When The Conservation Fund began acquiring the land that would eventually become the William H. Silver Game Lands near Maggie Valley, the idea was that parts of the property could be converted into elk-friendly habitat, hopefully alleviating conflicts between the large ungulates and the farmers whose crops they love to munch.
The doors opened, and the room filled — with hikers, bikers, ecologists, conservation workers, economic development professionals and Cherokee tribal members alike who were intent on making their voices heard during a public form Thursday, Jan. 25, which took input on plans that will impact the future of Waterrock Knob and the Plott Balsams.
Born in the upstairs of the Post Office building his mom ran in Crabtree, Robert Williams, now 87, has always called Haywood County home.
His dad was in the cattle business, and when the family moved to Canton during Williams’ childhood, chores such as feeding cattle, splitting wood and tending the fire kept Williams busy. But his grandfather William Silver’s 1,800-acre tract in the Plott Balsams, while also technically a workplace, provided a respite from the busyness of day-to-day life. Silver and his son — Williams’ uncle — ranged cattle up there, and in the summers Williams would join them.
At some point roughly 20 years ago, a shipment from Asia arrived in the United States with a passel of six-legged stowaways lurking in its wooden pallets. Since it was first detected near Detroit in 2002, the emerald ash borer has gnawed its way through ash trees across North America, leaving a swath of destruction across 31 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces — and counting.
The EAB was first spotted in North Carolina in 2013, when it was confirmed in Granville, Person, Vance and Warren counties, a contiguous area in the central part of the state bordering Virginia. Now it’s present in 33 of the state’s 100 counties and continues to spread. WNC counties with confirmed ash borer infestations are Haywood, Swain, Macon, Graham, Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties — this month, the N.C. Forest Service found EAB on several trees in the Alarka area of Swain County after the beetle was initially found in Bryson City last summer.
The fundraising deadline is drawing nearer for an effort to conserve 15.9 acres adjacent to Panthertown Valley, and the Jackson County Commissioners have indicated a willingness to chip in toward the more than $80,000 still needed.
Land conservation groups across the region found something to celebrate this month when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an $8 million allocation for farmland conservation in Western North Carolina — a gargantuan number that the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy calls “unprecedented.”
This type of funding, allocated through the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Plan under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, has been available in the past. But never before has the amount been so large or so specifically targeted to Western North Carolina.
One of the largest conservation easements to ever be donated by an individual in North Carolina history has been finalized in Rutherford and McDowell counties.
Elk may be the most polarizing animal in Western North Carolina right now, but William Carter has kept a closer eye on the issue than most. Carter makes his living off a small mountain farm in the Jonathan Creek area, sharing a property line with the Ross dairy farm — that family’s elk-related struggles have earned them plenty of unwanted time in the local spotlight.
As the elk population has grown, Carter’s found himself wondering what the future holds for his acres of beans, pumpkins and cattle pasture.
High in the Plott Balsams, there’s a swath of property riddled with panoramic views, sparking waterfalls and high-elevation solitude that was once destined for development. But more than a decade after purchasing it, America’s Homeplace has yet to build a single structure — and now the homebuilding company is offering the 912 acres at a reduced rate for long-term conservation.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property, kind of a one-of-a-kind piece,” said Stacy Buchanan, regional president for the company and a Jackson County native. “There’s not many pieces this large left in the Southern Appalachians.”
In a 12-round heavyweight professional boxing match, at the beginning of the twelfth round there is a bell and the referee motions the two fighters to the center of the ring to begin the final round of the contest. In the fight for life on the planet Earth, and according to a majority of noted scientists, we are in the twelfth round. And Pulitzer-winning biologist E. O. Wilson is the referee.