Two of Western North Carolina’s most storied conservation groups, both based in Macon County, merged this month into a single entity.
The Little Tennessee Watershed Association has been absorbed into The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and is being touted as a win-win for regional conservation efforts and as a means to financially help underpin regional conservation efforts.
The Land Trust name will be retained for now. The merged organization has the combined backing of more than 500 members.
The smaller of the two nonprofits, the watershed association, had just three employees. It has struggled to adequately tap spigots of grant funding. Those traditional nonprofit-geared pools of money are continuing to dry up in the face of the difficult economy.
The Land Trust, on the other hand, just completed its best fundraising year ever. A few years ago, anticipating stagnating grant opportunities, the larger eight-employee group deliberately and successfully began to diversify its revenue stream. The Land Trust now relies as much on individual, private support as on grant funding.
Such transformations haven’t proven possible, at least not to the same degree, for smaller nonprofits such as the watershed association. Also difficult for small groups is keeping and recruiting experienced board members, thereby ensuring stable governance.
Often small groups are almost totally reliant on the energy and charisma of a single leader, said Paul Carlson, who helped guide The Land Trust from a similar small nonprofit to, at least for this region, a large one.
“It’s in part a question of economy of scale,” Carlson said. “I think the toughest job I know is to be director of a small nonprofit, because you have to wear so many hats.”
Jenny Sanders, executive director of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, revived the nonprofit five years ago, he said. Talks were actually under way then to perhaps merge the two groups, but that didn’t happen because, Carlson said, of the caliber of Sanders’ leadership.
Sanders opted not to take a new job with the Land Trust following the merger. The decision was personal, a desire on her part to pursue other interests, she said. Sanders supports the merger, saying it simply “makes sense” for both organizations.
“I believe for a lot of reasons this was absolutely a smart move,” she said. “And it will provide a unified front for conservation in the six westernmost counties.”
The watershed association’s most recognizable project is ongoing aquatic monitoring conducted by a corps of volunteers and overseen by Bill McLarney of Macon County. The biologist has studied the Little Tennessee River and its tributaries for more than two decades. McLarney, via the watershed association, has assembled a body of data on what lives in the Little Tennessee waterways — from miniscule larvae to newly discovered fish species — that’s difficult to find duplicated elsewhere in the U.S. McLarney’s work helped the Little Tennessee earn a reputation as one of the most biologically intact rivers. The baseline of what species are supposed to live in the river serves a greater purpose, however. If a species turns up in fewer numbers or disappears, it would alert future researchers that trouble was brewing.
McLarney, an original founder of both organizations, described the merger as “a natural progression” for the nonprofits.
Ken Murphy, board chairman for the Land Trust, said timing of the merger couldn’t be better.
“We already had plans to broaden our scope, and the areas we touch,” Murphy said. “Land and water are almost inseparable.”
The Little Tennessee often touts its work of protecting land along the Little Tennessee corridor as protecting the river itself, based on the premise that saving surrounding land from development keeps the river ecosystem from being disturbed.
The now 10-employee Land Trust plans to expand its work further into the Tuckasegee and Hiawassee river basins, the board chair said.
There are no plans at this time to merge The Land Trust with additional conservation organizations, Carlson said.
Murphy emphasized that there is an important people component to that strategy of concentrating on both land and water — to connect all of us to the natural world.
The merger will move those plans forward exponentially, Murphy said, because it serves as an opportunity “to bring in-house real expertise on water issues” and combine that knowledge with those conservation tasks The Land Trust has long focused upon.
The Land Trust, established 15 years ago, has forged the very concept of private land protection in the state’s westernmost counties, plus successfully worked on habitat restoration and cultural landscape conservation. The latter includes farmland and historic preservation. The group’s crowning success was the preservation of the 4,500-acre Needmore Tract, which straddles Macon and Swain counties along the Little Tennessee River, and was the likely site of development.
The watershed association helped secure the Needmore tract, plus partnered with the Land Trust and Macon County’s Soil and Water Conservation District on stream-bank restoration.
The watershed association has a history of open advocacy on conservation issues, particularly under the out-spoken Sanders, its most-recent and final executive director. By contrast, The Land Trust has been more low-key and behind-the-scenes in its approach, though there have been issues in which the board has elected to become openly involved.
“The Land Trust has tried hard to not get caught up in polarizing issues,” Carlson said, “and we will continue to lead on results-oriented work.”
Carlson and Murphy both said The Land Trust is considering a more pro-active stance when it comes to conservation protections. And the spunky, outspoken and out-front history of the watershed association should slide nicely into that new focus.
“In the past, we have taken public positions on issues that involve the environment and conservation in our area,” Murphy said of The Land Trust. “But we plan to be a little more public about our positions and views of things that are happening in the region.”
• The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee works to conserve the waters, forests, farms, and heritage of the Upper Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River Valleys. The organization works in partnership with private landowners, public agencies, and others to conserve land.
• The Little Tennessee Watershed Association works to protect and restore the health of the Little Tennessee River and its tributaries through monitoring, education, habitat restoration and citizen action.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park got an early Holiday gift on Dec. 14 when the Friends of the Smokies officially transferred 20 acres of new land to the national park.
The land lies along Soak Ash Creek in the Pittman Center, Tenn., community just east of Gatlinburg.
The Friends purchased the tract at auction in the summer of 2010 at a cost of $775,500, sparing the park from encroaching private development.
“We had been interested in acquiring that property for many years if it ever came on the market because it is surrounded by park land on three sides and is ripe for development,” Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said. “We are very happy to be able to prevent potentially intensive development right on the park’s boundary, and it also protects an intact wetland.”
The park, as part of the gift, also inherited a five-bedroom house that it intends to make available to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The house includes a large conference space which might host some park field trips when foul weather forces participants indoors.
The annual “Picnics in Pittman for the Park” at the Emerts Cove home raised more than $500,000, which became the core of the Friends’ purchase price. Other significant support included a $25,000 grant from the Foothills Land Conservancy.
There is a core of energy to Thomas Rain Crowe, a get-in-there and get-it-done spirit, evident both in his writings and the man himself.
So it isn’t surprising that when fellow poet and friend Brent Martin mentioned an interesting concept he’d stumbled across — a group, the Center for the Study of Place, reviving that great tradition in American letters, the poetry of place, through the project Voices from the American Land — Crowe was off and running.
“Thomas is Thomas,” Martin said affectionately.
Crowe, Martin said, contacted the nonprofit group involved, the Center for the Study of Place, and got down to business.
The result is a lovely little book, Every Breath Sings Mountains, featuring poems about the Southern Appalachians written by Crowe, Martin and Cherokee scholar Barbara R. Duncan.
The writing is superb, the subjects timely and meaningful, the book lovingly published, the illustrations by Robert Johnson of Yancey County are perfectly rendered.
“For those of us who love these mountains, this volume is a crucial reminder of what we have, and how easily it can be lost. Every Breath Sings Mountains is small in size but large in wisdom,” as author Ron Rash noted of this exquisitely presented book of poems.
A book launch is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 at in the community room of the Jackson County library complex in Sylva. The event, however, is intended as more than simply a forum to introduce the community to Every Breath Sings Mountains, as enjoyable as that alone would undoubtedly prove.
Many of the region’s most notable authors will be there to help create a multi-layered event, to create on this night their own Voices from the American Land, through readings, conversations, music and more. The event’s major sponsor is the N.C. Humanities Council.
Charles Frazier, Wayne Caldwell, Keith Flynn, George Ellison and John Lane will carry on “conservations.” Sylva’s own Ian Moore will perform his unique, Southern-Appalachian inspired style of music. Duncan, Martin and Crowe will read poems from the chapbook. Johnson, the book’s illustrator, will show work from the chapbook. George Frizzell of Western Carolina University, William Shelton, a farmer and former commissioner, and Jerry Elder, a revered Cherokee elder, will be guest speakers.
As Crowe put it, “we’re throwing a party to celebrate the place in which we live. A unique and relatively large group of accomplished authors, Cherokee elders, political spokespersons, scholars, musicians, cooks and bookstore reps all in one place. In this case, ‘the whole’ is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The region’s “uniqueness, diversity and starpower,” Crowe said, all on display, and intertwined with the very serious mission of protecting this area from devastating outside, or economic, encroachment.
“The Great Smoky Mountains is a special part of the world and we, as authors and artists, write and sing about it in order to plant the seeds of sustainability in the public mind so that we, our children and grandchildren, will have a beautiful place to live and prosper into the indefinite future,” Crowe said.
With Frazier’s new novel set for release Sept. 27, the event provides an opportunity for people in this area to get inscriptions in his new book. These personalized books, however, won’t be available for pickup until the actual release day, by orders of the publisher, Crowe noted.
This unusual land conservation program uses contemporary poetic voices to “move the message of the land.” Through chapbook publication, local readings and educational activities, the group seeks to revive and amplify a dominant tradition in American letters: the poetry of place. In this way, it seeks to celebrate and help protect America’s extraordinary heritage of land and landscape.
Voices from the American Land was founded in 2008 by a group of writers, editors, and graphic designers who had worked together for some years on a quite successful series of local poetry readings in Placitas, N.M., taking place every winter solstice.
The organizers met with poets and editors from New York, Virginia, Colorado, California, and other parts of the country to discuss whether the idea of a national program of chapbook publication, and readings, could make its way. The idea of single-author chapbooks was the key feature of the program, since they could be inexpensive to produce, and could concentrate on a single landscape or locale needful of conservation.
Source: Voices from the American Land
“Over rock and gravel bed
Mingus Creek runs fast through the tall trees.
Diverted by a makeshift dam,
It turns to the right
Into a millrace lined with boards.
An ‘Appalachian aqueduct,’
race becomes flume
and flume becomes water’s trestle as
it flows downhill to the mill.”
— Thomas Rain Crowe, from “Mingus Mill.”
“English place names
clatter on our tongues
People were here, now gone.
The names remain, shadows.”
— Barbara R. Duncan, from “Naming Place.”
“Here is where Brush Creek at last frees itself
from State Highway 28
and shouts hallelujah as it races
into the wilds of the Needmore game lands.
Here the creek leaves behind its burden of old sofas,
washing machines, car parts, and garbage.
Here people were once free of the need
for such things; and here things were thrown
after the need was placed upon them. …”
— Brent Martin, from “Homeplace.”
I have some good news. But first the bad news. The world is ending. Evangelist Harold Camping has predicted it. Others point to the Mayan calendar and confirm that our remaining days are few. Meanwhile, a surprising number of people believe that a planet called Nibiru will collide with Earth and do us in.
Most conservationists I encounter may not pay attention to these particular predictors of doom, but they tend to be equally pessimistic about our future. When I traveled to Indiana a few weeks ago to speak at a conference on literature and the environment, I heard countless examples of people wiping out nature, nature killing people, and nature sometimes destroying itself.
Session titles included such uplifting topics as “Dead and Dying Animals in Literature, Film, Art, and Culture,” and “Imagining Environmental Apocalypse.” More than once, professors at the conference lamented that their students find environmental issues extremely depressing. Really? I can’t imagine why.
Sure, we have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the outside world: loss of habitat, polluted waters, global climate change, invasive species, oil spills, funding cuts for conservation programs, species extinctions, and more.
But depressing news is, well, depressing. It repels people — and their donations, too. Very few people want to take on apparently losing causes, and so the challenges continue.
I know we have to be realistic about these conservation issues, but rather than focusing on what’s gone wrong, maybe we should spend more time tallying what’s gone right. Then, the next time we think we’re approaching an environmental Armageddon, we can share these encouraging stories with friends, family, struggling students, discouraged conservation leaders and potential donors — or just read them to ourselves to remember that good things have happened before and can happen again.
Fortunately, we can find plenty of recent conservation successes right here in Western North Carolina. Thanks to various groups and agencies, we again have elk in the Smokies, peregrine falcons in the skies, and river otters and various fish species back in the Pigeon River watershed.
Meanwhile, air quality is improving, and Haywood Waterways and its partners have cleaned up Hyatt Creek enough that it has been removed from the EPA’s list of polluted waters. Also, the 12 land trusts of the Blue Ridge Forever partnership have protected more than 50,000 acres of important farmland, forests, and natural areas in the last five years.
I don’t think we should worry that some favorable results will eliminate humanity’s interest in the environment. Instead, these success stories can inspire all of us to create more good news.
Speaking of which, Harold Camping has updated his timeline for the end of the world — previously scheduled for May 21. We now have until October 21 to create some new conservation successes. Who knows? Maybe we’ll do enough good between now and then to earn the world another short reprieve.
George Ivey is a Haywood County-based consultant and author of the novel Up River. Contact him at www.georgeivey.com.
It’s a busy day at the farmers market, and William Shelton is red-faced and sweaty as he hands out boxes of vegetables to his regular weekly customers. One of his four sons — his namesake, Wil — is manning the cash box, adept after three or so summers of making correct change while exchanging pleasantries.
Farming, at least at the Shelton place in Whittier, is a family affair. And keeping that tradition alive and profitable hinges on making personal and meaningful connections with the people who purchase what the farm produces. This is true, not only for the Shelton family, but for all small farmers in Western North Carolina — and one of the best opportunities for farmers to do just that is coming up this month at the third-annual Local Food Gala in Macon County.
The gala is a fundraising event for the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, headquartered in Franklin. Last year, the sold-out gala raised $22,000 for the group, which since 1999 has conserved more than 12,000 acres in its six-county area of Macon, Swain, Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Jackson, including 1,000 acres on actual working farms.
Farmers such as Shelton donate produce for the event so proceeds can go entirely toward the land trust.
“It’s a good event, with really good food, and it’s mutually beneficial for everyone involved,” Shelton said as he handed a woman a box of vegetables grown on his farm, taking time to tell her that yes, corn was included this time in the selection.
Jill Wiggins, outreach coordinator for the Land Trust, said the money raised through the farm-to-table event goes into the group’s agricultural fund to help preserve farmland.
In addition to showcasing what’s in season, local and fresh (though there is a possibility that locally grown but frozen asparagus also might be included on the menu), the gala features a local wine and beer tasting. Plus a silent auction featuring “experiential packages,” Wiggins said, including a scholarship for John C. Campbell Folkschool in Brasstown.
“Not only do local foods reward our sense of taste, but locally produced food nourishes and strengthens our families and communities, sustains our mountain farming traditions, and protects our natural resources through productive land conservation practices,” Wiggins said, adding, “there’s nothing else like the local food gala. It’s a great feeling to be there.”
That’s true, said Ron Arps, a Jackson County farmer who has been involved with the gala since its inception. This year, because of heavy demand through a new CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) venture, Arps said he and his wife, Cathy might be donating only a few pounds of carrots. If, Arps said, they even have those — it’s been busy this year for the couple.
The Local Food Gala, Arps said, has evolved into an important event in Western North Carolina, and serves as an excellent means of connecting consumers to area farmers. He believes in throwing his support behind it whenever possible.
The night’s menu for the gala is still being decided on, Wiggins said, but it will definitely include a vegetarian and meat options. The meat and fish will both be locally produced, plus there will be sides featuring local vegetables. Dessert most likely will be a blueberry popover, Wiggins said.
Macon Bank and Duke Energy are sponsors of the event.
The Local Food Gala, an annual fundraising event for the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, will be held Saturday, July 30, at the Bloemsma Barn in the Patton Valley area near Franklin.
A limited number of tickets will be sold at the Land Trust’s office in Franklin, or via the group’s website, www.ltlt.org through July 20th. Tickets are $75 each, or $500 for a table of 8.
A conservation agreement with landowners has preserved 13 acres in the Bethel community of Haywood County.
The property is largely agricultural land, providing corn, hay and a critical calving unit for a larger cow-calf operation. The land will remain in agricultural production.
The land includes more than 1,000 feet of Garden Creek, which helps provide water for downstream farmers, the towns of Canton and Clyde, Evergreen Paper, trout, one species of rare fish, two species of rare freshwater mussels and hellbender salamanders.
The property was protected through a conservation easement, a voluntary and permanent agreement that limits certain development in exchange for possible federal, state, and local tax benefits, a cash payment, or some combination.
In this case, the landowners, Charles and Janice Henson, received modest compensation for the conservation agreement. Partners funding the easement, as well as other out-of-pocket expenses such as a property survey, an appraisal of the easement’s value, legal fees, and other closing costs, include: the Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District, the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, the Southwestern NC Resource Conservation and Development Council, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Bethel Rural Community Organization, and the Pigeon River Fund, which has provided several grants to help protect water quality in the Upper Pigeon River Valley by protecting rural lands.
This transaction marks the sixth conservation easement completed in the Upper Pigeon River watershed since 2007, a total of more than 230 acres.
Through some kind of mix up in the mail, I received a nomination from Wild South’s Roosevelt-Ashe Society for “Outstanding Journalist in Conservation” and an invitation to their 2011 “Green Tie Gala” held last Friday night (March 25) in Asheville.
I knew there was a mix up when I looked at the nominees in my category – Susan Andrew (Mountain Xpress), Pat Byington (Bama Environmental News), Bill Finch (The Nature Conservancy), Silas House and Jason Howard (authors of the book, Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal) and John Wathen (Friends of Hurricane Creek in Alabama, who uses his time and resources to document the effects of BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico).
“These are the kinds of people I write about,” I thought. But hey, the invitation promised free, local food and select beer and wine. Besides, I actually own a green tie – one with birds on it, believe it or not.
There was one awkward moment at the ceremony, when I took my hand out of my pocket to congratulate John Wathen, the outstanding journalist award winner, and my four-page impromptu acceptance speech fell on the floor. I quickly put my foot on it and casually commented, “Oh, that’s nothing – a little piece I’m working on for National Geographic Adventure about circumnavigating the globe in my sea kayak, the Mad Bella.”
OK, OK, in the “truth is stranger than fiction” department, I was quite surprised and humbled to find that my colleagues at The Smoky Mountain News had nominated me for the Roosevelt-Ashe journalism award. I knew the bottle of Pyrat rum (office Christmas gift) I dropped off would, one day, pay dividends.
I wasn’t kidding about what I thought my chances of winning were based on the list of nominees. I am a writer/columnist, not an activist, and the Roosevelt-Ashe nominees are, indeed, the people whose stories I tell. Still, it was an honor to be nominated and a pleasure to attend.
Wild South is a regional nonprofit that works to protect the wild things and wild places across the southern landscape. According to Wild South’s website the Roosevelt-Ashe Society is “a select group of individuals and businesses committed to sustaining the protection of the Southeast’s wild places. They uphold the legacies of President Theodore Roosevelt and Mr. W.W. Ashe by making personally significant contributions to support Wild South programs.”
The gala was held at Handmade in America’s Design Lab Space on Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville and there was an ample supply of promised local food and select adult beverages. There were more than a dozen sponsors for the event, regrettably too many to mention in this short column space but refreshments were wonderful and service was excellent.
Wild South started the award ceremony with two in-house recognitions – Susan Stone of Stone Digital Media and volunteer and Mountain Wildlife Days organizer John Edwards. The rest of the awards, selected by an independent awards committee, were: Alex Varner (Higher Ground Roasters) – Outstanding Business; Jay Leutze (Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy) – Outstanding Volunteer-Advocate; Philip Blumenthal – Outstanding Philanthropist; John Wathen (Friends of Hurricane Creek) – Outstanding Journalist; Hilary Hargrove (Riverdale High School, Tenn.) – Outstanding Educator; Cole Rasenberger (Davidson Elementary) – Outstanding Youth; and Brad Wyche (Upstate Forever) – Outstanding Conservationist.
It was a real treat to be there and see old friends like Kevin Fitzpatrick, whom I knew from Highlands. Kevin is an outstanding photographer and videographer now living in Asheville, where he owns All Species Photography and Sound. Dr. Pete Bates, natural resource professor at WCU and a deserving nominee for outstanding educator, was also there. And it was great to meet new friends like Wild South’s Alabama Program Director, Mark Kolinski.
People out there in the environmental/conservation trenches (including agency personnel like North Carolina Natural Resources Commission, U.S Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife) spend most of their working time being pigeonholed, dissed and/or vilified. Events like the Green Tie Gala, where they can let their hair and shields down and simply enjoy the company of other like-minded individuals, provide much needed R&R for these dedicated souls. A place where they can re-energize and prepare to get back out there and make more of the kinds of stories I write.
I thank my colleagues at Smoky Mountain News for the nomination and I thank Wild South and the Roosevelt-Ashe Society for the wonderful event and their recognition of their foot soldiers.
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) recently protected Blackrock Ridge in northern Jackson County, a striking and important component of the Plott Balsam Mountains. The Plott Balsams, which reach 6,000 feet in elevation, tower above Waynesville, Sylva and Cherokee. Blackrock Ridge is a 60-acre parcel just a little south and west of Waterrock Knob, which is located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Blackrock Ridge lies within the Yellow Face/Blackrock Mountain State Natural Heritage Area and Audubon North Carolina’s Plott Balsams Important Bird Area. The tract ascends Blackrock Mountain where it adjoins The Nature Conservancy’s 1,595-acre Plott Balsam Preserve.
According to Jay Leutze, SAHC trustee, the organization had been negotiating with the landowner when it learned the property was going to be auctioned.
“We had five days to raise donor funds,” Leutze said. “We’re fortunate — we don’t have a lot of bureaucracy — and we can be pretty nimble,” he said. SAHC was nimble enough to be high bidder and purchased the tract for around $110,000.
The tract is located near the newly created Pinnacle Park (Sylva’s old watershed), and trails maintained by natural resources students from Western Carolina University link the Blackrock Tract and Pinnacle Park.
Leutze said SAHC was extremely happy to be able to preserve the Blackrock tract. “It’s in a larger assemblage of private tracts and would have surely been developed,” he said.
The proximity to thousands of acres of already protected wilderness makes the tract important as a wildlife corridor. Blackrock Ridge attains an elevation of 5,600 feet, making it an ideal habitat for high-elevation species like the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel. According to Leutze, Carolina northern flying squirrels have been documented on The Nature Conservancy’s Plott Balsam Preserve and the protection of this tract will add further protection and preserve more suitable habitat for the endangered flying squirrel.
Protection of the tract also helps preserve the cultural heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who have strong ties to the craggy peaks of the Plott Balsams.
Leutze said that SAHC breaks the regional landscape up into “focus areas.”
“This allows us to focus on who would be likely partners and where to find likely donors for particular projects,” he said Blackrock Ridge falls within SAHC’s “Smoky Mountains Focus Area.”
“The Smoky Mountains Focus Area, of course, includes efforts to try and help buffer the Park [Great Smoky Mountains National Park] but it also provides the opportunity to try and protect outstanding high-elevation sites like this one that don’t have a lot of protection,” he said.
And parcels that help protect the integrity of the Blue Ridge Parkway viewshed help protect the goose that lays the golden egg.
“A 2007-2008 study noted that 90 percent of the visitors that come to the Blue Ridge Parkway come for the view,” said Carolyn Ward, the new head of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation (BRPF).
That translates into about $2.3 billion for communities adjacent to the Parkway.
“Those of us who live in the area know the value of protecting our natural resources and anytime we can add land, whether by purchase or by an easement, it helps protect that resource,” said Ward.
Ward said that the one of the BRPF’s projects for 2011 would be to help design guidelines for protecting viewsheds along the scenic byway that celebrated its 75th birthday in 2010.
Ward said the foundation would not only focus on the technical aspects and/or options for protecting tracts of land that would be useful to landowners and organizations and agencies but also work on outreach and education for residents to help them see the incredible value of the resource.
“Protecting our viewsheds is critical,” she said.
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy — headquartered in Asheville — is one of the oldest land trusts in the country.
SAHC was founded in 1974 and works to conserve the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, local farmland and scenic beauty of the mountains of North Carolina and east Tennessee for the benefit of present and future generations. SAHC achieves this by forging and maintaining conservation relationships with landowners and public agencies, owning and managing land, and working with communities to accomplish their conservation objectives.
SAHC’s flagship project is protecting the Highlands of Roan in Mitchell and Avery counties North Carolina and in Carter County in Tennessee. But its focus areas include the Smoky Mountains, Newfound and Walnut Mountains, Pisgah Ridge and Balsam Mountains, Black Mountains and the Mountains of East Tennessee.
To learn more about the SAHC visit www.appalachian.org.
By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist
The craziness of this year’s mid-term elections has passed. The campaign advertisements and signs are coming down. The dust is starting to settle. But one thing should remain top of mind for those Senators returning to conclude the 111th Congress — there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Members of Congress should also take note that even in the midst of a difficult economy and political sea change there continues to be strong and bipartisan voter support for investments in land conservation and parks. On Election Day, voters approved 28 of 35 (80 percent) of state and local measures on the ballot to finance land conservation and parks, including statewide measures in Oregon, Iowa, Maine and Rhode Island. In Arizona, voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 301 that would have raided voter-approved open space funds and put them to the general budget if approved.
With public support for conservation and recreation in mind, one issue facing senators as they return for the lame duck session on Nov. 15 is the need to finally provide consistency for a program that has done more for local communities and our country than most people realize. Signed into law in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was designed to dedicate a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas development for land conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the country — a promise that has been chronically unfulfilled.
LWCF was supposed to receive $900 million per year — a drop in the bucket of offshore revenues that typically tally well over $5 billion — but has been shortchanged by Congress nearly every year, with revenues regularly being diverted to other purposes. Full funding has been appropriated only once in the LWCF’s 46-year history and recently declined to a low of $138 million in 2007. This shortfall has resulted in a huge backlog of unmet funding needs for land protection and outdoor recreation for our federal public lands, and state and local parks.
And yet in spite of rarely receiving its due, LWCF has been instrumental in many of the places that are most dear to us as a nation. From local parks and playgrounds, where kids can get outside to play, to greenbelts and recreational trails that connect and enhance local communities, to state parks that provide hiking, biking, and camping and help to sustain wildlife, to federal public lands used for hunting, fishing, paddling, and our most pristine national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas — LWCF has provided a continuum of conservation that has touched us all. Close to home, LWCF has provided over $60 million and protected almost 40,000 acres in North Carolina since its inception in 1964, protecting places like Catawba Falls, the Appalachian Trail, and Lake James.
Given the tragic oil spill in the Gulf this summer, the vision behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund is even more relevant than ever and now is the time for action. In a national bipartisan poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and FM3 in May, 85 percent of respondents view the LWCF as more important today in light of the oil spill. And now, with the offshore moratorium having been lifted once again and the oil spill still fresh in our minds, it is only right to ensure that some of the revenues from the use of this resource are used to protect our precious land resources.
On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives took on this challenge by passing the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2010, H.R. 3534, including full, dedicated funding for LWCF with the support of Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC). In addition, LWCF was a centerpiece of the Administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” listening sessions throughout the country this summer and is expected to be a priority as that initiative continues to take shape.
But the Senate needs to act in order to capture this opportunity and momentum to finally ensure LWCF receives its due. Please write Senators Burr and Hagan and encourage them to work with Senate leadership to ensure that full and dedicated LWCF funding is included in energy or other relevant legislation and enacted before the end of this Congress.
The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy has partnered with The Conservation Fund to purchase 8,000 acres in southern Transylvania County from former congressman Charles Taylor and family.
Keiran Roe, executive director of the CMLC, described the tract as the largest privately owned piece of wilderness in Western North Carolina, and said he hoped for a closing before the end of 2010.
The Conservation Fund will initially hold the title on the property and will remain the owner until the property is paid off. However, according to CMLC’s website, The Conservation Trust cannot make the down payment unless the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission commits to managing the tract and eventually taking title.
Roe said the $33 million asking price was a real deal.
“We’ve had two appraisals in the past year and one came in at $55 million and one was $66 million, he said. Mr. Taylor has been extremely cooperative and has worked with us to make this deal happen.” The conservation groups have raised $3 million as a down payment, according to Roe, and Taylor has agreed to finance the rest and has given the groups five years to pay off the remaining $30 million.
Roe said Wildlife Commission was the most logical choice to manage the tract because of its history of multiple use.
“It’s our hope to see the land remain open to the public,” said Roe.
It’s no secret that during his 16 years in Congress, Taylor often found himself at odds with national and local environmental groups. He made the League of Conservation Voters’ infamous “Dirty Dozen” list while recording a lifetime score of 5 percent from the group. But Taylor maintained during his long political career and now that he has always been a conservationist.
“There’s been no change in my philosophy,” Taylor said. The cattle farmer and timber manager said he has always been an advocate of multiple use and sound scientific silviculture. He said that most environmental groups were political in nature and that he fought against the idea of taking personal property rights for what he called environmental worship.
Roe said the fact that the Headwaters tract has the state’s highest water quality rating – Outstanding Resource Waters – points to good stewardship.
“It is rare for a privately owned parcel to have such outstanding water quality. It’s truly a tribute to the management of this tract,” Roe said.
Taylor said the water made the Headwaters tract unique. The East Fork flows into the French Broad River, which serves as a back-up drinking water source for the Asheville Regional Water Authority. The importance of the French Broad as a potable water source will only increase as the population of the region grows.
Taylor also noted the impending reinstatement of the estate tax as pause for concern.
“It can be a real dilemma for people who own large amounts of property,” he said. The former congressman said his three sons — Owen, Bryan and Charles Robert — grew up fishing, hiking and roaming the tract. They, ultimately, had the most to say regarding the sale, according to Taylor.
“We grew up hiking to these magnificent waterfalls and fishing in these beautiful trout streams,” Owen Taylor told the Transylvania Times. “By working with the conservation groups, we hope that our children and future generations will continue to have access to the land while opening it up to wider public enjoyment and protecting its water supplies for long-term community benefit.”
According to Roe, there are other tax incentives that landowners such as Taylor are eligible for when they sell their property to a conservancy. There are conservation tax credits, and often the difference between the sale price ($33 million in this case) and the appraised value is seen as a charitable donation.
The southern boundary of the property abuts tens of thousands of acres of publicly owned lands in South Carolin, including an eight-mile common boundary with the Greenville, S.C., watershed. On the North Carolina side, the parcel fits like a jigsaw puzzle between DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park, creating much needed wildlife corridors.
There are more than 25 waterfalls on the property and more than 50 miles of high quality trout streams that provide habitat for endangered and/or threatened species such as the Appalachian brook trout, green salamander and hellbender (a large aquatic salamander). The tract is also home to the federally endangered rock gnome lichen.
This volume of high quality water is seen as a significant resource for Buncombe and Henderson counties as the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson counties have built a water intake and treatment facility at the confluence of the Mills and French Broad Rivers.
The tract also contains nine miles of the Foothills Trail, a 107-mile trail network primarily in South Carolina that connects Caesar’s Head State Park in South Carolina with the Gorges State Park in North Carolina. The trail is maintained by the Foothills Trail Conference on a year-to-year lease. Public ownership of the Headwaters tract would guarantee that the trail system would remain intact. Public ownership would also guarantee that Sassafras Mountain, the highest peak in South Carolina, would remain intact.
Opening the tract to the public could also provide significant economic benefits to the region. The Wildlife Commission estimates that hatchery supported waters such as those in the East Fork tract contribute as much as $72.7 million annually to the state’s economy. A 2008 Wildlife Commission study estimated that fish and wildlife-related recreation generated $4.3 billion in state income in 2006.
And there may be more treasures to find. The Blue Ridge escarpment is noted for its biodiversity. This transition stage between the piedmont and mountains contains a myriad of microhabitats including spray cliffs and Southern Appalachian bogs.