324 Acres on TN slopes of Hump Mountain — Now Protected!

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) purchased 324 acres in the Highlands of Roan — permanently protecting the northern slopes of Hump Mountain just 500 ft. from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT)! The property, adjoining Cherokee National Forest and Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area, has been a conservation priority for SAHC and partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the US Forest Service for decades.

“Our purchasing this tract ensures that future generations of hikers will be able to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the AT on Hump Mountain,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “This property has been one of our top conservation priorities since the founding of our organization, and we are deeply proud of having worked with the landowners and our partners to acquire it.”

The AT passes across the grassy balds atop Hump Mountain, affording hikers breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. The newly protected property is prominent in the viewshed, reaching to 5,000 ft. elevation just below the AT.

“Our purchase removes the risk of development from a very fragile part of the view,” continued Silverstein. “The landscape here is truly dramatic because it is such a high elevation, open part of the Trail. Here, hikers emerging from more wooded portions of their journey experience sweeping views and a sense of remoteness. Because the tract is situated so close to the Trail, if it had been developed, its loss would have had a deeply negative impact. Now, that will never happen.”

The Backstory

SAHC history with the tract began in 1967 when SAHC’s founders first met with Oscar Julian, who owned Hump Mountain, to express an interest in conserving the land for posterity. Julian and his wife and two children enjoyed hiking, camping, hunting, and riding horses on the mountain. Over the years, he reportedly turned down substantial offers from developers seeking to turn the Highlands of Roan into a resort area.

“Hump Mountain is known throughout the AT for the outstanding views from its expansive grassy meadows,” said Joe DeLoach, former Trustee and dedicated AT volunteer. “The potential for development on and near Hump Mountain was a catalyst for the formation of what became SAHC in the 1960s.  Thanks to the diligence of many people, and the stewardship and generosity of the late Oscar Julian, much of Hump Mountain including the summit was protected years ago.  However, the large remaining privately-owned tract went within a stone’s throw of the crest of the Roan Highlands and the AT, clearly visible along a mile of the Trail.  This tract has been one of the top five priority tracts for SAHC since the early 1990s, and with success on other lands it has been arguably the highest priority tract in recent years.  Now visitors will be able to enjoy the high meadows of Big Ridge, the upper Shell Creek drainage, and the beautiful areas below Bradley Gap knowing that they are preserved.”

In the early 1980s, SAHC helped negotiate the US Forest Service purchase of 1,400 acres on the NC side of Hump Mountain, which is crossed by the AT. In subsequent decades, and continued periodic outreach to Oscar Julian’s children and heirs, seeking to protect the remaining land at the head of the Shell Creek valley as additional buffer for the AT.

“I oversaw the design and construction of the AT across the first, NC, tract purchased from the Julian family and have been waiting since 1983 for ‘the missing piece’ of the TN side to complete the setting of this Appalachian National Scenic Trail crown jewel,” remarked Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director.

A Legacy, Now Protected for Posterity

“This land has been in our family for years,” said Zack Julian, one of the landowners. “It belonged to my grandfather and was passed on to my dad and our family. I have so many memories, from camping to picnics and hiking up to the AT with my parents. I will forever cherish and treasure those memories, and they are part of the reason why we are excited to pass this land to SAHC. Its serenity and beauty will remain intact because we are leaving it in good hands.”

The recently protected land contains exceptional habitat and water resources and is almost entirely surrounded by Audubon Society Important Bird Areas. Golden-winged Warbler and Alder Flycatcher have been identified near the property, and threatened, native Gray’s lily has been observed onsite. The tract contains the headwaters of Shell Creek and unnamed headwater tributaries of Doll Branch, which flow into the Doe River.

“The Appalachian National Scenic Trail offers Americans from across the country the ability to experience a piece of history while enjoying the outdoors from Georgia to Maine,” said Wendy K. Janssen, Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. “We at the National Park Service are thrilled that the Hump Mountain tract will be preserved and protected as part of the AT landscape.  This project is a model for our Landscape Conservation Initiative with the ATC and partners such as SAHC and US Forest Service.”

The purchase was made possible by a generous gift from philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, a US Fish & Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grant, and a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund. SAHC intends to own the property until funds are available for it to be transferred and added to the Cherokee National Forest.

The Future

“This is an outstanding example of how federal, state and private partners can work together to achieve common goals,” said JaSal Morris, Forest Supervisor, Cherokee National Forest.  “When this proposed federal land acquisition is selected for funding it will be a great addition, not only to the Cherokee National Forest land base, but to the entire National Forest System.”

The project has been included in the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) requests for FY 2017 and FY 2018. The federal LWCF has funded a majority of the public land protection along the course of the AT in the Roan Highlands. TN Senator Lamar Alexander has been a supporter of the LWCF and its positive impact on Tennessee for decades.

“The announcement by SAHC that it has purchased and will protect 324 acres in Carter County just 500 feet from the AT is the latest example of the important role the LWCF can play in protecting Tennessee’s outdoors, like it has done for over 50 years,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Efforts like these will help further preserve our state’s beautiful land and recreation areas so future generations have the same opportunities to enjoy them as we have.”

Created by Congress in 1965, LWCF was a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The fund expired in 2015 and was reauthorized for 3 years, until September 2018.

Home Run

“Land trusts must be strategic about the projects we pursue and this one met all of our objectives: the property is a pristine high-elevation tract joining a large conservation corridor of protected lands, and it falls within a few hundred feet of the most storied hiking trail in the world,” said Jay Leutze, SAHC president.

“The purchase improves public access and in the future will be open to many uses, such as hiking, camping, and hunting.  It’s a conservation home-run and we’re grateful to the Julian family for being such good stewards of this special place.”

Story by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.