The tract provided the town its drinking water supply for decades and was home to the town’s water reservoir. The conservation easement will protect it from development.
“I like looking out this window at that mountain land knowing that future generations will be able to enjoy the same unspoiled view without roads and houses scarring those steep slopes,” Bryson City Mayor T.L. Jones said while looking out the window of town hall the day the conservation easement was signed.
Jones said developers have finally discovered Swain County, witnessed by real estate offices popping up on every corner. Time was of the essence to see the tract preserved, Jones said.
“It is good to see that one piece of property stay that way,” Jones said.
The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee was instrumental in securing the conservation easement. Negotiations to protect the property started in 2002. Under the conservation easement, the town will continue to own the tract and will allow outdoor recreation.
“The idea was to make it available for recreation like camping, hiking, fishing, hunting,” Jones said. “In time, I would like to see a citizens’ committee formed to develop a recreation plan on how it could be used.”
Jones said one possibility could be working with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to manage hunting and fishing and controlled recreation on the tract.
The tract spans 4.5 miles of the Park’s border, making it one of the longest stretches of protected park boundary, which is increasingly being ringed by high-end developments. In recent years the town had been approached by private developers wanting to buy the land.
In exchange for conserving the tract, Bryson City received over $1.8 million dollars from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and from Fred and Alice Stanback, private donors who support numerous conservation initiatives in the mountains.
“This is a visionary decision on the part of the town board of Bryson City,” said Paul Carlson, director of the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. “They knew that steep-slope development on Lands Creek was not in the public interest so they chose to protect the watershed while bringing much needed revenue to the town.”
Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, along with the Conservation Fund, helped secure the contribution from the state to make the deal happen.
Bill Gibson, the director of the Southwestern Regional Commission based in Bryson City, was also instrumental in helping to conserve Lands Creek.
Gibson compared the preservation of a tract like Lands Creek to the challenges posed by those setting aside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 75 years ago.
“The increase in population growth and development pressures on the land have made it essentially as difficult to conserve 1,000 acres in these mountains today, as it was to conserve 100,000 acres a century ago,” Gibson said. “Those who made the Lands Creek project succeed displayed the same will power, the same set of values, and the same passion for the land that were the hallmark of our conservation forefathers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Horace Kephart.”
Of the $1.8 million the town got, $400,000 must be spent on water and sewer system improvements for the town. The money is not for expanding water and sewer lines, but upgrading the water and sewer treatment plants.
As for the rest of the money, the town is going to let it collect interest for now.
“Let it make money for the town,” Jones said.
Bryson City acquired Lands Creek 80 years ago to protect the town’s drinking water supply. In the mid-1980’s, the town abandoned Lands Creek and began getting its water from Deep Creek in order to meet the increasing demand for drinking water.