The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently protected 267 acres in two separate conservation projects in the Newfound Mountains, near the area where Buncombe, Haywood and Madison counties converge. 31 acres were purchased at Doubleside Knob in Haywood County, and placed 236 acres into conservation easement at Haywood Gap, permanently protecting clean water sources, healthy forest communities, habitat, and wildlife corridors.
“These projects continue our decades-long commitment to conservation efforts in the Sandy Mush community,” says Executive Director Carl Silverstein. Over the past two decades, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has protected over 10,000 acres in this area.
The Haywood Gap conservation easements, in two adjoining tracts, protect over 16,000 linear feet of stream corridor, including five tributary streams of Bald Fork, which flows into Sandy Mush Creek in the French Broad River watershed. The tracts also adjoin 600 acres owned by the Long Branch Environmental Education Center, which the Conservancy protected with a conservation easement in 1995.
The 236 protected acres at Haywood Gap rise to 4,380 ft. elevation on the border of Haywood County. The tracts contain healthy forest habitat with high elevation rock outcrops, rich cove forest, and montane oak forest. The robust understory plant communities support a diversity of native species, including large & small mammals, birds, migratory species, amphibians and reptiles, and aquatic life.
“On a clear day, Haywood Gap is visible from downtown Asheville in the sweeping arc of mountains that frame the western horizon,” adds Silverstein. “This conservation project is particularly exciting because of the prominence of that view — as well as the quality of water sources, habitat, and connectivity to other protected lands. Large rock outcrops found at high elevations are rare. They are a priority habitat to protect because several rare plants and animals – such as the rock vole and the Alleghany woodrat – thrive within these communities.”
SAHC is grateful for the vision of the landowners, private philanthropic leaders, and Buncombe County for the permanent protection of Haywood Gap.
Landowner Perspective: “We bought our share of Sandy Mush land back in the mid-late 70’s together with Jim and Susan who had the other portion; we were really part of the “back to the land” movement of the time – realizing how important nature and protecting it was. We were so struck by the gorgeous land in itself – and the incredibly beautiful valley we had to go through to get to it. For Bill, it connected to his past, growing up in Andrews, NC in the beautiful Snowbird Mountains. For me, it connected to my love of land and the wish to protect it. Also, my father was from Switzerland, and I lived there for 3 years as an adult and developed a deep love of mountains. Sandy Mush feeds that feeling and need in me. When I drive through the gorgeous valley before ascending our mountain area, I connect with our beautiful state, with Switzerland and with my love of nature, especially mountains. When SAHC approached us, we were so excited that the land would be even better protected. With developers encroaching everywhere, protecting land feeds the future, protects water and food supply, and feeds all of my senses. We are so fortunate to be connected to such a beautiful, peaceful and nourishing place, and we are thrilled that our daughter Thea and her husband Rachit are also excited about this area and its preservation.” — Evelyn Bloch, one of the Haywood Gap landowners
The 31-acre Doubleside Knob tract purchased by SAHC also contains healthy habitat, with Southern Appalachian oak forest, mixed hardwoods, boulder fields, and elevations reaching above 4,000 ft. at the top of the knob. The property is adjacent to an existing conservation easement and connected to a large network of protected land in Sandy Mush. Connectivity is important in conservation lands, helping to create wildlife corridors.
Part of a mountainous backdrop, Doubleside Knob is visible from the hiking/mountain biking trail in the Rough Creek Watershed. The 870-acre Rough Creek Watershed, owned by the Town of Canton, is publicly accessible for day use by hikers and mountain bikers. In 2002, SAHC worked with the Town of Canton and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to place a conservation easement on the tract, protecting its unique forest ecosystem and natural resources. Today, the Rough Creek Watershed Trail System is open to the public and comprised of three trails of various distances, totaling 10+ miles.
The purchase of Doubleside Knob protects water quality as well; the property contains the main branch of Long Branch, which flows into Beaverdam Creek.
Landowners Gloria Nelson and Mary Morehouse owned and enjoyed the property for many years. Mary was once Gloria’s teacher, and they became friends and remained close throughout their lives, often visiting each other to spend time on the land they love.
“For years we have walked this property and enjoyed the beauty of the trees, the animals, and the stream that runs through it,” said landowner Gloria Nelson. “For this reason we wanted this land to remain just as it is. We are very happy that the conservancy now owns it and will be able to preserve it for years to come.”
Article by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.