Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchases 29 acres near Blue Hole Falls

Published 4:50 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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Thanks to donations and a bridge loan from a “conservation-minded lender,” the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) today announced the purchase of 29 acres in Carter County near the Blue Hole Falls recreation area, which is located about 12 miles from Elizabethton off state Route 91.

“This is another successful example of how SAHC assists our agency partners in securing tracts that they have identified as priority additions to public lands,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. “The landowners were ready to sell the land, and we were able to respond, as a small nonprofit organization, to purchase it and provide our partners in the Cherokee National Forest time to move through the requisite process for the acquisition.”

The newly acquired land adjoins Cherokee National Forest on three sides, and the nonprofit conservancy plans to transfer the tract to the U.S. Forest Service. Conservation of the property will help protect water quality in trout waters and downstream in Blue Hole Falls, as well as scenic views from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

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“The upper part of Mill Creek runs through the property and into Blue Hole Falls downstream,” said Michelle Pugliese, SAHC’s land protection director. “By protecting the property now, we will ensure that there will be no development on this upstream tract that could impair the quality of water flowing into the falls.”

The creek flowing through SAHC’s new nature preserve and into the waterfall is classified as Exceptional Waters by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and can sustain naturally reproducing trout. The Left Fork Mill Creek and Right Fork Mill Creek originate on Holston Mountain and merge into Mill Creek at the northern boundary of the tract purchased by SAHC.

“Off the U.S. Forest Service road south of SAHC’s new Blue Hole Preserve, an unassuming parking area and unmarked trailhead lead into the hidden beauty of Blue Hole Falls. The cascades of Mill Creek plunge into a deep pool with lovely blue waters,” Pugliese said in the release. “This public recreation area in the Cherokee National Forest gets busy during hot summer days as people seek an easily accessible place to cool off and enjoy nature. SAHC’s purchase of the land upstream on Panhandle Road will contribute significantly to protecting water quality in the public recreation area.”

“The Blue Hole Falls area is an incredibly popular recreation destination that is loved by many and an important location to conserve,” said Cherokee National Forest Supervisor Michael Wright. “This 29-acre purchase will conserve more than 1,000 feet of Mill Creek feeding the Blue Hole natural feature while improving recreation access including nearly 1,000 feet of road frontage along National Forest System Road (NFSR) No. 56 (Panhandle Road).”

“SAHC was founded almost 50 years ago by visionary leaders who looked out from the narrow footpath of the Appalachian Trail and saw a need to secure undeveloped mountain lands for people, plants and wildlife to prosper in the future,” Silverstein said in the release. “We are proud of our work with agency partners over the past decades, helping to secure special places for the public to enjoy.”

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is a non-profit land trust conserving land and water resources in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Since 1974, SAHC has protected over 80,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic views, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation.