MORGANTON, NC — May 5, 2017 — With support from the Open Space Institute (OSI), Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has announced the protection of 259 additional acres in the Catawba River’s headwaters, to be added to the Catawba Headwaters Preserve.
Acquisition of the tract, called “Sank Gap,” also conserves a significant portion of the Edmondson Mountain Natural Area, identified by North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program for its range of natural communities similar to those found in nearby Pisgah National Forest. Known for its high resiliency, the Sank Gap tract will continue to provide habitat to sensitive plants and animals even under changing climate conditions.
A $155,000 grant from OSI’s Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund, in recognition of the property’s high level of climate change resilience and biodiversity, helped secure the property. The land falls within the Southern Blue Ridge Focus Area identified in OSI’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which seeks to identify and fund the protection of places that are best able to recover from climate-related disturbance, ensuring biodiversity for years to come.
“The resiliency of Sank Gap will make it an invaluable haven for wildlife and human communities as the climate changes,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president in charge of the Conservation Capital Program. “This project demonstrates the important role that land conservation can play in protecting places that are not just important today but will endure far into the future. Foothills and its many partners, including landowner Tim Sweeney, are to be commended for their vision and commitment.”
“This property has been a high priority for us for a while, and we are very pleased that it is now protected,” said Tom Kenney, Foothills Conservancy land protection director. “It is important not only because it contains streams that impact the water quality of the Catawba River—a source of drinking water for millions of North and South Carolinians—but also because it ranks highly as a resilient landscape as climate change occurs. We are grateful to all who contributed to make this purchase possible.”
Significant streams on the tract drain into Little Crooked Creek, a tributary that joins the Catawba River downstream of Old Fort. The Catawba River Basin is one of North Carolina’s most important river basins. More than two million Carolinians from Marion to Charlotte and downstream to Columbia, South Carolina, rely on the river for their drinking water supply.
Private funding also included a generous commitment of $81,300 from conservationists Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, among other local citizen donors. Duke Energy contributed the final $8,500 needed to complete the project’s funding as a tribute gift in memory of longtime Foothills Conservancy supporter Paul Braun, who passed away in early January.