All Current News, Events and Hikes

Bearwallow Sunset & Full Moon Hike

Join Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Monday, May 8, 2017, for full moon celebration! We are going to be hiking to the summit of Bearwallow Mountian for a breathtaking 360-degree view of the sunset and moon rise! This hike is a great opportunity for photography and it is family friendly!

Bearwallow Mountain is truly one of CMLC's gems. It was originally conserved in 2009 with additions being mad in 2012 and 2016. At 4,232 ft. above sea level, Bearwallow Mountain stands as the highest peak in the widely-visible Bearwallow Highlands range. Straddling the Eastern Continental Divide, it makes up part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment as well as the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Crowned with a grassy meadow at its summit, the mountain features a nearly 360-degree view that encompasses some of the southern Appalachians highest peaks including Mt. Mitchell in the Black Mountains and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams range.

The hike will begin before sunset so we will arrive at the summit in time to watch the full moon rise. Total hiking distance is 2.0 miles. This hike is rated moderate with a total elevation gain of 537 feet. Attendance is free and open to the public.

Please be aware that we will be hiking in the dark! Therefore, sturdy closed-toe shoes are a requirement, and additional equipment including a headlamp and extra layers are highly encouraged.

This hike has no cap but RSVP is required. To sign up CLICK HERE.

Once you have successfully registered for the hike you will receive an email with additional details 2-3 days before the hike.

Little Bearwallow Falls & Wildcat Rock

Come hike with CMLC on our most recently completed trail in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge on Saturday, April 29, 2017. This hike is hardcore so we cannot promise a leisurely walk but we can promise wildflowers, a 100-foot waterfall, a stunning view from a scenic rock perch, and an awesome workout! 

Together we will ascend the sustainably-designed and -constructed Little Bearwallow Trail to Little Bearwallow Falls before climbing to the top of breathtaking Wildcat Rock. En route, this hike traverses CMLC-conserved land that was described by a biologist as the most abundant and diverse wildflower tract in Henderson County.

This hike also offers an opportunity to learn about all that went in to protecting this land and making this new trail over the last three years--from conservation easements and land acquisition to digging tread and moving boulders.

This hike is 3-mile round trip; however, it is extremely strenuous--gaining nearly 1,200 feet in only a mile and a half features technical challenges. The trail utilizes more than 300 log-and-rock stairs to reach its exciting destinations. We will encourage you every step of the way, but the challenges this hike present should not be taken lightly. We encourage those that join us on this hike to be in excellent physical condition.

There is currently no cap for this hike, but carpooling is highly encouraged due to limited parking.

This hike is free and open to the but RSVP is REQUIRED! To sign up CLICK HERE.

Once you have successfully registered for this hike you will receive additional details 2-3 days before the hike.

Lady Slipper Speaker Series at Brevard College

“Why is There Such High Biodiversity in the Southern Appalachians?”

Presented by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Brevard College

Featuring: Dr. Jennifer Frick-Ruppert of Brevard College

Date: Tuesday, April 25      Time: 5:30 - 7:00 p.m.

Location: Brevard College, Brevard, NC: McLarty-Goodson 125

Did you know that our Southern Appalachians are considered a biodiversity hot-spot?  The Southern Appalachians boast some of the highest biodiversity in the world and are legendary for their magnificent variety of spring wildflowers.

Dr. Jennifer Frick-Ruppert of Brevard College will describe some of the diversity that exists in the region among both plants and animals and will explain which factors contribute to the region’s biodiversity. You'll be glad to learn that all that rain is good for something!

Dr. Frick-Ruppert is the Dalton Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Brevard College, where she has taught since 1997 and is the current chairperson of the Science and Math division. She earned her Ph.D. in Zoology from Clemson University in 1995. In addition to teaching a full load, she is a well-published author! Her works are known for their quality and lively writing style. In 2010, she published “Mountain Nature: A Seasonal History of the Southern Appalachians”, a finalist for the Phillip Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing about the Southern Environment. She followed that up in 2015 with “Waterways: Sailing the Southeastern Coast”, which tells the story of a sailing expedition she and her husband made from Charleston, SC to Lake Worth, FL and finally to the Bahamas before sailing back to Beaufort, SC!

We are excited to welcome such a well-traveled and locally active writer and professor to our podium! Find out, “Why is There Such High Biodiversity in the Southern Appalachians?” with us on Tuesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m.






You can also RSVP online here!

This is a members-only event. Not a current member?

Join now!

Camp Pinnacle has a covered facility and the Land Lovers Picnic will be held rain or shine.


Finding your Way:

Directions to the Land Lovers Picnic at Camp Pinnacle in Flat Rock.                                   

Address for GPS devices:  1 Wolfe Lake Dr. Flat Rock NC 28739

From Hendersonville (about 10 minutes):  Turn right onto Kanuga Rd. off of Church St. After about 4 miles turn left onto Little River Rd.  Turn right into Camp Pinnacle’s main entrance after about a half mile. 

From Flat Rock (about 10 minutes):  Turn onto Little River Rd off of Greenville Hwy (225).  After about 3.5 miles turn left into Camp Pinnacle’s main entrance.

From Brevard (about 35 minutes):  Take 276N to 64E.  After about 3.5 miles turn right onto Crab Creek Rd and follow for about 11 miles.  Then turn right onto Little River Rd.  Turn right into Camp Pinnacle’s main entrance after about a half mile. 

From Lake Lure (about 40 minutes): Take 64 into Hendersonville and turn left onto N Church Street.  Turn right onto Kanuga Rd. off of Church St. After about 4 miles turn left onto Little River Rd.  Turn right into Camp Pinnacle’s main entrance after about a half mile. 

From Asheville (about 40 minutes):  Take 240 to 26E.  Take exit 49B towards Hendersonville.  Take 64 into Hendersonville and turn left onto N Church Street.  Turn right onto Kanuga Rd. off of Church St. After about 4 miles turn left onto Little River Rd.  Turn right into Camp Pinnacle’s main entrance after about a half mile. 

Map of Camp Pinnacle 

Position Title:

Summer of Service AmeriCorps Program Coordinator

Reports To:

AmeriCorps Project Conserve Program Director

Position Summary:

The Summer of Service AmeriCorps Program Coordinator is a temporary full-time position responsible for the design and implementation of the pilot year of CMLC’s Summer of Service program, engaging 5 young adult participants in environmental service-learning based primarily in Henderson County. Program participants will gain leadership and work skills while also earning a wage and an education award. The Summer of Service AmeriCorps program will run from June 19-August 18, 2017. The Summer of Service Coordinator position may begin as soon as hired. The Summer of Service program will continue in 2018 dependent on grant funding. 

Key Responsibilities:

• Works with AmeriCorps Project Conserve (ACPC) Program Director and Coordinator and other staff to develop Summer of Service programming for 5 participants ages 17-19

• Coordinates recruitment, application, and selection process of Summer of Service participants

• Provides leadership and support to Summer of Service participants, focusing on mentoring and developing defined core-competencies. Goals of the program include building confidence, trust, camaraderie, and work-ethic among participants

• Oversees day-to-day activities of Summer of Service participants including field work and training days

• Coordinates with CMLC staff to support day-to-day activities of the program. Field work will include: invasive plant management, trail-building, and installation of natural play-scape

• Ensures safety, health and wellbeing of program participants, natural environment, and community

• Work closely with the ACPC Program Director and Coordinator to comply with all AmeriCorps regulations and reporting requirements

• Collects information and prepares reports related to the evaluation and other needs of the Summer of Service program

• Provides recommendations for program improvements

Essential Job Requirements:


Bachelor’s degree in social work, mental health, education, or related field or comparable work experience.


• Experience working with/leading diverse youth and/or young adults including service learning activities

• Demonstrated leadership experience

• Demonstrated conflict management skills

• Conservation and/or environmental service a plus

• National Service experience a plus

• General office experience demonstrating strong technical skills


Outstanding communication and leadership skills; must be comfortable working outdoors; ability to motivate, inspire, and mentor young adult participants; must have a valid driver’s license, be able to drive a minivan or 15 person van, and have a clean driving record; Must consent to and be cleared through the National Service criminal history check process.


CPR and First Aid; Must be willing to obtain CPR and First Aid certifications if not previously certified.


• Must be able to lift 50 lbs

• Must be able to hike in strenuous terrain and carry tools

• Must be about to work outdoors in summer heat

• Must be able to do standing work up to 5 hours/day


This job description does not represent an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all possible job responsibilities, tasks and duties. Responsibilities, tasks, and duties may differ from the job description, as assigned.


Full-time, temporary position (exact start and end dates negotiable); 40-45 hours/week average. Pay commensurate with experience; supportive and engaging work environment.


Send resume, cover letter, and references by May 5th to:

Human Resources

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy

847 Case Street

Hendersonville, NC 28792


Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is and Equal Opportunity Employer.

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) prohibits any discrimination in carrying out its mission on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation or marital status. This includes all programs, projects, events and any other related activity sponsored by CMLC.

CMLC recognizes and honors diverse cultures and traditions. CMLC proactively seeks individuals for all aspects of its work from varied backgrounds for the greater enrichment of the organization. It is the goal of CMLC to have a membership, staff, volunteer base, and board that reflects the diversity of ethnic and demographic groups of our service area, and for CMLC programs to encourage involvement of groups that are underrepresented in CMLC.

Photos provided by Keith Viglietta

Wildflower Hike

CMLC is partnering with Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) to celebrate Earth Day by spending some time out of the office and in nature! We will be hiking at the Walnut Creek Preserve with long time friend and volunteer Keith, who so graciously helped us foster this joint hike with PAC! Join us on Friday, April 21, 2017, at the Anne Elizabeth Suratt Nature Center for a family friendly hike in search of spring wildflowers!

This hike is free and open to the public, but please note the Walnut Creek Preserve is a private land and is only accessible by invitation. Therefore, RSVP is required.

To sign up CLICK HERE.

Once you have successfully registered for this hike you will receive additional details 2-3 days before the hike.

When Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy set out to protect hundreds of acres of forestland in North Mills River back in 2009, nobody could have envisioned all the twists to come

Henderson County’s portion of Pisgah National Forest recently grew by another 177 acres with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s (CMLC) January donation to the U.S. Forest Service of the “Hoot Owl Tract” along Sitton Creek, a tributary of the North Mills River.

The addition means another parcel of national forest, formerly an island of public land surrounded by private property, is now connected to the main body of the forest. Thanks to the work of CMLC, the U.S. Forest Service and partnering individuals and agencies, the unspoiled water quality in Sitton Creek will remain clean as it flows into the Mills River, a regional drinking water source.

CMLC coordinated the transfer of the Hoot Owl property to the U.S. Forest Service, and secured conservation easements on two other adjoining tracts. These are the 77-acre property known as “Grey Heaven” north of the Hoot Owl property that encompasses the upper reaches of Sitton Creek, and a protective easement that longtime Mills River physician Dr. Howard Norton donated on 91 acres of his land just south and east of the Hoot Owl tract.

Dr. Norton, a family doctor who cared for generations of local residents starting in 1957, still lives in Mills River. He donated the conservation easement that now permanently precludes development on most of the 125 acres his family owns on and around Middle Ridge.

The 89-year-old retired physician and founding member of Mills River Volunteer Fire Department bought the property, a former scout camp, decades ago. He was hoping CMLC would succeed in getting the adjacent Hoot Owl property transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.

“My kids and I decided that we never wanted to see the backside of our mountain developed like you see over at High Vista,” says Norton, who has five children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. “We thought the best way to do it is to put it into conservation.”

A map of the area shows not only these newly protected lands, but hundreds of additional acres CMLC has worked to conserve or add to Pisgah National Forest since 2008. These include conservation easements on 436 acres along nearby Seniard Creek owned by the family of the late George “Howard” McElrath; and the recent expansion of the forest to include 78 acres around the historic Big Creek Lodge next to North Mills River Campground.

Hoot Owl Property

As in the case of the recently-announced Big Creek Lodge property acquisition, CMLC worked for many years – in this case since 2009 – to add the land to Pisgah National Forest. Also in common with the Big Creek property, the Hoot Owl tract was once owned by Robert Warren, the former Candler tomato farmer whose lands were seized after he was charged with millions of dollars in federal crop insurance fraud.

Warren and his wife Viki were among eight people who pleaded guilty in July 2004 to swindling the government and insurance companies out of more than $9 million in bogus insurance claims from 1997 to 2003.

Ironically, McElrath had wanted to conserve the Hoot Owl property as a wildlife preserve, says Tom Fanslow, land protection director for CMLC. That’s one of the details that came out in a civil trial over a lawsuit McElrath’s family filed claiming that Warren conned the elderly landowner out of the Hoot Owl property. The trial was held in 2010, shortly after McElrath passed away at the age of 95.

The Hoot Owl tract was part of lands the McElrath family owned along Seniard and Sitton Creeks originally acquired by Howard McElrath’s father in the early 1900s. McElrath’s family claimed in the lawsuit that Warren befriended and conned McElrath into giving him the land, however a jury sided with Warren.

Streadwick, McElrath’s daughter, appealed the case to the N.C. Court of Appeals, but it upheld the verdict. CMLC’s plan had been to work with Streadwick if she prevailed in the lawsuit to permanently protect the Hoot Owl property with a conservation easement. In 2010 CMLC secured a $400,000 grant from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF)for that purpose. 

When Warren prevailed in the suit however, CMLC, through its attorney Sharon Alexander, initiated contact with Warren’s civil attorney in Asheville. After a lengthy period of on and off communications with Warren and his representatives and attempts to find a viable path to conserving the tract, in late 2014 CMLC made contact with then-Assistant U.S. Attorneybased in Asheville, Paul Taylor, whose office was receptive to finding a win/win outcome for the public and for conservation.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office worked out a settlement agreement with Warren and his attorneys. Under the agreement, the government allowed Warren to donate his property to CMLC for transfer to the U.S. Forest Service, and Warren received credit for the gift towards some of the millions in restitution he owed the government.

Closing in on Conservation

With the settlement agreement in place, grant funds from CWMTF, the Duke Energy Water Resources Fund and Fred and Alice Stanback helped CMLC to pay a variety of transaction costs, consummate the deal for the Hoot Owl tract and secure conservation easements on the adjoining Grey Heaven and Norton properties.

“We had to pay off numerous outstanding liens on the Hoot Owl property, as well as over $45,000 in Henderson County back taxes owed,” Fanslow says.

The deal was finalized Jan. 31. Now the Hoot Owl property adjoins the main part of Pisgah National Forest on the west and the previously isolated 1,500 acres of Pisgah National Forest at the end of Foster Creek Road on the east.

A mountain bog, elusive turtles and house on the line

In a final twist in the story, CMLC was able to secure a rare mountain bog that could be home to the rare bog turtle, listed by the federal government as a threatened species, thanks to a house Warren built on a property line.

Warren had built and partially finished a large house that straddled the property line between the Hoot Owl tract on a separate parcel that he owned. When the U.S. Marshal’s Office auctioned off that tract, a Hendersonville family ended up with the land and half the house, which was falling into disrepair.

“They got half a house, we got the other half,” Fanslow says. This turned out to be another bit of synchronicity in favor of land conservation. CMLC agreed to swap its part of the house and some pastureland to the family for eight acres of a rare swamp forest bog on the adjoining parcel. And that forest bog is now part of Pisgah.

“It’s big for a mountain wetland,” Fanslow says, noting that there is a similar mountain bog across the ridge on property owned and conserved by long-time CMLC leader John Humphrey. “Turtle surveys haven’t been done yet, but it is known bog turtles will crawl over mountain ridges – they don’t follow drainages. They could make their way.”

For now, it’s another mystery of the wild and beautiful land that makes up Pisgah National Forest where it adjoins the farm fields along the valley of the North Fork of the Mills River.

The Hoot Owl property acquisition will benefit the public in perpetuity in tangible ways. Wildlife such as black bear, deer and turkey will continue to roam the forests, and trout and other aquatic species that depend upon clean water will continue to thrive in Sitton Creek. Along with Seniard Creek, which is also protected forever, these mountain streams will keep on flowing clear and pure to add their waters to the Mills River, to fill the community’s need for clean water – for now and into the distant future.

In addition to the funders that supported conservation of the three Sitton Creek properties, the Mills River Partnership and Trout Unlimited also made grants to put in place erosion control best management practices on the Grey Heaven and Hoot Owl properties. 

“We have done our share of complicated projects but this one has taken an extra-long and winding path to completion,” CMLC Executive Director Kieran Roe says. “Tom Fanslow deserves a special prize for persistence. He overcame obstacle after obstacle to achieve a conservation outcome at Hoot Owl when at numerous points that seemed unlikely.”

Roe also cites the willingness of funders to extend grants that would otherwise have expired, particularly the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which originally made an award for the project in 2010.  

“We deeply appreciate the cooperation of each and every one of the diverse partners who made the Sitton Creek projects possible,” Roe says. “Without the cooperation of each, we would not have accomplished the outcome which we are now finally celebrating.”


Now Recruiting for the 2017-2018 AmeriCorps Project Conserve Service Term

AmeriCorps Project Conserve seeks dedicated individuals to fill 34 full-time positions serving critical conservation needs of western North Carolina. Each member will serve 1700 hours during an 11-month term, from September 2017 through July 2018.

Members connect people with nature and enhance quality of life through conservation education, volunteer recruitment/coordination, trail creation/improvement, and disaster preparedness training. Members improve environmental conditions in WNC through activities including habitat restoration, monitoring and management of conserved lands, water quality monitoring, and public land and river improvements projects.

Project Conserve positions provide unique opportunities for members to develop leadership and professional skills to support their future career goals. In addition to serving on individual projects outlined by Project Conserve host sites, members participate in required trainings and service days up to three days per month with the full Project Conserve team. Trainings may cover a broad range of topics including conflict resolution, wilderness first aid and CPR/AED, project planning and management, non-native invasive species identification, trail construction, volunteer management, and environmental education program development training.

Project Conserve Host Sites
The program places members in service with one of 18 nonprofit organizations or governmental agencies working to protect the unique natural resources of the southern Blue Ridge Mountain region. See a list of our host sites by visiting

Position Requirements
Applicants must:

·         Be at least 18 years of age at the commencement of service

·         Fulfill minimum education requirements (Please see individual service descriptions)

·         Be a citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident alien of the United States

·         Be available between September 5, 2017, and July 31, 2018, and commit to full-time service

·         Consent to a criminal history check and be cleared for service

·         Meet additional qualifications and essential functions listed in the individual service descriptions.

Members earn a living stipend of $13,470 over the 11-month term of service.  Upon successful completion of the program, each member will also receive an education award of $5,815. This award can be used to pay off existing school loans or to apply to future education. Other benefits include health insurance reimbursement and child care assistance.

To Apply
Application deadline is May 31, 2017. Visit for Application Instructions, 2017-2018 Service Descriptions, Eligibility, Compensation, and more. Please contact Amy Stout, AmeriCorps Project Conserve Program Director, with any questions at (828) 697-5777, ext. 217 or  AmeriCorps Project Conserve is an Equal Opportunity Employer.  Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to apply.  Reasonable accommodations will be provided to individuals with known physical/mental disabilities.

Administered by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Project Conserve is an AmeriCorps program supported through grants from the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism & Community Service in the Office of Governor Roy Cooper, and from the Corporation for National & Community Service.

Check out our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter pages to stay up to date on all things Project Conserve!

With the help of a conservation buyer, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service seal a decade-long effort to protect a critical piece of Pisgah National Forest.

The trees are still mostly bare except for thickets of rhododendron adding dense green along the Mills River’s North Fork just inside Pisgah National Forest. The landscape’s hue is the drab greyish brown of late winter, but the creeks whisper the promise of spring as anglers wade into the clear, chilly waters, hoping to snag a feisty rainbow or brown trout.

As winter segues into spring and rhododendron buds burst into pink glory, the anglers will continue to fish the rocky riffles and placid pools. Families will spread picnics on the concrete tables of the North Mills River Recreation Area, as they have for generations. Mountain bikers will pedal their way up and glide breezily down the recently rerouted Trace Ridge Trail between the campground and the miles of multi-use trails upstream.

Anglers, bikers, equestrians, hikers and families no longer need to worry about the fate of an island of private property next to the campground. The land, once threatened with development, is permanently protected now, and the public guaranteed access to the surrounding forest, thanks to a deal closed last year by CMLC, U.S. Forest Service and a cooperating private landowner.

It’s been exactly 10 years since a developer bought the historic Big Creek Lodge property inside Pisgah National Forest and announced plans to build up to 86 homes on these 84 acres. The plans alarmed the public who feared their longtime access to the land would be gated off – and that a subdivision would be built adjacent to the campground, muddying the trout stream that runs through it and destroying the area’s unspoiled character.

Thanks to CMLC and its conservation partners, 78 acres of this former inholding is part of Pisgah National Forest. It will be permanently protected for public enjoyment, guaranteeing a key access point to prized trout streams and trails. How it happened is a story involving a century-old historic home, a convicted swindler, an aborted development, and organizations that worked tirelessly for years to conserve the tract.

Big Creek Lodge, also known as the M.M. Stuart Home, is a two-story frame house with a trout pond in its front yard where the Rocky Fork tumbles into the Mills River’s North Fork. In 1899, George Vanderbilt, the railroad magnate who owned much of what today comprises Pisgah National Forest, sold 11 acres here to Melvin Stuart for $44, according to “Gun Fights, Dam Sites & Water Rights,” a history of the area written by James E. Brittain. Stuart operated a sawmill and lived his life here. He is buried along with many relatives in the nearby Maple Grove Cemetery.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps established a work camp and built North Mills River Recreation Area as part of a New Deal work project. The campground and picnic area opened in the summer of 1938. The adjacent Stuart Home and surrounding acreage remained in private hands.

In January 2001, Candler tomato farmers Robert and Viki Warren bought Big Creek Lodge and 84 surrounding acres for $875,000, according to records filed at Henderson County Register of Deeds. The Warrens owned the property until July 2004 when they pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a scheme to defraud the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. out of millions of dollars.

The property was auctioned along with other Warren holdings later that month. CMLC tried at the time to find a conservation buyer for the property. But Kent Smith, a real estate investor from Taylors, S.C., won a bidding duel with another potential buyer, landing the lodge tract for $2,175,000.

In 2007, Smith submitted plans to Henderson County to build as many as 86 homes on the 84 acres. But he withdrew plans to build the subdivision after county planning staff said the project would violate several county ordinances and be incompatible with the county’s 2020 comprehensive plan. That came after the public deluged the county with calls of concern about the fate of the property.

For the U.S. Forest Service to acquire the land to add to Pisgah National Forest, an intermediary needed to buy and hold it until funding became available. That’s where CMLC, Trout Unlimited (TU) and a conservation-minded benefactor made the difference.

In 2009, Tom Oreck of Asheville purchased the Big Creek Lodge tract and began working with CMLC and TU on conservation plans. Oreck learned about the property and its previous close call with development from John Witherspoon of Conservation Advisors and Platt Architecture in Brevard. CMLC was aware that development plans at the tract had stalled and had reached out to Witherspoon for assistance finding a cooperative buyer willing to step in and work toward a conservation outcome.

“The previous owner had intended to develop the property which I understand from Trout Unlimited as well as CMLC would have pretty much destroyed that river as a trout fishing river,” Oreck said. “So John brought it to my attention, and working with CMLC and Trout Unlimited wanted to know if I would get involved. The property was going to be going in foreclosure and the hope was to get the bulk of the land into the national forest so it would be protected for perpetuity.”

In 2012 he signed an option to purchase contract with the groups. This was the second local conservation project Oreck made possible – in 2011 he bought 65 acres that later became part of DuPont State Recreational Forest.

The groups and their supporters, meanwhile, advocated for the Forest Service to acquire the property using funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Funded through fees gas and oil companies pay the government for offshore drilling, LWCF is a federal program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation.

Of course the most critical piece of the puzzle was coming up with $1.56 million in federal funding to purchase the land at its appraised fair market value. This is where the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and support for the fund from Western North Carolina’s Congressional delegation, made the difference. Both Congressman Mark Meadows and Senator Richard Burr have been champions of LWCF.

“When I hear about the good work of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it drives me to fight even harder to ensure that Congress makes good on the promise to make this fund permanent,” U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said. “And naturally, I’m ecstatic when North Carolina groups can leverage this popular and important program for preserving our natural heritage.”

“Preserving North Carolina’s one of a kind natural treasures is one of the most important promises we can keep, and each year in North Carolina, the LWCF helps local communities preserve land like this for future generations,” Burr added. “I’m proud to be an avid defender of the LWCF in the Senate, because it helps all of us more fully enjoy our great state.”

In June 2015, CMLC purchased 56.28 acres of the Big Creek Lodge tract and immediately sold it to the Forest Service for $970,000. Then last July CMLC bought 21.71 acres and sold it to the Forest Service for $590,000. All the funds were provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund through appropriations to the U.S. Forest Service, CMLC Executive Director Kieran Roe said.

As is often the case in conserving land, the deal required patience and the support and cooperation of numerous partners. For instance, in 2012 TU raised $30,000 and provided it to CMLC to enable the organization to purchase the option on the property from Oreck.

“This option gave us time to work with USFS staff to seek the LWCF funds, which are appropriated annually to federal agencies,” Roe said. “Due to other USFS priorities in North Carolina and elsewhere, initial funding for a purchase at Big Creek Lodge was not available until 2015. The acquisition was broken into two phases, as funding was insufficient to enable purchase of the entire property at once.”

“Conserving this threatened treasure was important to the public and CMLC and TU were instrumental in making that happen,” said Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina. “It’s a great example of what we can do when we all work together towards our common goals of providing access to public lands and ensuring healthy watersheds.”

Another issue was that the Forest Service was not interested in owning an historic structure like the Big Creek Lodge.

“Early on we began to understand the Forest Service is not interested in owning structures,” Roe said. “Tom Oreck who acquired it to be a helpful partner began to enjoy having that house as a family getaway and decided he would keep it.”

As for Oreck, what compelled him to step in and assume the critical intermediary role in this 10-year saga?

“It was very simple,” he said. “I had been living in Asheville for five or six years and Asheville was the first place I ever moved not for business, but because it was where I wanted to live.”

Oreck said he and his family were attracted to the area by Asheville’s vibrant arts community and Western North Carolina’s gorgeous natural environment. Helping preserve a little bit of this paradise “was something I could do….to procure this property for future generations and to protect the river for sportsmen.”

He also got involved because he wanted to help protect public access via the campground to the surrounding public lands for horseback riders, anglers, hikers, bikers and everyone who uses the land. Both Yellow Gap Road, which runs from the North Mills River Recreation Area to the Pink Beds/Cradle of Forestry area, and an old road bed running upstream along the North Fork, had access issues tied to the land. If the property had been developed, both could have been gated off, Oreck said, “So one of the first things we did was give perpetuity access to the Forest Service.”

Oreck says he is looking forward to spending time at the historic lodge with his four children, who range in age from 11 to 42, and two grandkids, ages 4 and 6. And though he is not a trout fisherman himself, he’s willing to learn.

“Trout Unlimited has offered to teach me how to fly fish,” he says.

Adrienne Brown wakes up every morning in the 400-square-foot cabin her father built in 1971 when he was in high school. Its weathered walls sit amongst the trees on the farmstead of her late grandmother, Frieda Brown, in Pisgah Forest.

“The property is a shadow of what it was when I was younger and my grandmother was looking after it fulltime,” shares Adrienne. “The barns and sheds that the horses used to call home need repair, but when I look at them I don’t see that. I see them for what they were when I was younger. Walking around the property now, there’s an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for those days, but the nature that existed back then still remains. The hemlocks are still surprisingly healthy, and I truly think sometimes that my grandmother’s spirit continues in those trees.”

A small stream still trickles between two laurel banks where Adrienne would wander as a young girl. “If you look for it you can even find a tiny waterfall no more than two feet high. It was a secluded spot where I used to go when I wanted to be alone in nature as a child.”

Frieda spent the majority of her time outside, working around the farm, caring for her horses and managing a half-acre vegetable garden on her own until she was 85.

“The first image of her that comes to my mind is from atop a tractor where she would happily cruise along cutting grass,” says Adrienne.

The tiny cabin on the property offered respite after a hard day’s work, a place to wind down and relax. Adrienne recalls sitting next to her grandmother with her younger brother sprawled across their laps, while her grandmother read from her own novel, Last Hurdle, to curious minds. Frieda’s fictional story about living on an old farmstead with a horse is nearly autobiographical.

The beauty of the mountains drew Frieda to the area, but she loved the location of the farm for its seclusion and its space where her animals could roam. She worked with local land trust, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), to permanently conserve the property in 2004.  

“Mom always had sort of a ‘hate/hate’ relationship with subdivisions,” says Adrienne’s father Doug Brown, with a smile. “She wanted the place to be a haven for wildlife and not fall into the hands of developers.”

Doug reflects on the changes he has witnessed in the 41 years coming to the area. An old southern town transformed into an art and recreation tourist destination. “I remember drinking coffee at the lunch counter of what is now O.P. Taylors, to shopping there for toys with my two young children,” says Doug. “All these generations called this place home—my grandparents, great aunt, parents, and now, my own family.”

Adrienne feels like she is adding on to her family legacy. “For my father it was a place to live while he was getting his feet under him during and after college,” says Adrienne. “Now, I am doing the same. Even if it falls into disrepair again, the cabin will continue to be here, the land will continue to be here. I will always have this to fall back on.”

Currently, the cabin is in its most modern state, but the experience of rural living lingers. There is no cell phone service. Clean laundry is lugged up the path with the hopes that a sock or pair of pants does not fall too far behind.

“Having to throw your pajamas on the heater before jumping in the shower, because the only heat source comes from two electric heaters…” Adrienne says, with a laugh. “These are some experiences that I now relate to and share with my father.”

Frieda passed her love of nature down from Doug to Adrienne. “It was engrained in everything she did. She had a hatred for plastic bags before it was a movement,” Adrienne says, with a chuckle. “She always recycled and composted. Being able to visit her in the summer and stay in the cabin played a very direct roll in my love of nature and desire to pursue Environmental Studies in college.”

A recent graduate of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Adrienne returned to her grandmother’s land to join CMLC’s AmeriCorps Project Conserve program as Community Outreach & Education Associate.

Inspired by her grandmother’s own service with the American Red Cross during World War II, Adrienne serves with AmeriCorps Project Conserve as a way to thank her grandmother for conserving her land. “She left my father, and eventually my brother and I, this amazing gift and I did nothing to earn it,” says Adrienne. “I wanted to give back to her by honoring her memory.”

CMLC started AmeriCorps Project Conserve in 2004 in response to growing conservation needs in Western North Carolina. Each year, AmeriCorps Project Conserve places more than three dozen dedicated members with local environmental nonprofits. Since its inception, 268 members have served more than 455,600 hours, increasing community understanding of conservation and the environment and creating sustainable improvements to at-risk ecosystems in our communities.

AmeriCorps Project Conserve provides young adults like Adrienne with valuable experience out of college. The program sets them up for success moving forward with the skills they need to land a job pursuing their goals and dreams in the environmental field and beyond.

“There has been a significant increase of requirements for entry level work in our world and it can be really hard to get work right out of college,” admits Adrienne. “AmeriCorps Project Conserve helps to bridge that gap in experience many college graduates face. It’s chock-full of professional development opportunities and the education award helps many who struggle with student debt. From hiking with kids outside to improving the water we drink, we make a direct impact on the communities we work with.”

Adrienne feels fulfilled to help preserve and protect the mountains her grandmother so dearly loved. “She moved a lot as a young person, something she and I have in common, and I can respect her wishes to have a peaceful resting place,” says Adrienne. “I’m giving back to an area we both eventually came to call home.”

Doug is proud of Adrienne’s passion for service. “I think it is terrific that Adrienne is participating in AmeriCorps Project Conserve as an ode to her grandmother,” shares Doug.  “I think Mom would have gotten a kick out of it.”

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