News & Events: News

A look at the habitat and species of the Hickory Nut Gorge in North Carolina. By Sean Keuroghlian-Eaton and Evan Lamb, students in a Warren Wilson College documentary class.

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On Monday, April 27th, 30 AmeriCorps Project Conserve Members teamed up with the Weed Action Coalition of Hickory Nut Gorge (WAC-HNG) and several local landowners for 2 Disaster Mitigation Service Projects. Disaster Preparedness Training and Mitigation are new focus areas for the environmental-based AmeriCorps program, which it expects to expand in the future as a response to the increased need for disaster services across the nation.

WAC-HNG is a CMLC initiative that works as a coalition of area partners to protect the natural communities and scenic beauty of the Hickory Nut Gorge by managing the establishment and spread of non-native invasive plant species.

The projects were executed in Bat Cave, NC, located in the far eastern corner of Henderson County and just within the scenically beautiful Hickory Nut Gorge.  The area, with its steep and rocky slopes, narrow roads and even narrower stream corridors, is highly vulnerable to hazards including severe thunderstorms, landslides, high winds, riverine erosion, and flooding.  According to the 2010 Henderson County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, there are 236 buildings in the Bat Cave Area that are vulnerable to landslides, representing nearly $20 million dollars in value. In the past, there has been significant damage in the area caused by excessive rain events (severe thunderstorms and hurricanes) and one death has been attributed to falling debris during one of these events. Small to large landslide events, downed trees, and rock falls are not uncommon after a heavy rain which can (and often) block transportation routes, damage property, and put residents in danger of bodily harm.

There are some methods for lessening the impact of these hazards including education of residents and early warning of a potential disaster, enforcement of higher building code standards, scaling (and other methods of reducing loose debris), and regulation of development in hazard prone areas. With guidance from WAC-HNG,

Project Conserve focused on control of non-native invasive plants in the area, which reduces loose debris and has other benefits not outlined in the Henderson County plan, and which are described below.

English Ivy (Hedera helix) is a non-native invasive plant species that was introduced into the Bat Cave area in the early 1900’s as an ornamental ground cover. Over the years, once small populations have grown to cover dozens of acres of forest. These places are called Ivy Deserts, because native plant and tree seeds cannot germinate under the thick layer of ivy. The vine readily grows high into the tree canopy, putting stress on the trees and eventually killing them. The shallow, spreading root system does not do well to hold in the soil during a heavy rain event, and the dead and/or stressed trees are prone to fall, especially during a weather event. Project Conserve Members relieved stress on nearly 100 large trees by using hand tools to cut chunks out of the ivy vines that were scaling the trees, and herbicide to prevent regrowth. Later, WAC-HNG will work with the landowner to manage the ivy still covering the ground.

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is another non-native invasive plant that has established itself in the Hickory Nut Gorge. It prefers stream banks and ditches, but will grow almost anywhere. It looks similar to bamboo, and will grow vigorously from seed and small fragments of plants damaged in floods or from human activity. Because of this, the plant must be handled carefully and disposed of correctly. Often times Knotweed forms very dense infestations that outcompete native plants and narrow the stream corridor. Then it dies back in the fall, leaving an exposed shoreline and large dead stalks that can clog the stream. Project Conserve Members cut out and burned the vegetation, and chemically treated the bases with aquatic herbicide.

AmeriCorps Project Conserve is a national service program in which members come from across the nation to dedicate themselves to serving western North Carolina for an 11 month service term.  Members are selected based on skill, education, experience, passion and commitment to service.  Project Conserve was founded in September of 2004 as an initiative of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) to respond to the growing conservation needs in western North Carolina.  The program focuses on collaboration with nonprofit organizations, community groups and local governments to provide service throughout the region. AmeriCorps Project Conserve is administered by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the NC Commission for Volunteerism and Community Service in the office of Governor Pat McCrory, and the critical support of our host sites and community partners.

AmeriCorps Project Conserve

Project Conserve Expands Focus Areas


Project Conserve welcomed many new members and several returning members to the AmeriCorps program in September 2014. The 2014-2015 program year marks the 10th term of Project Conserve since it was founded by CMLC in 2004. Changes in the priority areas by the program funder, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), motivated Project Conserve to expand its Environmental Stewardship focus to begin incorporating Disaster Services activities.  Team disaster-focused trainings have included Wilderness First Aid and CPR, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and trainings with the Salvation Army and Red Cross. Members use the training they receive to design disaster preparedness trainings for their host site organizations and the greater community, increasing awareness of local hazards and encouraging preparedness. Additionally, members educate the community about proactive disaster mitigation projects and engage volunteers in mitigation activities such as storm water drain marking and erosion control.

AmeriCorps Project Conserve places 32 members at 18 environmental and conservation organizations across western North Carolina—including five members at CMLC. Members serve 1,700 hours over eleven-month terms and lead efforts to improve at-risk ecosystems and build community support for conservation through education, volunteer engagement, and direct service on rivers, trails, and public lands.


In this issue:

  • Halfway Home: Headwaters State Forest Surpasses 4,000 Acres;
  • More Bearwallow Mountain Conserved;
  • New Trail Open in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge;
  • 2014 Annual Report;
  • Calendar of Events.

Lela McBride was a community leader and conservationist that enabled the completion of Henderson County’s first Natural Heritage Inventory. She subsequently created the Henderson County Natural Heritage Trust, which grew to become CMLC in 1994. The Lela McBride Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to land conservation and stewardship in the region. Former winners include CMLC founding fathers John Humphrey and Rep. Chuck McGrady, Congressman Charles Taylor, and NC Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.

Beginning nearly a decade ago, John Myers and Jane Lawson have partnered with CMLC on multiple conservation projects that have been a catalyst for a growing network of land protection and public hiking trails in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. The couple first conserved 35 acres of their property adjacent to the Hickory Nut-Forest Eco-Community in Gerton via conservation easement in 2006.

Myers and Lawson worked with CMLC again in 2011 with the sale of 31 acres of their property with frontage on Gerton Highway (US 74A) for the establishment of a new public trailhead to CMLC’s Florence Nature Preserve. The Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead is now a Henderson County park. It is the primary jumping off point for the developing trail network in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. In an effort to both protect the land and ensure public access to the area’s trails, Myers and Lawson generously accepted well less than its market value.

In 2013, Myers and Lawson partnered with CMLC once more to permanently conserve the 103-acre Wildcat Rock tract on the north slopes of Little Bearwallow Mountain. Protection of the tract not only safeguards dramatic cliff faces, a 100-foot waterfall, and a plethora of biodiversity, it made possible the construction of the Little Bearwallow Trail, a new public footpath that will connect the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead to the popular summit of Bearwallow Mountain. To again further conservation and trails in the region, Myers and Lawson sold the tract to CMLC for nearly half of its market value.

While Myers and Lawson directly have protected 169 acres of mountain lands in Henderson County, their impact has stretched far beyond their own property holdings. Their enthusiasm for the importance of preserving the region’s natural heritage spread to neighboring landowners who followed suit in conserving their own properties with CMLC. Persuasion from Myers and Lawson led the Barnwell family to conserve 170 acres atop Bearwallow Mountain and the Brock family to protect 25 acres at the Chimney View tract. Both tracts are adjacent to the conserved Wildcat Rock property, expanding a contiguous corridor of protected lands in the Gorge.

While Myers and Lawson can be personally associated with 364 acres conserved in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge—with the protection of up to 300 more acres at Bearwallow Mountain still in progress—it may be their wider vision to connect these treasured lands by public foot trails that will endure as their most impactful legacy. Myers and Lawson are the visionaries for the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail, a 15-mile continuous footpath that will circumnavigate the Upper Gorge and community of Gerton. The hiking circuit will link protected lands conserved by CMLC—including Bearwallow Mountain, Wildcat Rock, and Florence Nature Preserve—as well as those protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. One day, the trail network may connect conserved lands in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge to Chimney Rock State Park and Lake Lure.

For their enduring commitment to the conservation of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge and their innovative vision to connect its forever-protected natural treasures by public trails, CMLC is proud to present the 2015 Lela McBride Award to John Myers and Jane Lawson.

 Gerton Duo, McGrady, Community Volunteers Honored at CMLC’s Annual Meeting

HENDERSONVILLE, NC—Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) announced John Myers and Jane Lawson, of Gerton, as winners of the organization’s prestigious 2015 Lela McBride Award. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to land conservation and stewardship in the region.

The award was given out at CMLC’s Annual Meeting at Camp Tekoa in Hendersonville on Sunday, April 12. Bestowed annually, Myers and Lawson are the 21st recipients of the award. Former winners include Rep. Chuck McGrady, Congressman Charles Taylor, and NC Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.

Beginning nearly a decade ago, t have partnered with CMLC on multiple conservation projects that have been a catalyst for a growing network of land protection and public hiking trails in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. The couple has directly protected 169 acres of their own land in Henderson County are are the visionaries of the region’s budding trail network.

Lela McBride, the award’s namesake, was a community leader and conservationist that enabled the completion of Henderson County’s first Natural Heritage Inventory. She subsequently created the Henderson County Natural Heritage Trust, which grew to become CMLC. 

CMLC also recognized Representative Chuck McGrady and his wife Jean for their two decades of commitment to CMLC’s conservation efforts. McGrady was one of CMLC’s early board presidents. He played an instrumental role in the organization’s involvement in the conservation of DuPont State Recreational Forest.

Also honored at the meeting were 23 community volunteers for donating at least 70 hours of volunteer service to the land trust in 2014. CMLC recognized John Humphrey, David Brown, Diana Richards, Al and Barb Pung, Mike Knoerr, Genien Carlson, Bill Imhof, Fred Weed, Jerry McAninch, Wes Burlingame, Patrick Horan, Connie Backlund, Amos Dawson, Chris McDonnell, Bob Lindsey, Skip Sheldon, Jim Neal, Mary Beth Hayes, Brenda Hillyer, Tom Weaver, Mickey Kilpatrick, and Tom Davis.

Volunteers donated a total of 5,743 hours in 2014 which made it possible for CMLC to conserve more than 1,000 acres of land last year.

CMLC conserves land and water resources to benefit the quality of life of residents and visitors in Henderson, Transylvania, and surrounding counties. Since 1994, the land trust has protected more than 28,000 acres of natural lands in western North Carolina. For more information, visit


Members, volunteers, and friends of CMLC! Join us for our 20th Anniversary Annual Meeting and Volunteer Recognition Event on Sunday, April 12th from 2:00-4:30pm. 

The meeting will be held in the dining hall of Camp Tekoa in Hendersonville, NC and will include the following:

  • CMLC year-end summary
  • Guest speaker - NC Representative, 117th District, Chuck McGrady
  • Special recognition of CMLC founders and early supporters
  • Volunteer recognition awards
  • Lela McBride Award presentation
  • Nature hike

For more information, please contact CMLC Volunteer Program Associate Caroline Ketcham at, or call the office at 828-697-5777.

The East Fork Headwaters Conservation Effort will protect one of the primary sources of the French Broad River. Located in southern Transylvania County, the project seeks to conserve the largest remaining privately-owned tract of land in western North Carolina.

This multi-phase, multi-year effort will benefit North Carolina’s economy and environment for generations to come. Conserving the East Fork Headwaters area will protect an abundance of natural and cultural resources.



Keep up-to-date about the latest conservation news at the new Headwaters State Forest website:




From the Executive Director

Recognizing a Pioneer

As CMLC comes to the end of its 20th anniversary year, we’ve been calling attention to the pioneers whose leadership of CMLC in its early days helped to set the organization on its path for success.  Chuck McGrady served as CMLC’s board president from 1995 to 1998 and in that role laid the groundwork for much that has followed.  In June 1995, Chuck learned about DuPont’s upcoming plans to sell thousands of acres near its plant in Cedar Mountain. With support from contacts at The Conservation Fund, Chuck and our board aided the NC Forest Service in acquiring 7,600 acres of DuPont property in 1997, the first step in creating DuPont State Recreational Forest. Other projects initiated in Chuck’s time as president included acquisition of the Florence Nature Preserve and the donation of CMLC’s first conservation easement on the John Humphrey Farm.

In late 2008, Chuck played a different role in an important new chapter in CMLC’s growth and development.  As investor in the Ironwood Square nonprofit office park off Upward Road, Chuck provided generous terms to CMLC in helping us relocate to the wonderful new structure that has been our home for the past six years.

Chuck and his family have been among CMLC’s most loyal and generous supporters for the past twenty years.  In this, our 20th anniversary year, he and his wife Jean have recently added to the legacy of generosity with a $50,000 gift. In recognition of this long-standing unique leadership and support, CMLC has proudly named our large conference room in honor of Chuck and Jean McGrady.  Come join us at the CMLC Annual Meeting on Sunday, April 12th as we thank Chuck, Jean, and the other CMLC founders, members, and volunteers who have made our conservation successes possible.

Kieran Roe | Executive Director

Yellow Ladyslipper Volunteers

Al and Barb Pung

“We do everything together,” Al and Barb Pung say, so it’s no surprise that they dove into volunteering at CMLC as a joint effort. Their current project—digitizing CMLC’s 20-year archive of news articles—have taught them a lot about a new region they’ve have come to love.

The Pungs moved from Michigan in 2013. Like many people, their love for the mountains began at one special place: Bearwallow Mountain. They first visited the mountain during a CMLC guided hike and then they “went every day for probably a week,” Al says. While Barb admits she “barely made it up that mountain,” you’d never know it now. After completing Hiking Challenge 3 in November, they’re just getting started.

Although they only recently started hiking, Al and Barb have a longstanding fondness for the outdoors. In Michigan, they built a log home on 36 acres, where they gardened and explored the woods. Translating their love for nature into volunteer work was an obvious choice. Volunteering helps them feel connected not just to nature, but to the community. “We thought, ‘This would be good to get involved in,’” Barb says. “You feel like you’ve helped with something.”


We are proud to present Al and Barb Pung with our Yellow Lady Slipper Award in appreciation of their dedicated service and commitment to CMLC.

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