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OSI loan helps preserve High Appalachian Ridge

AVERY COUNTY, NC – February 19, 2013 – Using critical loan funds from the Open Space Institute, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) recently purchased a 601-acre tract at Grassy Ridge in Avery County, North Carolina, adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest and near the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Highlands of Roan, which span the North Carolina/Tennessee state line. The incredible parcel borders one of the highest ridges of the Southern Appalachians, and has been one of SAHC’s top conservation priorities for four decades.

“Since SAHC's beginning, the protection of the Grassy Ridge tract has been a top priority. There is still much more to be done, but we can all rejoice that this important tract is now protected forever,” said Carol Coffey, the former president of the SAHC Board of Trustees. “The purchase of the Grassy Ridge tract is a milestone in SAHC's efforts to protect the Southern Appalachian Highlands.”

OSI’s loan—its second to SAHC in the last six years—was especially important as it met a landowner stipulation that allowed the acquisition to be completed by the end of 2012. Fred and Alice Stanback also made a generous contribution toward the purchase of the property. 

“The Open Space Institute was pleased to once again support conservation in the Greater Roan Highlands Landscape,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “The protection of the Grassy Ridge tract preserves a highly significant wildlife corridor between Little Yellow Mountain and the highest summits of the Roan Massif. We salute SAHC for its persistence and personal interaction with so many of the people involved in this project. It really was SAHC’s perseverance that made this deal happen.”

OSI has assisted SAHC and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the protection of 1,500 contiguous acres in western NC that are part of an important wildlife corridor between the two spines of the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion. In October 2007, OSI made a $1 million loan to SAHC for the acquisition of the 435-acre Powdermill Creek tract, and in December 2009 OSI loaned $1.2 million to TNC for its purchase of the 466-acre Little Yellow Mountain tract. These tracts helped form the initial core lands of Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2008. 

A portion of the funds that supported the purchase are held at The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, a regional nonprofit serving 18 counties.  

“We are proud of our work with SAHC and with donors who care about conservation,” said Sheryl Aikman, the Foundation’s vice president for development. “The Long View Endowment was created by a donor, now deceased, who understood SAHC’s work and mission and structured her legacy for just this type of opportunity.”

The Grassy Ridge tract had been considered a top priority for SAHC and other conservation partners in the region for so long because of its size and location within a large network of high elevation protected lands. Its acquisition means that Yellow Mountain State Natural Area to the south and Pisgah National Forest and the Appalachian Trail corridor to the north are finally connected at Grassy Ridge by conserved land. 

The project also protects high quality water resources, as headwater tributaries of Roaring Creek, a beautiful wild trout stream, originate on the property and flow into the North Toe River watershed. In addition, one of the largest concentrations of rare species and communities in the state are found on the property and adjacent lands at Grassy Ridge and the other nearby habitats of the Roan. 

“Nearby Grassy Ridge bald is the best remaining and most pristine grassy bald in the Southern Appalachians,” said Judy Murray, SAHC’s Roan stewardship director. “This bald and its adjacent rock outcrops have the highest concentration of rare plant species and the fewest non-native species of any site in the Highlands of Roan. The purchase of this tract is a major achievement in protecting this globally endangered ecological community.”  

Murray was literally at the table when SAHC was founded in 1966 as a committee of what was then called the Appalachian Trail Conference—back when less than 7,500 acres were protected on the Roan. It has since grown into an organization that has had a hand in most of the 19,000 acres protected there since, and has also protected more than 42,000 acres elsewhere in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. For more than two decades, Murray and SAHC have also convened the multi-agency Roan Stewardship Committee that strives for coordinated and appropriate land management by the various conservation ownerships that house the Roan’s unique natural and cultural resources. 

SAHC will offer guided hikes on the Grassy Ridge tract later this year. Meanwhile, its staff and supporters are savoring the accomplishment. 

“It is a truly amazing property, one that we’ve aspired to protect throughout the 20 years I’ve been with SAHC,” said Kristy Urquhart, SAHC’s associate director. “Working toward a goal for so long was daunting, but our perseverance and tenacity finally paid off.”

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