North Carolina Adds 430 Acres to Highlands of Roan

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The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) purchased 430 acres on Oct. 5 in the Highlands of Roan in Avery County, adding to a network of protected lands that is rich in wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, who provided technical guidance to SAHC on the Powdermill tract's importance to conservation strategies in the region, see this purchase as a significant advancement toward achieving the goals set forth in the State Wildlife Action Plan. This plan, adopted by the state in 2005, is an ambitious blueprint for fish and wildlife conservation for the next half century.

"The area's size, juxtaposition to other important tracts and its diversity of priority habitats falls in line with the goals of the action plan, which are to conserve aquatic and terrestrial species and their associated habitats," said Jeff Schwierjohann, the Commission's Wildlife Diversity supervisor for the Mountain Region. "The plan also prioritizes the need for conservation of key large-acreage areas of high-quality habitat like the Powdermill tract."

The tract, located near the Appalachian Trail and the Pisgah National Forest, comprises lush riparian areas, two types of mature forests, a grassy bald and a high altitude ridge of more than 5,000 feet in elevation. With its stunning long range views, habitat diversity, abundant wildlife and excellent trout fishing, the tract provides something for all outdoor enthusiasts — from anglers to hikers to wildlife watchers.

The land contains 1.4 miles of Powdermill Creek, a headwater source of the North Toe and Nolichucky rivers. Streams on the tract directly feed the nearby hatchery-supported trout waters of the North Toe River and are water supplies for several mountain communities.

According to Carl Silverstein, the SAHC executive director, the purchase was a complex transaction that took years to complete and involved partnerships among individuals, non-profit organizations and government agencies, including the Wildlife Resources Commission.

"Several developers had approached the landowners, offering to buy the property," Silverstein said. "If we were not buying it now for conservation and protection of wildlife habitat, it would very likely have been lost to development."

The purchase of this pristine acreage represents a major addition to SAHC's decades-long effort to conserve the Highlands of Roan, which is located on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line. The North Carolina State Natural Heritage Program has designated a portion of the property as part of the nationally significant Roan Mountain Massif natural area.

The Powdermill tract is part of a 24,000-acre ecological network, which contains 16,000 contiguous acres already protected, including the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests along the Appalachian Trail; 700 acres owned by the state of Tennessee at Hampton Creek Cove, which SAHC manages pursuant to a contract with the state; Roan Mountain State Park, and 900 more acres owned or managed by SAHC.

The remaining 9,000 acres of unprotected tracts in the region are on SAHC's priority list for landowner outreach and negotiations, land acquisition and conservation easements. Active negotiations are under way on a number of those properties.

The Powedermill tract purchase was funded by a contingent of natural resources agencies and conservation organizations such as the Open Space Institute, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Will Stevens Revolving Loan Fund and conservation supporters Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury.

For additional information on the Powdermill tract, visit the SAHC's Web site, http://www.appalachian.org or contact Silverstein at carl@appalachian.org or (828) 253-0095.