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Conservation Loan Protects Key Parcel in Southern Appalachians

Newland, NC - October 15, 2007 - The Open Space Conservancy, the land acquisition affiliate of the Open Space Institute (OSI) assisted the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) in acquiring a pristine 434-acre tract of land in the globally significant Highlands of Roan. The one million dollars in bridge financing allowed the local conservation organization to purchase the property, adding to a network of protected lands that are rich in wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

The land, located in Avery County, North Carolina, is near the Appalachian Trail and the Pisgah National Forest and includes a high altitude ridge over 5,000 feet in elevation. The project is intended to further the goals of the North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan, and was endorsed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

SAHC closed the deal on the property, known as the Powdermill tract after the creek that runs through it, last week. The purchase was a complex transaction, taking years to complete and involving innovative partnerships among various government agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals. This victory underscores the collaborative multi-agency effort underway to conserve precious land and water resources in western North Carolina.

With the OSI loan, OSI unveils its new $4.4 million fund help accelerate the protection of wildlife habitat throughout the Southern Appalachians.  With this conservation collaboration, OSI is heightening its commitment to the goals of the Wildlife Action Plans throughout the Southern Appalachians.

“Due to pressures of real estate development, landscape fragmentation, climate change, and other factors, populations of numerous wildlife species are in decline and will face increasing challenges in the future,” said Marc Hunt, Credit Manager and Southern Appalachians Field Coordinator for OSI. “As a means to offset those perils, OSI and other conservation organizations are increasingly prioritizing wildlife habitat conservation in their work.”

“The area’s size, juxtaposition to other important tracts, and its diversity of priority habitats makes this purchase a significant advance towards achieving the goals set forth in the State Wildlife Action Plan,” said Jeff Schwierjohann, the Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Supervisor for the Mountain Region when he toured the area this summer. “We are very much looking forward to working with OSI and SAHC on this tract and others in the future.”

“The Powdermill tract has excellent long range views and is within quick and easy access to the Pisgah National Forest, the Appalachian Trail, and excellent trout fishing, all of which would have made it highly attractive for residential development,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC Executive Director. “Several developers had approached the landowners, offering to buy the property. If we were not buying it now for conservation and protection of wildlife habitat, it would very likely have been lost to development.”

Conserving this particular tract of land was identified in a State-funded study as a high priority for preserving water quality in the headwaters of the North Toe River. The property contains 1.4 miles of Powdermill Creek, a headwater source of the North Toe and Nolichucky Rivers. The streams on the tract directly feed the nearby hatchery-supported trout waters of the North Toe River and serve as the source of drinking water for several mountain communities.

The project represents a major addition to SAHC's decades-long effort to conserve the globally significant Highlands of Roan. 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 that is beloved by the public for its scenic value and recreational opportunities and is enjoyed by thousands every year, including Appalachian Trail hikers and campers; wildflower lovers, bird watchers, and other naturalists; students and classroom field trips; fishing and hunting enthusiasts; and winter recreationists such as cross-country skiers.

The Highlands of Roan are also a key wildlife corridor for game and non-game species including black bear, grouse, turkey, and neo-tropical songbirds and is prime habitat for native speckled trout. Of the 24,000 acres, 16,000 contiguous acres are 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 Powdermill tract contains multiple ecosystems with high conservation values, including diverse riparian areas, two types of mature forests, and a grassy bald. Similarly rich in critical wildlife habitat, 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 underway on a number of those properties. The next five years are crucial to the SAHC’s efforts.

“Because a great deal of land is being sold and developed so quickly now, and at such high prices, it’s a real challenge for us to protect the places that people treasure and are wildlife-critical,” said Carl Silverstein.

The Wildlife Action Plan was adopted by the state of North Carolina in 2005 as its ambitious blueprint for fish and wildlife conservation for the next half-century. States elsewhere in the region and the nation are similarly adopting such plans consistent with a congressional mandate.

Commission biologists drew upon data collected throughout the state over several years and collaborated with over 100 outside agencies, organizations, and experts to develop the plan. The Commission’s plan was the first to be submitted and is still considered one of the nation’s finest. The plan calls for conservation of a wide array of aquatic and terrestrial species and their associated habitats, and prioritizes the need for conservation of key large-acreage areas of high-quality habitat like the Powdermill tract.  

The North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) approved a $1 million grant to SAHC toward the purchase, which SAHC will use to repay the bridge loan when the CWMTF funds are available. The Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga, Tennessee provides key support for OSI, SAHC and others working towards preservation of wildlife habitat. The Will Henry Stevens Revolving Loan Fund made a generous $150,000 loan to SAHC, which helped SAHC close the transaction. An artist and naturalist, Will Henry Stevens' (1881-1949) passion for nature is evident in his many pastels and paintings. In his honor and memory, John Cram and Jocelyn (Lynn) Hill created the Will Henry Stevens Loan Fund to make short-term loans to help purchase, protect and conserve the natural land and vistas of western North Carolina. Conservation heroes Fred and Alice Stanback also made a private gift matching the CWMTF grant.

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