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Behind the wheel with Paul Carlson: a two-hour tour of the Little Tennessee

As Paul Carlson tooled out of downtown Franklin, houses faded into rolling hayfields, and the Little Tennessee River soon took up its flank position along the edge of N.C. 28.

Changing attitudes: Carlson reshaped ideas about conservation

coverHistory will no doubt remember Paul Carlson as one of the great visionaries of our time in Western North Carolina. As the founder and long time director of the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee retires from his leadership role, we pause to reflect on the contributions he’s made.

SEE ALSO: Behind the wheel with Paul Carlson: a two-hour tour of the Little Tennessee 

Few men can claim a legacy in the Southern Appalachians as deep or long-lasting as Paul Carlson’s

Couple conserves private tract in Jackson

out easementA new conservation agreement finalized by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee will protect 104 acres in Cullowhee from development, preserving it for wildlife, small-scale agriculture and timber management. 

This is no time to devalue our wild heritage

op frBy Bill McLarney • Guest Columnist

We humans are highly skilled and devilishly clever. We can create ball fields, schools, prisons, highways, airports, strip malls, industrial parks, reservoir lakes, landfills, farms of all kinds, Superfund sites, babies  and sustainably managed timber lands — the list goes on. One of the few imaginable things we can’t make is what has come to be called wilderness.  So just maybe we shouldn’t destroy a whole lot more of it.

Forest users debate pros and cons of potential wilderness recommendations

fr wildernessOut of the gate, the U.S. Forest Service’s first stab at listing potential wilderness areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests met with criticism following its release in late November. 

Whether concerned about which areas were on the list, which weren’t or the timing of the release, nearly everybody had something negative to say about the wilderness inventory. 

Tracking the sicklefin: Understanding rare fish’s lifestyle important for conservation

out frThe sicklefin redhorse is a sneaky kind of fish. It wasn’t discovered as a species until 1992, and even with its existence known, the fish is difficult to tag and track, avoiding radio detection at the bottom of deep river pools. But will the bottom-feeding suckerfish also be able to avoid getting listed as a threatened or endangered species? 

Mike LaVoie, biologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is hoping to answer that question with a negative. The sicklefin has been a candidate for listing since the early 2000s — candidate species are those for whom listing is recommended but funds aren’t available to follow through — but it’s likely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a decision by the end of 2015.  Listing can help vulnerable species make a comeback, but it can also make things more difficult for people who use the river.

Workshop touts low-impact, conservation development

fr greengrowthThe rolling hills of the Cullowhee River Club unfold beneath a heaven of blue sky as the Tuckasegee River rifles by. The property long belonged to the Battle family, it was known as the Battle farm.

That’s before Ken Newell stumbled into God’s backyard.

Turn it off: WCU comes out on top in national energy reduction competition

out frWhen the Campus Conservation Nationals Competition wrapped up this spring, Western Carolina University came out near the top of a nationwide field of 109 schools. Schools didn’t receive specific rankings, but WCU made the top 10 with a 13.7 percent reduction in its residential halls’ energy use over the three-week competition period. 

“A common adage in the world of energy conservation is: Human energy change is low-hanging fruit, but the fruit grows back, so as we get new students in, we have to continue to improve our programs,” said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. 

Conservation funding on the rocks in state budget forecast

fr needmoreThe state fund that helped conserve miles of riverfront, protect thousands of acres of undeveloped mountainsides and build countless sewer and water projects in Western North Carolina is hanging on by a thread.

Future park might be in the cards for the Plott Balsams

The recent acquisition of 720 acres of land in the Plott Balsams has helped set the table for the first major park to be created along the Blue Ridge Parkway in six decades.

The land, owned by former Congressman Charles Taylor, was recently taken over by the national group The Conservation Fund. That same group has a two-year option for 2,226 more acres but will need to raise some $5.7 million to make the purchase.

The pieces of property help make up Maggie Valley’s watershed. Neil Carpenter, head of the sanitary district for the town, said the recent purchase was a relief. He’s worked at preserving the land from development for the past eight years.

“Development was a possibility,” Carpenter said. “The economy slowing down bought us some time. If the economy had kept booming, I think it would have sold for development. We’re ecstatic it’s protected now.”

The town pulls its water from Campbell Creek. There are 10,000 users on Maggie Valley’s water system, Carpenter said.

The property is extremely rugged but could still have been developed, Carpenter said. Under Haywood County regulations, one house could have been built per each half acre available.

“That was a big threat,” Carpenter said, adding that development could have required the town to engage in “difficult and costly water treatment” down the road.

“And once that quality of a stream is compromised, you virtually never get back to that original quality,” he added.

The land, which connects to 2,415 acres adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway that have already been purchased, run along the 6,000-foot high crest of the Plott Balsams near Sylva and Waynesville. They lie to the west and east of the 6,200-foot high Waterrock Knob, a major scenic destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“The goal is to take all these conserved lands and make a park out of them,” Carpenter said. “And to make a wildlife corridor.”

The towering Plott Balsams are ecologically significant. Elk from Cataloochee have shown up there, plus the land is home to the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel and populations of native brook trout.

 

What the future holds

In the 1950s, three other parks were established along the Blue Ridge Parkway: the 3,512-acre Moses Cone Park near Blowing Rock, the 4,264-acre Julian Price Park that is adjacent to the Moses Cone Park, and the 1,141-acre Linville Falls Park.

Each of these parks was created via financial gifts from individual families. And, the mold appears unbroken in this case, too — the property being acquired today along the parkway has, so far, been paid for with money from Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, who have been important philanthropists in the environmental arena for years. Federal funding is being sought to help pay for the remaining available parcels. Meetings already have taken place with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr about the possibility for federal funding efforts.

Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said the recent acquisition is key to helping protect the views for visitors.

“I think that’s a very important piece for the protection of our viewsheds,” Francis said, pointing out that this is in line with Haywood County’s proactive stance in this area.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority and Maggie Valley Lodging Association recently earmarked $19,500 to clear a portion of the county’s 73 vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The money was used to hire three workers, or fallers, in February to begin scaling back the overgrown trees.

“This will further help protect these views,” Francis said, adding that the Plott Balsams holds “a rich array of resources.”

Francis said a future park along the Blue Ridge Parkway is not inconceivable and that it is within the agency’s scope to manage such an entity if formed. The 469-mile parkway currently has 15 different recreation areas.

“If all the arrangements can be worked out, we could manage a park,” Francis said. “That’s always a big ‘if’ however.”

Francis, who has been involved in the meetings about securing the remaining tracts of land, said he’s been impressed by the commitment of the parties involved to protect the Plott Balsams.

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