Two decades ago, a small group of community members gathered around a kitchen table in the interest of preserving our region’s precious natural heritage. What resulted from their vision would prove to have far-reaching impacts on the quality of life for a community, a region and beyond. Those impacts would not just benefit their own generation, but countless others to come.

In the 20th year since those selfless citizens banded together to form a local land trust, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) furthered the legacy of its founders by forever protecting 1,095 more acres of the places you love in Western North Carolina. These permanently preserved places keep us healthy, bestow our identity, and inspire us to live and love within our community.

Now surpassing the conservation of 28,000 acres of our region’s most treasured natural resources, CMLC is proud to present its 2014 additions to our community’s protected landscapes.

DEERLAKE

1.8 more acres

A decade after conserving 37 acres of undeveloped land in Brevard’s Deerlake Village, CMLC partnered with two of its resident landowners and the Deerlake Village Community Association to protect an additional 1.8 acres in the Transylvania County community.

Both landowners generously donated lots — previously slated for new homes — to the association and collectively placed them into conservation easements.

One lot — a lakefront property — was considered eminently developable by project partners, and the other hosts sensitive wetlands of particular conservation importance. The added land protection at Deerlake safeguards water quality on Lambo Creek and preserves scenic views surrounding the shoreline.

While small in size, the latest conservation at Deerlake is an important example of preserving a balance between developed and undeveloped land.

“We recently purchased a home adjacent to the Deerlake easements because of the perfect marriage between a residential community and conservation lands,” said Brevard resident Owen Carson. Carson, a plant ecologist for Equinox Environmental, said that it is the perfect place to raise a family.

“To live close to town yet know my children will always have access to the natural world out our back door is priceless. I’m grateful for the vision of CMLC and the Deerlake POA.”

HEADWATERS STATE FOREST

1,018 more acres

The momentous effort to conserve the East Fork Headwaters in Transylvania County reached its most significant milestone yet in 2014.

Project partners The Conservation Fund and N.C. Forest Service acquired 1,018 more acres for addition to Headwaters State Forest and thereby passed the halfway mark of acquiring the acreage proposed for the new state forest.

The acquisition included the tributaries of Jane Cantrell Creek and the South Prong of Glady Fork Creek — the latter hosting one of the tract’s most stunning waterfalls, Gravely Mill Falls.

North Carolina’s newest state forest now consists of 4,229 acres. “We hope to complete acquisition within the next two to three years,” said Michael Cheek, NCFS assistant regional forester.

Protecting the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River was initiated by CMLC and its landowner, former Congressman Charles Taylor, in 2009. The undeveloped property — the largest remaining contiguous private tract in WNC — is teeming with waterfalls, 25 miles of trout streams, mountain bogs hosting rare species, and more than nine miles of the venerable Foothills Trail system.

Partners utilized federal funding from the Forest Legacy program, North Carolina’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, and donation of some of the land value by the Taylor family.

BEARWALLOW MOUNTAIN

5 more acres

Henderson County’s most iconic peak, Bearwallow Mountain, has been a focus of CMLC’s conservation efforts since 2009. Since then, 165 acres have been protected in conservation easement as well as a new public trail constructed to its scenic summit.

Following the resolution of an uncertain property boundary, five new acres were added into the conservation easement at Bearwallow Mountain in 2014. The new addition includes the trailhead of the popular Bearwallow Mountain Trail, the starting point for hikers seeking the inspiration of its majestic view from above.

CMLC gratefully acknowledges that preservation of Bearwallow, and its enjoyment by visitors has been made possible with the cooperation of its owners, past and present. One of those owners, George Henry Barnwell, sadly passed away in December, two years following the death of his mother, Pearl Barnwell.

“The Barnwell family’s vision and commitment to conservation will continue to be treasured by all those who are inspired by the beautiful views from this protected peak,” said CMLC Executive Director Kieran Roe.

CMLC is striving to conserve an additional 306 acres atop the mountain with the ultimate goal of protecting 476 acres in total at the locally beloved summit.

THE PARK AT FLAT ROCK

68 acres

In support of more community green space and outdoor recreational opportunities, CMLC aided in the establishment of the new The Park at Flat Rock in 2014.

CMLC provided assistance to the Village of Flat Rock to secure funding for land acquisition — including the authoring of an N.C. Parks & Recreation Trust Fund grant — of the former Highland Lake Golf Club. The grant provided significant funding to help defray the costs of acquiring the land.

The Village intends the 68-acre park to be a “place for all generations to enjoy its natural beauty and reap the benefits of outdoor recreation and leisure while protecting and preserving the wildlife that make its home there.”

It already features a 1.5-mile natural surface perimeter trail that is suitable for users with a wide range of physical abilities, as well as multiple uses beyond walking, including bicycling, strollers and dog-walking.

“We’re grateful to be a part of this project because it offers multi-use recreational opportunities that are not found elsewhere in the Village,” said CMLC Administrative Director Rebekah Robinson.

FRENCH BROAD RIVER

Etowah Access

1.7 acres

CMLC acquired 1.7 acres in Etowah at Highway 64 along the French Broad River in order to create a new public access point for paddlers and anglers. The land was generously donated by Patten Seed Co., producers of Super-Sod turfgrass. The company owns the adjacent Horseshoe Bend Farm, on which it donated a 360-acre conservation easement in 2003.

CMLC donated the new river access tract to Henderson County Parks & Recreation, which plans to make it a new park. N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will construct a new boat ramp and parking area.

Currently, only two public access points — 18 miles apart — exist for boaters on the French Broad River in Henderson County. The new Etowah access will enable shorter and more manageable trips for river enthusiasts. It could also one day serve as a trailhead for the proposed Ecusta Rail Trail between Hendersonville and Brevard.

Support for this project was provided by the Fitzpatrick Foundation.

PRESERVE AND IMPROVE

CMLC’s conservation initiatives in 2014 were not limited to only newly protected lands. Stay tuned next month to learn about a year’s worth of impacts that make these special protected lands accessible for you to explore, that restore and enhance their natural heritage, and preserve their ability to inspire and fulfill the residents and visitors of our region.

CMLC has protected more than 28,000 acres at more than 150 projects among the Blue Ridge Escarpment, French Broad River Valley, Hickory Nut Gorge, and beyond since its inception in 1994. For more information and to support land conservation in WNC, visit carolinamountain.org.

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.

http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20150329/ARTICLES/503291002/0/search?p=all&tc=pgall


'People are drawn to waterfalls,” said Dick Smith of Brevard. “I think it's their power. Their pristine beauty. Their uniqueness.”

Smith, 77, knows the attraction of waterfalls as well as anyone. For nearly 20 years, he was the owner of iconic Connestee Falls, a 100-foot cascade near Cedar Mountain.

“It was like a little piece of heaven,” he said of his impression when he saw the picturesque Transylvania County waterfall in 1986. Smith had relocated from metropolitan New York, and in 1990, he purchased seven acres that included Connestee Falls.

Smith was seeking a place to open a realty office. The location just off of busy Highway 276 — and adjacent to the subdivision named for the falls — was an ideal one for his business. “But I didn't want to own a waterfall,” he said.

Ultimately, Smith didn't have a choice. The previous owner only offered sale of the property in its entirely — waterfall included. Smith made the purchase and opened his office. Fittingly, he named his business Top of the Falls Realty.

For most of the next two decades, Smith watched as droves of visitors parked at his office to make the short walk to view the falls — no more than a 50-yard stroll.

“I sat in my office watching a parade of people going by. Between 30 and 50 cars a day would stop,” Smith said.

In fact, so popular is Connestee Falls as a destination that guidebook author and photographer Kevin Adams, the leading expert on North Carolina waterfalls, calls it “among the best-known in the state.”

Added Smith, “it was unbelievable. I was taken aback by its draw.”

Smith was not only impressed by the sheer numbers of visitors, but also by the array of physical abilities that he saw accessing the falls. “Trunks would pop open. Walkers, wheelchairs and strollers would come out.”

The short, flat walk, to the water's edge enabled easy access to the top of the waterfall for just about everyone.

“Most of the time I saw entire families — from small children to grandparents without much mobility — make the trip,” Smith said. “It's one of the few falls that is readily accessible from a parking lot without stairs. And it's close to town and a major highway.”

Ease of access isn't the only characteristic that makes Connestee Falls popular among visitors. Smith's property actually hosts three waterfalls. Carson Creek flows over Connestee Falls, the largest of the three both in height and width. Immediately adjacent is Batson Creek Falls, a 40-foot cascade that drains its namesake creek from within the Connestee Falls development to the south.

A third falls — where the two others come together in a narrow flume — is known as Silver Slip. The three waterfalls form the backdrop of a deep gorge headwall as the united streams make their way to the French Broad River.

Smith is one of many to have owned the trio of waterfalls. According to waterfall historian Jim Bob Tinsely, in 1852 Will Probart Poor bought the falls and surrounding 100 acres for $5 from the state of North Carolina. By 1870, Lewis P. Summey was operating a gristmill at the top of the falls.

At that time, the falls was nameless. While the name Connestee is Cherokee-derived, it wasn't given to the falls by Native Americans. It instead appears to have been bestowed in the late 1800s by Dr. F.A. Miles, the owner of the Caesars Head Hotel, once located to the south on what is today U.S. Highway 276.

Tinsely's research unearthed a letter by Miles claiming to have first dubbed the falls Connestee in 1873. The cataract reminded him of a legend in which an Indian maiden of that name lost her life over the edge of a waterfall.

Different versions of the legend suggest that the fall was either accidental or intentional. Variations also suggest that it was either in unison with her Englishman lover or alone following heartbreak.

The story is a common one associated with dozens of other locales across the country — including a similar tale connected to Jump Off Rock in Henderson County's Laurel Park. And while such romantic tragedy might have actually occurred elsewhere, we know that it in fact did not happen at Connestee Falls.

After the turn of the 20th century, the area near the top of Connestee Falls hosted a roadside general store that drew tourists visiting the waterfall. According to Smith, the “five and dime store” operated a turnstile through which visitors passed after paying a nickel admission to view the falls.

In the early 1970s, the Connestee Falls development — a private community now hosting 1,300 homes — broke ground on adjacent property. The area between the road and the falls for many years became the home of the neighborhood's property sales center.

In addition to small cabins for overnight stays by prospective lot buyers, Smith said it also featured a lighted walkway down to the bottom of the falls. “There was even someone dressed as an Indian maiden dancing out by the road to attract business.”

Over the years, Smith received many offers to purchase the property that included the three waterfalls. “They wanted to build a private home overlooking the falls,” he said. “But that's not what I want to see happen.

“I kept thinking to myself that an individual should not own a waterfall,” Smith recalled. “This should be available to everyone in the community, always.”

In 2006, Smith approached Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy for help ensuring that his waterfalls were both forever protected and available to the public. Said Smith, “CMLC has an excellent reputation in getting these things accomplished — and accomplished well.”

Two years later, Smith and CMLC achieved a conservation easement — preventing the building of structures and any other degradation of natural resources in perpetuity — on three acres of his property that included the waterfalls. Funding from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund made that permanent protection possible.

That same year, CMLC also acquired ownership of the land itself to facilitate perpetual public access to the falls. Smith made a sizeable donation by selling the property well under its market value. The purchase was funded by the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, and donations from several residents of the Connestee Falls development.

In 2009, CMLC then conveyed the land to Transylvania County for the creation of a new county park. Remaining PARTF funding enabled construction of a new boardwalk trail and overlook platform above the falls.

The new trail and viewing platform is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, which was particularly important to Smith after watching so many visitors enjoy the falls regardless of their mobility.

Connestee Falls Park, forever protected and publicly accessible, formally opened in 2011. It continues to receive thousands of visitors annually.

“It's available to everybody and anybody, now and forever,” Smith said. “God made that waterfall for all of us to enjoy. I think the outcome was perfect.”

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.

http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20150222/ARTICLES/502221005/0/search?p=all&tc=pgall


Mike Knoerr, biology and environmental science teacher at Lake Lure Classical Academy, has a deep-seated belief that he has a responsibility to ensure his generation understands the importance of conserving the natural world.

Among the courses he teaches, Knoerr offers The Appalachian Naturalist, an elective for high school students at the academy. In addition to traditional classroom-based instruction, Knoerr usually incorporates one day each week for field-based learning to provide students a hands-on opportunity to study — as well as make a positive impact upon — our region's natural heritage.

“The opportunity to guide so many young minds in a profoundly positive way is a responsibility I take very seriously,” Knoerr said. “For me, it's the greatest gift of teaching.”

As part of the elective curriculum, in late 2013 Knoerr's students began working with the Weed Action Coalition of the Hickory Nut Gorge — abbreviated WAC-HNG and cleverly pronounced whacking — to aid in its mission to control and eradicate non-native plants that negatively impact native ecosystems in our region.

WAC-HNG is an initiative started in 2012 by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Its work spans three counties through the Hickory Nut Gorge — extending from the Henderson-Buncombe boundary near Gerton to Lake Lure in Rutherford County.

Its efforts focus on protecting the natural heritage and scenic beauty of the gorge by managing the establishment and spread of invasive species. These goals are pursued through inventorying and removing these plants as well as educating landowners, visitors and, in this case, students.

The interest among Knoerr's students progressed from learning about natural heritage to a commitment toward restoring and preserving it when they adopted a section of Pool Creek near the school in Lake Lure.

The students work weekly to identify and pull out pesky invasive plants such as kudzu and other threatening species that have become rooted along the banks of the stream. Pool Creek drains the eastern half of Chimney Rock State Park, including its scenic Worlds Edge tract protected by CMLC in 2005.

According to Debbie Shetterly, WAC-HNG project coordinator, invasive plant species can increase fire and flood risk, increase erosion, lower property values, and usurp precious water resources. Shetterly said, “Possibly the most critical threat is the danger they pose to native wildlife, both plant and animal species.

“When invasive species take over, biological diversity is lost. Biological diversity is the intricate web which keeps life as we know it functioning. Without each species playing its role, the entire network unravels,” she explained.

Shetterly is grateful that Knoerr understands the importance of diligently managing invasive species — an often overlooked component of natural resource protection — and conveys its complexities to his students.

“He views the natural world as one large super organism, with each species playing merely a small role in the functioning of this superbeing. As small parts of the organism are damaged or die off, it ceases to function at its optimum capability,” she said. “And his students really get it.”

“Mike also recognizes that the future of our natural world depends on this next generation,” Shetterly added. “I'm thrilled that the Lake Lure Classical Academy recognizes the value of this type of learning, and is such a willing partner for this critical project in the Hickory Nut Gorge.”

David Lee, WAC-HNG Assistant project manager, supervises and helps instruct Knoerr's students on invasive plant removal workdays.

“The Hickory Nut Gorge is one of the most biodiverse locales in the Appalachian Mountains,” Lee said. “Managing non-native plants is one of the most effective methods to protect that biodiversity. And it becomes more sustainable when it's a community effort.”

While kudzu is the most visible and subsequently well-known invasive plant in the gorge, it is just one among a handful of unwanted species that the students seek and destroy. According to Lee, at least three other species rank as greater threats to biodiversity, including Oriental bittersweet, tree of heaven and, most of all, Japanese knotwood.

“These plants have the highest potential to impact and negatively affect rare, unique or significant natural communities and endangered animal and plant species,” Lee explained.

The students also scour the banks of Pool Creek for English ivy and periwinkle, two more non-natives that have become established in the Hickory Nut Gorge.

Lee finds the students to be not only hard working, but inquisitive and creative. “They're full of questions, like whether or not the organic material we remove can be used for fertilizer.”

Because it carries seeds that can spread easily, the refuse must be burned after Lee transports it offsite.

The academy's adoption of Pool Creek will ensure that the site will be weed-free well into the future. It also enables subsequent classes of students to play a role in the preservation of the site's biodiversity while continuing to be enriched by a hands-on approach to learning about conservation.

“To impart a strong conservation ethic and scientific understanding in this small window of time I have with them truly means the world to me,” Knoerr said. “I'm so thankful to help them get to know the wonders of their backyard.”

Knoerr ended the most recent work session at Pool Creek by sharing a quote with his students from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Shetterly said, “I have no doubt that this small group of students can, indeed, change the Hickory Nut Gorge.”

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.

http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20150125/ARTICLES/501251007/0/search?p=all&tc=pgall


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