bio material. Migrating pupae crawl up the ramp and drop into the collector bucket, to be gathered for small livestock.

The flexible ramp rests on top of bio material. Migrating pupae crawl up the ramp and drop into the collector bucket, to be gathered for small livestock.

Although you can build a digester with ramps that feed into a collection bucket located outside the digester, our design incorporates the collection bucket and ramps within the digester, which works well at a medium scale. The ramps should have a trough and or small sides so the pupa do not crawl off, and they must also be flexible so they can adjust to new organic material being added without becoming buried. Ramps could be made of PVC pipe, wood, old gutter, siding, etc. Place cardboard on the inside walls of the digester, so that the eggs laid by the female will be above the organic material. Locate your digester under an open-sided shelter, or place something over top to keep water out. When covering the digester be sure to leave enough room for the female black soldier fly to get to the cardboard to lay her eggs.

Starting your own colony

cardboard for egg laying

Attach cardboard above the bio material, to give adult females a place to lay eggs.

Because the Black Soldier Fly is a naturally occurring insect in our region, you can attract the female to lay eggs near a food source with a strong odor. Start a compost bin with a mix of kitchen scraps that are a couple of days old. The females will detect the chemical signal of a larval food source. It is important to give the female black soldier fly a location to deposit her eggs, so place a stack of corrugated cardboard on the inside wall of the container. Within two weeks, you should have black soldier fly eggs in the cardboard, which you can then transfer to the wall of your digester. The larva will hatch and fall into the organic material and start growing.

For more info, or to visit SAHC’s Community Farm and see a black soldier fly digester in action, contact or 828.253.0095 ext 203.

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New conservation projects protect 267 acres in the Newfound Mountains

NewfoundMtnsmapWe recently protected 267 acres in two separate conservation projects in the Newfound Mountains, near the area where Buncombe, Haywood and Madison counties converge. We purchased 31 acres at Doubleside Knob in Haywood County, and placed 236 acres into conservation easement at Haywood Gap, permanently protecting clean water sources, healthy forest communities, habitat, and wildlife corridors.

“These projects continue our decades-long commitment to conservation efforts in the Sandy Mush community,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. Over the past two decades, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has protected over 10,000 acres in this area.

Haywood Gap


The conservation easements protect headwaters in the French Broad River watershed.

The Haywood Gap conservation easements, in two adjoining tracts, protect over 16,000 linear feet of stream corridor, including five tributary streams of Bald Fork, which flows into Sandy Mush Creek in the French Broad River watershed. The tracts also adjoin 600 acres owned by the Long Branch Environmental Education Center, which we protected with a conservation easement in 1995.

The 236 protected acres at Haywood Gap rise to 4,380 ft. elevation on the border of Haywood County. The tracts contain healthy forest habitat with high elevation rock outcrops, rich cove forest, and montane oak forest. The robust understory plant communities support a diversity of native species, including large & small mammals, birds, migratory species, amphibians and reptiles, and aquatic life.

“On a clear day, Haywood Gap is visible from downtown Asheville in the sweeping arc of mountains that frame the western horizon,”  adds Silverstein. “This conservation project is particularly exciting because of the prominence of that view — as well as the quality of water sources, habitat, and connectivity to other protected lands. Large rock outcrops found at high elevations are rare. They are a priority habitat to protect because several rare plants and animals – such as the rock vole and the Alleghany woodrat – thrive within these communities.”

We are grateful for the vision of the landowners, private philanthropic leaders, and Buncombe County for the permanent protection of Haywood Gap.

The 236-acre Haywood Gap tracts rise above scenic lands in Sandy Mush.

The 236-acre Haywood Gap tracts rise above scenic lands in Sandy Mush.

Landowner Perspective: “We bought our share of Sandy Mush land back in the mid-late 70’s together with Jim and Susan who had the other portion; we were really part of the “back to the land” movement of the time – realizing how important nature and protecting it was.  We were so struck by the  gorgeous land in itself – and the incredibly beautiful valley we had to go through to get to it.  For Bill, it connected to his past, growing up in Andrews, NC in the beautiful Snowbird Mountains.  For me, it connected to my love of land and the wish to protect it. Also, my father was from Switzerland, and I lived there for 3 years as an adult and developed a deep love of mountains. Sandy Mush feeds that feeling and need in me.  When I drive through the gorgeous valley before ascending our mountain area, I connect with our beautiful state, with Switzerland and with my love of nature, especially mountains.  When SAHC  approached us, we were so excited that the land would be even better protected.  With developers encroaching everywhere, protecting land feeds the future, protects water and food supply, and feeds all of my  senses. We are so fortunate to be connected to such a beautiful, peaceful and nourishing place, and we are thrilled that our daughter Thea and her husband Rachit are also excited about this area and its preservation.” — Evelyn Bloch, one of the Haywood Gap landowners

Doubleside Knob

Doubleside Knob is visible from publicly accessible Rough Creek hiking & biking trails.

Doubleside Knob is visible from publicly accessible Rough Creek hiking & biking trails.

The 31-acre Doubleside Knob tract purchased by SAHC also contains healthy habitat, with Southern Appalachian oak forest, mixed hardwoods, boulder fields, and elevations reaching above 4,000 ft. at the top of the knob. The property is adjacent to an existing conservation easement  and connected to a large network of protected land in Sandy Mush. Connectivity is important in conservation lands, helping to create wildlife corridors.

Our purchase of Doubleside Knob protects clean water sources.

Our purchase of Doubleside Knob protects clean water sources.

Part of a mountainous backdrop, Doubleside Knob is visible from the hiking/mountain biking trail in the Rough Creek Watershed. The 870-acre Rough Creek Watershed, owned by the Town of Canton, is publicly accessible for day use by hikers and mountain bikers. In 2002, SAHC worked with the Town of Canton and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to place a conservation easement on the tract, protecting its unique forest ecosystem and natural resources. Today, the Rough Creek Watershed Trail System is open to the public and comprised of three trails of various distances, totaling 10+ miles.

Our purchase of Doubleside Knob protects water quality as well; the property contains the main branch of Long Branch, which flows into Beaverdam Creek.

Landowners Gloria Nelson and Mary Morehouse owned and enjoyed the property for many years. Mary was once Gloria’s teacher, and they became friends and remained close throughout their lives, often visiting each other to spend time on the land they love.

Landowners Gloria Nelson and Mary Morehouse. Mary was once Gloria’s teacher, and they have remained close throughout their lives, often visiting each other to spend time on the land they love.

Landowners Gloria Nelson and Mary Morehouse.

“For years we have walked this property and enjoyed the beauty of the trees, the animals, and the stream that runs through it,” said landowner Gloria Nelson. “For this reason we wanted this land to remain just as it is. We are very happy that the conservancy now owns it and will be able to preserve it for years to come.”

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Land Trust Day 2015

LandTrustDay2015_logosThank you to our Land Trust Day sponsoring businesses, for helping us raise $13,000 for conservation in one day!

We’d also like to give a special THANK YOU to Mast General Store, for allowing us space in the Asheville and Waynesville stores to provide informative materials and talk to customers throughout the day. And thank you to our staff and volunteers who hosted tables at the Mast General Store locations: Michelle Pugliese, Sarah Sheeran, Caitlin Edenfield, Joan Worth, Leigh DeForth, and Cheryl Fowler.

This year, we also hosted two area hikes during Land Trust Day.

Second Spring Market Garden produces veggies as part of SAHC's Farmer Incubator Program.

Second Spring Market Garden produces veggies as part of SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program.

Community Farm Hike: We hosted our third annual Land Trust Day hike out on SAHC’s Community Farm. Each year the hike becomes more interesting and in-depth as new projects develop and old ones continue to grow. This year we were excited to have some neighbors of the farm on the hike, who were interested in learning more about the Community Farm and our Farmer Incubator Program.

Tomatoes growing in the greenhouse.

Tomatoes growing in the greenhouse.

The morning started off cool, as we gave a brief introduction to SAHC and our Community Farm at the trailhead. Our first stop along the hike was at Second Spring Market Garden, the first farmers in our Farmer Incubator Program. Second Spring provides one of the most dynamic stops along, as it is constantly growing (pun intended) and expanding. Growing on just an acre-and-a-half, they’re providing Asheville with its first 52-week CSA. Walking through in June was a great time to visit, as the farmers were in full production mode! After passing by Second Spring, we ventured in the woods and into the Stream Restoration and Short Leaf Pine Restoration areas. While these areas are slowly growing, the before and after pictures provided by the info boards along trail are proof of progress!


Piney Woods cattle herd, owned by Incubator Farmer Gina Raicovich.

We made our way up the steep hill, onto the ridge, from which a view of the entire farm can be seen. It was a little hazy out, but still a breathtaking view and easy way to visualize what 100 acres looks like. The group continued on their way, down off the ridge and back into the Stream Restoration zone. The 1.5-mile Discovery Trail does a wonderful job of covering every interesting aspect and project on the farm. As we made our way back to the trail head, we caught a glimpse of the Piney Woods Cattle roaming the farm. In just a couple of hours, we were able to give the all-access tour of our Community Farm!

OM Sanctuary’s “Human Health and Connection with Nature”:


Hikers explored a protected urban forest at OM Sanctuary.

As part of a day-long open house and celebration of the conservation easement at OM Sanctuary, SAHC helped lead a hike on the tract, to explore the recently protected urban forest. Participants learned the benefits of urban forest, both to humans and to ecosystem health. We walked through chestnut oak forest and acidic cove forest, learning native trees and wildflowers in addition to how the history of the railroad affected OM’s current-day forest. Hikers also learned how to identify multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and Morrow’s honeysuckle as non-native invasive species, and why Asian plant species are commonly invasive in our forests and, reciprocally, that our plants are invasive in their forests. The group was inspired at the end of the hike to pursue more naturalist-led hikes with SAHC and to volunteer with the invasive species removal project at OM Sanctuary.

Thank you to all who were involved throughout the day!

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Looking Back: June Jamboree 2015

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the June Jamboree this summer! As we prepare to bid adieu to our Project Conserve AmeriCorps Conservation Education and Volunteer Associate, Kana Miller (whose 11-month service term ends next week), we’d like to share her account from the day:

“Organizing the June Jamboree was like the grand finale of my experience with SAHC; it tested all the skills I’ve honed leading the outreach program. With five different hikes in one day on the Roan Massif, and close to 100 people participating, it’s a big event to organize — but for me, this year’s June Jamboree proved to be nothing but rewarding!

June Jamboree is our annual day of free, guided hikes and social gathering in the stunning Highlands of Roan.

The Breakdown – This Year’s Hike Offerings:

Hike #1 Ed Schell Memorial Hike – From Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge

Hike #2 Birding Hike with Simon Thompson

Hike #3 Roll n’ Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Hike #4 Salamander Scavenger Hunt

Hike #5 Challenge Hike

 In addition to coordinating all the hikes and hike participants, I also led the Challenge Hike. A fairly new tradition, the Challenge Hike is notorious for being a long hike (12 + miles) with strenuous route and rewarding, beautiful views. This year’s Challenge hike was no different – I planned a 15-mile trek across the Appalachian Trail and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

A break in the clouds provided the rewarding views of grassy balds, long stretches of mountains, and the familiar Appalachian Trail, for which the Roan is known for.

A break in the clouds provided rewarding views of grassy balds, long stretches of mountains, and the familiar Appalachian Trail, for which the Highlands of Roan are known.

I was eager to get on the trail as we gathered at Hughes Gap, and I could sense the rest of the group was, too. We had a long day ahead and thunderstorms threatening to hit Carvers Gap in the afternoon. After a brief introduction and safety talk we took off on the Appalachian Trail, heading up Beartown Mountain and Roan High Knob, a 3-mile climb with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain. It was early in the morning with a cool breeze as we headed silently up trail, enjoying the newly routed section of the AT. We could see where the trail originally went straight up the mountain and were thankful for the new, gentle curves along the contours and switchbacks. It didn’t take long for folks to splinter off into groups with different hiking speeds as we tackled the long climb.

After about two hours, the group made it to the top and the highest point along our route, the old Cloudland Hotel Site and Roan High Knob. We took a break here and could already tell the mountain was alive with visitors. During this break, we ran into our staff representative on the Roll n’ Stroll, SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. While a brief encounter, it made June Jamboree feel like a close-knit community event – it was rewarding to see my hard work and coordinating come together!

The Grays Lily is a rare plant species, native to the Highlands of Roan. This year, the timing of June Jamboree was perfect for catching these blooms!

The Grays Lily is a rare plant species, native to the Highlands of Roan. This year, the timing of June Jamboree was perfect for catching these blooms!

Although Roan High Knob was the highest point along our route, we had only traveled a few miles. We sped right through Carvers Gap and continued up Round Bald to get away from the crowds. Dark clouds were lingering on the horizon. My worst nightmare seemed like it might come true – getting stuck in a thunderstorm on the open balds. The clouds were rolling right over the grassy balds and folks were getting hungry. We pushed on to Engine Gap, making our way to a sunny spot out of the clouds. A lunch break seemed to be exactly what the group needed to re-energize. With a map highlighting SAHC properties in the area, I spoke about SAHC’s involvement in protecting and managing the Roan Massif before we made our way back on trail.

The Ed Schell Memorial Hike, from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge, made their way down Jane Bald just as we were heading up. It was awesome to run into this group, especially since it constituted the biggest hike of the June Jamboree and had the presence of many current and former board members. As a light sprinkle began, I couldn’t help but notice that despite raincoats and clouds blocking our views, everyone was smiling and talking about  enjoying the great day. The excitement and camaraderie on trail was exactly the pick-me-up I needed to motivate our group and power through the second half of our route. We made it past Grassy Ridge, Elk Hollow Ridge, the Stan Murray AT Shelter and onto Yellow Mountain Gap in good time.

After a strenuous downhill hike into Hampton Creek Cove, this beautiful view (and flat trail!) was a welcome sight for the Challenge hikers during their last couple of miles.

After a strenuous downhill hike into Hampton Creek Cove, this beautiful view (and flat trail!) was a welcome sight for the Challenge hikers during their last couple of miles.

Although we still had about 4 miles to go, the trail junction at Yellow Mountain Gap was an important one. Yellow Mountain Gap is the four-way intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and also marked our turn off of the AT. We had 11 miles under our feet and food and drinks awaiting us at the end of Hampton Creek Cove! Folks took a break as I gave a brief history of Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. We were standing on the border of Cherokee National Forest, before rapidly descending into Hampton Creek Cove. The trail was overgrown and steep, but still very beautiful. We hiked though dense hardwood forest, crossing several small streams before popping out into cow pasture.

The Challenge Hike celebrating the end of a 15-mile day, with sunshine, food and good beer. Cheers!

The Challenge Hike group, celebrating the end of a 15-mile day, with sunshine, food and good beer from our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partners at Highland Brewing Company. Cheers!

A slow drizzle started up as we finished our 15-mile day. We had endured a long, but fun, day of hiking. Our group was welcomed with ‘hoots and hollars’ as we made our way to the post-hike social. A delicious spread of fruit, crackers, cheese and refreshing beverages awaited us. Then the sun came out and a peaceful, rewarding sensation came across me as I sat back and relaxed. The day was done; June Jamboree 2015 was a success!”

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Last chance to purchase fresh CSA shares from Our Community Farm!

matt casara mountainx article march 2015

Casara Logan and Matt Coffay of Second Spring, part of SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program.

Sign up for Asheville’s first 52 week CSA! Second Spring Market Garden has a handful of shares remaining for their CSA this year.  Learn more about their vegetable offerings and share options at  You can sign up online or send a check by mail.  Beginning in May, CSA members will receive fresh vegetables every week of the year, even in winter. The CSA is nearly full for the year, and their sign up deadline is April 25, so check them out and sign up now!

What is Second Spring growing at our Community Farm? Turnips, radishes, peas, carrots, beets, spinach, head lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, baby salad mix, garlic, onions, potatoes, kale, cilantro, dill, and bok choy are growing in the ground now. They are pre-sprouting ginger and turmeric, and tomatoes should be ready in late May. Yum!

secondspringplantsSecond Spring First Annual Plant Sale

Second Spring Market Garden will host its first annual plant sale on Sunday, May 3rd from 10 AM – 5 PM.  Stop by to visit the farm and pick up your spring vegetable and herb starts. They’ll have heirloom tomatoes, lettuces, kale, chard, and other veg, along with herbs such as rosemary, thyme, mint, and more. Visit

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NPCA/Nature Valley Work Day

Around 33 volunteers offered services for the workday.

‘Thank you’ to the 33 volunteers offered services for the workday!

We hosted another successful volunteer workday in the Highlands of Roan, made possible by a generous grant from the National Parks Conservation Association and Nature Valley. Funding from this partnership has helped us accomplish land stewardship projects over the past several years.

Organized by our AmeriCorps Project Conserve Stewardship Associates and Highlands of Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, 33 gracious volunteers gathered to get their hands dirty on our National Trails Tract.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.


After a brief introduction from Executive Director Carl Silverstein and Don Barger of the National Parks Conservation  Association, who manages the corporate relationship with Nature Valley, teams split up to hear safety talks and get to work on several critical projects on the property.

The main objectives of the workday centered around the vision for the tract to be used for hiking and camping enjoyment, and its capability of providing excellent habitat for the threatened Golden-winged Warbler.  One team of volunteers improved a scenic area near the property entrance, removing dilapidated and rotting structures to enhance the beauty of a picnic spot next to rushing Roaring Creek.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Also working to improve visitor accessibility to this gateway property, three teams of volunteers tackled a much-needed trail-rerouting.  The pre-existing trail loop, which leads to a breathtaking waterfall, contained gravel sections that were degraded and steep. The trail was unsustainable and eroding quickly.  With loppers and digging tools, the Nature Valley work crew re-routed a section of trail down a more gentle slope with a more sustainable tread.

Another team helped control some non-native, invasive plant species to enhance the quality of breeding habitat for Golden-winged Warblers. The beautiful sweeping meadows and mosaic of scrub and early successional habitat on the property naturally provide suitable habitat for these threatened neotropical migratory songbirds.

The crew enjoyed lunch in a meadow overlooking a scenic view of the surrounding landscape, including several other tracts that SAHC has helped to protect.  Trustee Jay Leutze highlighted major land protection efforts and successes in the area as everyone enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather.  Later, volunteers enjoyed hiking to the incredible waterfalls on the property to end a successful day.  It is our hope that visitors and Golden-winged Warblers alike benefit from the workday for years to come!

National Trails Tract

The aptly-named National Trails Tract is a gateway to the Roan area and central to an expanding network of conservation lands.  It is highly visible from the Appalachian Trail on Roan Mountain and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (which traces the route of patriot militia through VA, TN, NC & SC).  Because of the property’s connection to such important historic and scenic trails, its notable conservation values — pristine wild trout waters, bird habitat, and adjacency to Pisgah National Forest — it was identified as a high priority for conservation.  SAHC purchased the 113-acre property in 2008 to protect it from development and later transferred 73 acres to the state  of NC, retaining

40 acres for long-term management.

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Meet the Farmers at Our Community Farm!

Matt and Casara of Second Spring Market Garden, working land leased through SAHC's Farmer Incubator Program.

Matt and Casara of Second Spring Market Garden, working land leased through SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program.

Matt Coffay and Casara Logan of Second Spring Market Garden are in the house! The greenhouse, that is.

We want to send a big welcome to these first vegetable producers in our new Farmer Incubator Program, and a thank you to all the volunteers who helped put up infrastructure so they can start growing.

Second Spring Market Garden offers Asheville’s first 52-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) supplying fresh produce year-round. They will be growing a variety of vegetables using organic methods and efficient four-season production with two heated greenhouses now in place on our Community Farm.

SAHC currently has two farm ventures — Second Spring Market Garden and a heritage breed Pineywoods cattle operation — participating in our Farmer Incubator Program. The program provides low-cost access to land and resources for new or expanding agricultural operations and is aimed at helping the next generation of farmers fill the gap left as aging farmers retire.


“Without the Incubator, we’d probably still be looking for farmland,” says Matt Coffay.

“We’d spent several months looking for land,” explains Coffay. “We were selling out of produce each week with our existing markets and needed to expand up to about an acre-and-a-half of production in order to really be able to earn full-time incomes as growers.  Land access is one of the biggest challenges facing young farmers, though — especially in an area like Asheville, where relatively flat, inexpensive acreage is hard to come by. Plus, in terms of leasing a property, renting cheap land with no infrastructure (water, electricity, vehicle access, etc) makes starting a farm –which is already no easy task — even more challenging.”

Second Spring Market Garden offers local, pre-washed bagged salad mix year-round.

Second Spring Market Garden offers local, pre-washed bagged salad mix year-round.

“When we found the Farmer Incubator Program, we knew we’d finally landed at the right spot.  The folks at SAHC are assisting us with building the infrastructure we need in order to farm effectively on a small scale.  We’ve also been given access to land at a rate that’s affordable for us.  Without the Incubator, we’d probably still be looking for farmland.”

Casara Logan of Second Spring, which offers Asheville's first 52-week fresh veggie CSA.

Casara Logan of Second Spring, which offers Asheville’s first 52-week fresh veggie CSA.

Second Spring is now taking sign-ups for 2015 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Paying for crop shares early in the year gives farmers some stability and provides up-front capital for supply purchases. Members of a CSA are then provided a weekly box share of the crop throughout the year.

“We’re really excited to be offering the first 52-week fresh vegetable CSA in Asheville,” added Coffay. “We believe that local food only really works if it’s available every week of the year.  Community Supported Agriculture really does create community, too: our customers get to know one another, and we always invite folks to come out and see where their food comes from (and even lend a hand on the farm if they’d like).  It also makes an enormous difference for us when people pay for their share at the beginning of the year, when expenses are high and income is low; so, we always ask that our members send in their payments as early in the year as they can manage. We’re also open to working out a payment plan for folks who can’t afford the full amount up front.  Check out our website today to sign up, or send us an e-mail for more info!”

Pineywoods cattle at SAHC's Community Farm.

Pineywoods cattle at SAHC’s Community Farm.

Also participating in the Farmer Incubator Program is Gina Raicovich with her herd of Pineywoods cattle, a resilient but now rare heritage breed. Her agricultural operation will involve breeding of Pineywoods cattle and grass-finishing for market (selling yearling heifers and grass-fed beef), utilizing 26 acres of pasture on the Community Farm with rotational grazing.

Last fall, Raicovich chose to lease land through the Farmer Incubator Program because it provides an affordable pasture lease with proximity to town, allowing her to keep a regular job while growing the herd.

Infrastructure improvements at the farm include off-stream watering tanks for livestock.

Infrastructure improvements at the farm include off-stream watering tanks for livestock.

“My lease at the SAHC Community Farm is allowing me to access land close to downtown Asheville so that I can easily grow a small herd while I continue to work full time and look for a more permanent land base for my operation.  Ideally I’ll grow my operation to a profitable size before it’s time to leave the farm and shoulder a mortgage on my own land.”

The  Farmer Incubator Program was introduced last year, and continues to accept applicants on a rolling basis. Funding for the successful launch of the program has been provided by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Southern SARE, US Department of Agriculture, and New Belgium Brewing Company.

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Thunder on the Mountain

Sporting mid-October splendor, the view from Waterrock Knob was gorgeous.

Sporting mid-October splendor, the view of the Plott Balsam Mountains from Waterrock Knob was gorgeous.

Drew Stevenson from Highland Brewing Company  and Kana Miller (SAHC AmeriCorps PR and Outreach Associate) fearlessly led our group of hikers into the clouds for a strenuous but fun October hike — the Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership hike to  Blackrock Mountain. Drew recounts this trek through the Plott Balsams in Jackson County, our 2nd Partnership  hike of the fall season:

“The hike group met at the Waterrock Knob overlook (elevation 6,292 feet), which gets its name from a cool stream where hunters and farmers came to quench their thirst. About 1/4 mile down from the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center we started the trail, which covers approximately 2.2 miles of up-and-down terrain, becoming very skinny at times to hug the steep mountainside.
Relics from old logging days merge with the moss-dotted forest.

Relics from old logging days merge with the moss-dotted forest.

With occasional views of puffy clouds floating in the valley below,  the route provided a handful of opportunities for hikers to display some simple rock climbing skills. We reached the summit of Yellow Face Mountain about a mile into the hike and enjoyed a water break with a view, surrounded by trees and blackberry bushes.

On our next descent into the forest, before the trail began to climb again, we stopped in a flat, mossy area full of lichen, fungi and a large metal structure left over from the days of logging around the area. It kind of resembled something Steebo, a local metal artist, would have utilized for one of his projects.
"British soldier," an interesting species of lichen named for its bright red color.

“British soldier,” an interesting species of lichen named for its bright red color.

We also admired all the British soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) growing on a group of fallen trees on the edge of the forest. They are a species of lichen with erect, hollow branches that end in distinctive red fruiting bodies from which the popular name is derived. Then, we headed back up the trail into thicker forest and hiked beside large rocks, some draped with smooth rock tripe that looked like slick strips of vinyl peeling  off from the surface. An abundance of ferns and moss also covered many of the rocks bordering the trail to the top.

A pause before the final push before the summit.

A pause before the final push to the summit.

After successfully maneuvering through a couple of the most challenging spots on the trail, we passed a “Conservation Area” marker, which signified the important work that SAHC has done in this particular area and provided us with an indicator that we were nearing our destination.

Before reaching the Blackrock Mountain crest, we approached our last difficult climb and popped out onto the rock that would be our lunch spot. Clouds engulfed the majority of the long range views in front of us, but as the wind pushed them through, we managed to get glimpses of Yellow Face and some sights of autumn color change.

SAHC member and avid hiker, Bob Roepnack points out interesting landmarks as the clouds break.

SAHC member and avid hiker, Bob Roepnack points out interesting landmarks as the clouds break.

This peaceful place provided an opportunity for fellowship with our hiking group and time to talk about the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership with those who were hiking with us for the first time. As we made our way back, the clouds lifted just as we ascended Yellow Face Mountain, allowing us the chance to get a peek at the beautiful view below.

On the way back to Asheville, Kana  and I stopped at the Thunderstruck Ridge overlook to see the ridge for which the latest Highland Brewing Company seasonal — Thunderstruck Coffee Porter — was named.”

About the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership:

Highland Brewing Company (HBC) partners with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and US Fish & Wildlife Service in order to support our conservation efforts and heighten awareness of the unique peaks, natural features, and native species which make our area so special. As part of this partnership, Highland Brewing Company donates a portion of pint sales from each release party to SAHC to support land and water conservation.

The “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership activities, including free guided hikes, occur throughout the year, centering around each of HBC’s seasonal releases. Each HBC seasonal brew is named for a feature of the Southern Appalachian landscape.

Categories: Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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