These days, bovines — not elk — are the only cows wandering around the Ross dairy farm in Jonathan Creek.

While most people come to Macon County in the summer for a relaxing mountain vacation, Kathryn Sampeck makes the trip down south with a more important mission in mind.

SEE ALSO: Mounds hold key to understanding Cherokee history

With a wide-rimmed straw hat to shield her face from the beaming sun and a pair of worn-in brown leather boots she’s owned for at least 20 years, Sampeck returned again this summer to walk among sacred Cherokee land along the Little Tennessee River banks.

out frJoel Harrington has always been a fan of turtles. Of all animals, really — he is a veterinarian — but Harrington has had at least one pet turtle ever since he was a kid. And if the collection of Eastern box turtles covering his lawn on a recent sunny afternoon is any indication, the affinity hasn’t faded. 

out conservedWith more than 400 acres of land conserved through purchase and conservation easements in 2015, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust is celebrating a record year of land protection.

folkmoot preservingEach year international groups from all over the world travel abroad to share their traditional folk dances and songs with other cultures. 

They spend hundreds of hours researching, learning and rehearsing these songs and dances. They spend a lot of money on authentic costumes to accurately represent their heritage and they spend even more to go one tour and share their work with others.

art frHeading down N.C. 28, between Bryson City and Robbinsville, is a flat stretch of highway, unusual to the continuous curves on this mountainous route. It indicates a valley, and just past a quaint diner, is a side road to your left, where a sign with an arrow points you in the right direction. You’re in the creative heart of Graham County. You’re at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. 

“We’re not in the middle-of-nowhere, we’re actually the center of everywhere here,” said Beth Fields.

out frThings have gone well for the Smokies elk, and they’ve risen from reintroduction experiment to established population. But meanwhile, they’ve outgrown Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spilling over into private lands to find pasture on agricultural fields not intended as gifts to the elk. A land protection project by The Conservation Fund seeks to provide some more suitable places for the elk to go. 

“The reason the elk have come out of the park is there are now more elk than there is habitat to sustain them, so the [N.C.] Wildlife [Resources] Commission is going to need to work to create some habitat that both elk and people will enjoy,” said Bill Holman, state director of The Conservation Fund. 

fr forestryWhen Brent Martin emerged from the Forest Management Plan meeting in Franklin, the first glimpse into the direction that management in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests might take over the next few decades, he was upset. Shocked. Disbelieving, even.

out frA mountainside in Macon County once destined for a housing development is now destined to be a community forest area comparable to the arboretum in Asheville.

The Hall Mountain Tract is a 108-acre swath of land overlooking the Cowee mound — a sacred Cherokee site — and the Little Tennessee River. Local conservationists and Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal members have been pushing hard since 2005 to save the site from becoming a large subdivision.

coverAs Don Casada veered off-trail and began bushwhacking his way over fallen logs and through overgrown shrubs along the shore of Lake Fontana, he barely glanced at the trusty GPS unit in his hand.

He’d been this way before, many times, and knew just where he was going. Casada finally stopped at a clearing marked by a looming stone chimney, all that is left of a cabin that early Appalachian settlers had once called home.

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