When Gary Wein came on board as the executive director of the Highlands Cashiers Land Trust a year ago, he had no idea his first major conservation success could be full of so much drama.


Wein has spent the past year chasing a 38-acre tract that is home to the Dulany Bog, a mountain bog south of Cashiers.

“It took some interesting twists and turns along the way,” Wein said. “This was an interesting project to cut my teeth on.”

The property was originally owned by a local resident named Emerson Luft. Wein described Luft as a well-liked but eccentric hermit. In the late 1990s, Luft deeded his land to a local woman for $1 in exchange for taking care of him as he aged.

Luft had no children. But other out-of-state relatives were not happy with the arrangement. They claimed Luft was mentally incompetent when he made the transaction. When Luft died, they took the woman to court in hopes of undoing the transaction and inheriting the land themselves.

They won, but owed their attorneys one-third the value of the property as payment. That meant the property had to be sold. Since the land was bordered by national forest, they first asked the forest service if it wanted the to buy the tract. The forest service had no budget to acquire new land, but pointed the owners to the local land trust.

The Highlands Cashiers Land Trust couldn’t afford it either, so they turned to the state in search of a partner. It turned out the site was a good candidate for a plant conservation preserve. Wein, together with the state plant conservation unit, applied to Natural Heritage Trust Fund for a grant to conserve the property.

But in October, while waiting to find out about the grant, a private developer made and offer and got the property under contract.

“All of a sudden this guy came out of the clear blue sky and outbid us,” Wein said.

But the developer hit problems, Wein said. The property fronts N.C. 107, but a sizable creeks runs the length of the road frontage. Access to the property was impossible without a substantial bridge.

So the developer backed out, and by January Wein was back at the table. Not wanting to lose the property again, the land trust quickly got the property under contract. Wein then reapplied to the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and kept his fingers crossed.

“There was a calculated risk here,” Wein said. Worst-case scenario, the grant wouldn’t come through and the land trust would lose roughly $20,000 in earnest money it had to pony up. But inaction was deemed the greater risk.

“Sometimes a land trust can make deals happen faster than the state,” said Rob Evans, a botanist with the state plant conservation program.

There were nearly the $30 million in applications to the Natural Heritage Trust Fund this spring, but only $12 million to go around. The trust fund awarded the necessary $650,000 to buy and conserve the Dulany bog site.

“Luckily the state came through for us,” Wein said.

The Highlands Cashiers Land Trust is the oldest land trust in North Carolina, created in 1909. It has worked to preserve 1,200 acres in the Highlands and Cashiers area.

— By Becky Johnson

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