News & Events: News

When it comes to our food systems, pollinators such as bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, bats and hummingbirds are true heroes. About 35% of our planet's food crops depend on insects and animals and 75% of the world's flowering plants rely on natural pollinators for their survival. That makes pollinators extremely important. Selecting native, pollinator-friendly plants not only helps increase the diversity of your garden, it adds a new splash of color and livelihood by attracting these important pollinators! Check out this list of 10 western North Carolina native plants that we recommend.

Spring Bloom

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

New Jersey Tea attracts butterflies with its flowers and birds with its seeds. It is a nitrogen-fixing shrub with small white flower clusters that bloom in March and April. It prefers shade to part shade, and dry to moist sandy or loamy soils. New Jersey Tea has a high drought tolerance and easily adapts to inhospitable conditions.

 

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba)

White wild indigo attracts butterflies, native bees, and bumble bees. It is a legume with small pea-like white flowers that bloom in April and May. It can tolerate full sun to partial shade, and dry or moist acidic soil. B. alba can tolerate heat, seasonal flooding, and clay soils.

 

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflower is a great nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds. Coneflowers start blooming in early to mid-summer and repeat bloom through frost. They may take a break after their initial bloom period, but they will quickly set more flower buds. They will tolerate partial shade, but plants may flop or strain to reach the sun. Purple coneflower prefers dry, well-drained sandy or richer soils.

 

Scarlet Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee balm attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds with a cluster of red, tubular flowers that can bloom from May to October, depending on elevation. It prefers full sun to part shade and rich, moist, acidic soils. Bee balm is cold tolerant and moderately deer tolerant.

 

Summer Bloom

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Milkweed is the only plant that monarch butterflies will lay eggs on because caterpillars will only consume milkweed leaves. It grows 3-5 feet and has fragrant pink to purplish umbels, and can have up to 100 flowers per umbel. Milkweed blooms from June-August. It prefers full sun and moist soil.

 

Narrow leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)

Narrow leaf mountain mint attracts butterflies and bees with its flowers, and birds and other animals eat the seeds. It has silvery foliage and small, white flowers bloom from July to September. Mountain mint prefers full sun to part shade, dry or moist soils, and is tolerant of drought, erosion, clay, and shallow rocky soil.

 

Fall Bloom

Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Boneset is a nectar source for butterflies and will grow to 2-4' and showy, bright white inflorescences from mid-summer into mid fall. Boneset prefers partial shade to full sun, though it is tolerant of both. Moist, rich soil will provide the best medium, although Boneset is somewhat drought tolerant during the summer months.

 

Purple Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Joe-Pye Weed is an important source for bees and attracts them with fragrant, pink to purple flowers that bloom from July to September. It prefers full sun to partial shade and likes to be kept somewhat moist in average to rich soil. Growing Joe-pye weed will even tolerate wet soil conditions but not overly dry sites. Due to the large size of Joe-pye weed, it makes a great background plant but also needs plenty of room to grow.

 

Common ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)

Common ironweed attracts butterflies, including monarchs, with its nectar and is the larval host for the American painted lady butterfly. It has perennial purple flowers that bloom from July to September. Ironweed can grow in full sun, part shade, and full shade, and grows in moist to wet areas. Ironweed has an excellent vertical presentation in the garden.

 

Goldenrod (Solidago altissima / S. rugosa)

Goldenrod attracts butterflies with its yellow flowers that bloom from September to November. It prefers to be grown in full sun and tolerates various soil types as long as it’s well draining. Goldenrod care is minimal once established in the landscape, with plants returning each year. They require little, if any watering, and are drought tolerant. Goldenrod is usually blamed for seasonal allergies, but allergies are actually caused by ragweed, which has a similar bloom time.


You made a huge difference in 2016! Your dollars helped build 7.2 miles of new trails, helped treat 418 hemlock trees from the invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, helped conserve more than 3,816 acres, and helped teach 28 nature-themed lessons to the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson and Transylvania Counties. Thank you for making this work possible! 

Click Here or on the image to read our 2016 Annual Report.

 


At 89 years old, Dr. Howard Norton climbs into his pickup truck and drives the rutted and narrow four-wheel drive road from his home near the intersection of Hwy 191 and Hwy 280 in Mills River to his cabin a few miles up the mountain.

His thick glasses get a little jostled on the adrenaline-inducing journey, but Norton knows the road’s twists and turns like the back of his hand. He makes this trip three or four times a week.  

The three-bedroom, pine log cabin has offered a peaceful refuge for the retired Mills River physician since the early 1970s. It houses an impressive collection of artifacts Norton has acquired over the years from his travels around the world.

“I’m a collector… or hoarder. Something like that,” Norton says with a chuckle as he shows off one of his 600 bolo ties, a silver piece engrained with the head of a moose that is as eclectic as Norton himself.

Norton’s cabin on the hillside lacks the noise of a telephone or television, just the sounds of lively conversation between family and friends mingled with chirping birds and rustling leaves.

“This whole area is important to me,” says Norton, who recently worked with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) to permanently protect 91 acres of land on Allen Gap adjacent to his cabin. “When I got out of the office in the afternoon and was tired, I could go up on the mountain and relax.”

Norton would see anywhere from 30 to 40 patients a day, serving as the area’s general practice physician for 37 years until his retirement in 1994. He delivered babies, performed minor surgeries, and alleviated the aches and pains of local residents from his cozy office a stone’s throw away from his home. If someone knocked on his door at 2 a.m., he was available and eager to help.

He continues to run into old patients around town. “They are still really appreciative of me,” says Norton.

“They don’t remember how horrible they felt when they saw me, they just remember me helping them feel better,” he adds, with a smile.

Norton’s love affair with Mills River sparked at a young age. He was born in Spartanburg, S.C. in 1927, and in 1934 his parents purchased a place in Lake Junaluska, N.C. as a summer escape.      

“Going to Junaluska, we discovered we could avoid the traffic of Asheville and get there a little quicker if we went Highway 191 to Enka and over,” says Norton.

“We travelled through Mills River. The corn was higher than a man’s head here. The farmhouses were neat. This was a different place. People took care of their homes and grew good crops. At 10 years old, I decided I wanted to settle here in one of the prettiest valleys in the mountains.”

The Road Back to the Mountains

While studying chemistry at Wofford College in Spartanburg, the draft board chairman approached Norton one Sunday after church. “He said, ‘I’ve got to send you your draft notice this week,’” Norton recalls. “I asked if he could wait until Friday and he agreed.”

Norton finished his class exams by Wednesday, joined the Navy on Thursday and received his draft notice that Friday as promised. He served in the Hospital Corps during WWII, where he got his first dose working in medicine. He was hooked. 

After the war, Norton returned to Wofford and changed his major to pre-med. He went on to medical school in Charleston and worked in Philadelphia and California for brief stints before saving enough money to return to his beloved mountains in western North Carolina with his teenage sweetheart.

“This area is special to me because I raised my kids here and this was my recreational area,” says Norton. “I did not want to see it developed like you see other developments around here. I like mountains. I like trees.”

A Conservation Corridor

Norton and his family arrived in Mills River in the late 1950s, when land was still cheap. But, after living in the area for more than 60 years, he has witnessed significant changes.

“Back in the 1880s, if they built a railway through a town it became a city, if they bypassed it, it remained a little village,” says Norton. “Same happened here with the five lane highway, an airport and an interstate. It all expanded quickly. Acres are now terribly expensive and they’re getting fewer and fewer.”

Norton and his children decided they did not want to ever see their land subdivided, but wanted CMLC to conserve Hoot Owl, a 177-acre tract that borders the property to the north, first.

“I told the Conservancy if they ever got Hoot Owl I’d talk with them about my land, because Hoot Owl continues the undeveloped land on Middle Ridge, with Seniard Creek on one side of the ridge and Hoot Owl on the other,” Norton says.

CMLC successfully acquired Hoot Owl last year and transferred the land to Pisgah National Forest this past January, connecting what had been a separate island to the main body of the National Forest, enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities, protecting our drinking water, and providing critical wildlife habitat. 

“That means there is a swath from the main Pisgah National Forest, through Middle Ridge, through Hoot Owl and me that will never be developed,” says Norton, proudly. “We are thankful and appreciative to the Conservancy for all they do and all they have done for us.”

Norton’s land is part of a chain of three conserved properties. CMLC worked with the Streadwick family to conserve Grey Heaven, the northernmost property that is home to the pure, clear headwaters of Sitton Creek.

Sitton Creek flows through Hoot Owl, through Norton’s property, and into the Mills River, providing drinking water for more than 100,000 households and safeguarding the federally-endangered Appalachian elktoe, a freshwater mussel, and the rare eastern hellbender salamander.

“The quality of the water we drink relies on the people who live on the land it flows through,” says CMLC Land Protection Director Tom Fanslow, who worked on these projects.

“There is a paradigm shift happening in Mills River with these landowners. They are the torchbearers for the generations to come. Dr. Norton and Streadwick, and the other landowners we have worked with in the Mills River area, are setting the standard for conservation for the rest of us to follow.” 

With Hoot Owl transferred to Pisgah National Forest, and Norton and Streadwick’s properties to the north and south conserved and remaining in private ownership, these lands together create a larger conservation corridor and will continue to be in their current natural forested state in perpetuity.

Norton has a sense of peace that his five children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren will continue to enjoy cookouts at the cabin and walks through the surrounding protected forest for generations to come.

“The area captured my heart when I was seven or eight years old,” says Norton. “And, it has kept it.” 


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:

EDUCATION

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

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

REQUIRED 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.

PREFERRED SKILLS

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

PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS

• 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

LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMER

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.

WORK HOURS/COMPENSATION

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

TO APPLY:

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

info@carolinamountain.org

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.


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 www.americorpsprojectconserve.org/about/host-sites

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.

Compensation
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 www.americorpsprojectconserve.org/apply/how-to-apply 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 projectconserve@carolinamountain.org.  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.”


Position Title:
Southeast Regional Director
 
Reports To:
Executive Director
 
Position Summary:
This Polk County-based position ensures a coordinated fundraising strategy with the Hendersonville office and leads community engagement efforts in the southeast service region.
 
JOB DESCRIPTION
In close coordination with the Executive Director and other staff:

• Advance the mission of the conservancy in its southeast region

• Initiate and deepen relationships with various community stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, and partnering organizations

• Serve as conservancy liaison with community leaders, local media, elected officials, and agency staff

• Build financial support from Polk and neighboring counties through individual and business memberships, major gifts and planned gifts

• Identify and pursue grant opportunities including research, proposal writing, administration and reporting

• Refine conservation priorities in the region and assist in acquisition of new land and conservation easements

• Build on the strong foundation of existing southeast region volunteer programs and further grow the base of volunteer support

• Develop and coordinate the conservancy’s southeast region advisory council

• Advance the conservancy’s community engagement goals by reaching out to diverse constituencies and finding opportunities to change lives through conservation

• Supervise Tryon office administration staff and volunteers

• Other duties as needed

 
Essential Job Requirements:
EDUCATION
Undergraduate degree
 
EXPERIENCE
Proven success with building non-profit community support; successful grant-writing experience; familiarity with Polk and adjoining parts of Greenville and Spartanburg counties; familiarity with land conservation desirable.
 
REQUIRED SKILLS
Strong interpersonal, organizational, and time-management skills reflected in an ability to work effectively with professional colleagues, supporters, and stakeholders in a team-oriented environment; a high degree of detail orientation, commitment to accuracy, and the ability to manage multiple projects at once; highly proficient with Microsoft Office and ability to learn and use various software; ability to work independently with minimal management oversight; a commitment to professional growth and responsibilities, unquestioned integrity and fiscal accountability, ability to plan and achieve long and short-term goals; exceptional written and oral communication skills.
 
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS
Ability to work at a computer, sit for extended periods of time, operate office equipment, attend meetings outside of the office.
 
LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMER
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.
 
WORK HOURS/COMPENSATION
Full-time position-40 hours per week. Competitive pay commensurate with experience; health benefits; retirement benefits; supportive and engaging work environment with opportunities for professional development.
 
TO APPLY:
Send resume, cover letter, and references by email to:
Human Resources
Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy
847 Case Street
Hendersonville, NC 28792
 
Open until filled.
 
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.

You protect our mountains and rivers, now it's time to protect AmeriCorps Project Conserve!

Protect AmeriCorps Project Conserve

 

The Corporation for National & Community Service--the federal agency that supports the AmeriCorps service program--is at risk! It is one of 18 agencies that are recommended for elimination in the White House's budget proposal recently sent to Congress. The Corporation for National & Community Service makes up less than 0.025% of the federal budget.

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

Young adults like Trudie Henninger depend on AmeriCorps to gain 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.

"My experiences with Project Conserve helped me gain a deeper understanding of the communities, wildlife and beauty of WNC. I was lucky enough to be able to continue as an Environmental Education Specialist at my host site after my AmeriCorps service. Today, I am still playing outside with children, catching crawdads, measuring salamanders, counting birds and weighing turtles. Project Conserve gave me the opportunity and experience necessary to land my dream job, working outdoors providing students with meaningful, hands-on activities that will aid scientific research, connect them with nature, and help promote the conservation of WNC plants and animals."  

-Trudie Henninger

2012-2013 AmeriCorps Project Conserve Citizen Science Education Specialist at The NC Arboretum

These members are absolutely vital to environmental organizations like CMLC and The NC Arboretum, providing on-the-ground support to nonprofits that simply do not have sufficient funds to hire several additional full-time staff.

It is an invaluable partnership which cannot be broken. We support each other. We grow together. Please take a moment to call your Congress members and let them know about the difference AmeriCorps is making in your community.

NC Senator Richard Burr (202) 224-3154

NC Senator Thom Tillis (202) 224-6342

 

NC Representative Mark Meadows (202) 225-6401

NC Representative Patrick McHenry (202) 225-2576

 

Click here to find your Senator.

Click here to find your Representative.


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