NEW SWITZERLAND, NC (Dec. 28, 2017)—An OSI grant has helped to permanently protect a scenic 1,076-acre property in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for the celebrated nonprofit conference center Wildacres Retreat. The property, home to pristine streams and critical natural heritage areas, is also an example of highly climate-resilient land within the state.
Adjacent to 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the property is conserved thanks to a collaborative partnership among Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), and Wildacres Retreat.
OSI supported the project for its climate-resiliency, meaning that the property will provide long-term refuge for plants and animals, even in a changing climate.
“Permanent conservation of the Wildacres Retreat property marks a major milestone for the protection of habitat in North Carolina,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s Executive Vice President of Conservation Capital & Research Programs. “As the climate changes, this highly resilient property will provide a long-term haven for sensitive plants and animals. The Open Space Institute is proud to have supported this project and we applaud Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina for their collaboration and tireless work to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Despite the ecological value of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountain region, Federally-protected land in this region is fragmented and thousands of acres are still vulnerable to development.
“The Wildacres Retreat property has been among CTNC and Foothills Conservancy’s highest priority projects for years,” said Rusty Painter, CTNC Land Protection Director. “Conserving its ecologically diverse habitat between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest achieves the type of landscape-scale conservation that’s one goal of our Blue Ridge Parkway conservation plan.”
Nearly six miles of hiking trails thread through the newly-protected property for public use, including one trail into the property from Deer Lick Gap Overlook, a nearly 3,500-foot overlook for motorists traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The project was primarily funded by a $1 million grant from North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund awarded to Foothills Conservancy and a $26,000 donation from Philip Blumenthal, director of Wildacres Retreat. In addition, CTNC secured a $50,000 grant from the Cannon Foundation, and $177,240 from the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which is made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Resilient Landscapes Initiative seeks to build capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change. Conservation Trust for North Carolina will also provide the remaining funds for the project.
Wildacres Retreat will use the lands to host arts and cultural groups and allow the public to use the trail network, while passively managing the property’s forests for wildlife. A state-held Clean Water Management Trust Fund easement will protect stream buffers and critical natural areas on the land, while a second easement held by Conservation Trust for North Carolina will preserve a key portion of forested lands connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest.