229 more acres protected in Highlands of Roan

Published 2:14 pm Friday, December 1, 2023

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The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently accepted a gift of 229 acres of land from 130 of Chatham LLC. The land is in Mitchell County, east of Bakersville, N.C., and just north of the community of Hawk. It includes a high elevation spur ridgeline off of Hawk Mountain, with rocky terrain and exceptional habitat and water sources. SAHC plans to own the property for the long term and manage it as a nature preserve.
“The ridgeline, which runs through the center of the preserve, is known as Lightwood Mountain. It rises to 4,600 feet,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “It’s visible throughout the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, and its slopes contain four headwater streams that feed into Cane Creek, a significant trout stream.”
The uniquely steep ridgeline is situated between the streams of Dry Branch and Laurel Branch. Located within the Grandfather Unaka Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area (PARCA), with the northern portion of the property in the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area, the mountainous land provides excellent habitat for diverse plant and animal species.
“This new preserve has some interesting geological features both natural and historical,” says Park Greer, SAHC’s South Yellow Mountain Preserve Manager. “While walking the steep slopes, huge sections of exposed amphibolite bedrock, house sized boulders, and large crumbling cliffs greeted us at every turn. While sometimes making the trek difficult, the powdery gray hue of this metamorphic rock is beautiful as it often shows swirling patterns of the rock layers being bent and stretched under immense heat and pressure. On other parts of the property we could find outcrops of mostly white pegmatite, an igneous rock that intruded into the faults of the gray amphibolite. Pegmatite resembles a large-crystal granite with the feldspar, quartz, and mica components being many inches or feet across.”
“Pegmatite fueled one of the largest industries of the region,” continues Park. “Many early colonial settlers and later entire industries flocked to these mountains to mine mica for use in electrical insulation, cosmetics, and even fighter plane window tints. Feldspar was also mined for use in glassmaking and ceramics. On Hawk Spur we have found three of these defunct mine pits, now long abandoned and being reclaimed by nature. The mines were cut mines, meaning that there are no underground tunnels; the miners just dug, or cut, into the hillside to extract the minerals from the pegmatite. Even though the fragile mine walls are slowly fracturing, breaking, and filling in the cuts, we could still see some drill marks and the veins of shiny mica that the old miners worked so hard to collect.”
“We are expanding protection around the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area,” adds Michelle. “This Natural Area is a rugged 3,800-acre unit of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, created by the State in 2008.“ .“Receiving a donation of this size significantly furthers our conservation goals because large connected tracts of land provide a range of microclimates and variability within the landscape.”
We are grateful to 130 of Chatham LLC for donating the new preserve, and to the Stanback family for their generous gift for transaction costs and future stewardship and management of the property. SAHC was also awarded a grant from the Conservation Trust for NC’s mini grant program for a portion of the transaction costs.
Cane Creek.
Not far from Hawk Spur, SAHC also recently purchased a 30-acre farm from a landowner whose family owned it for generations. This parcel on Cane Creek shares ecological and geological characteristics with Hawk Spur, including a 4,200 foot ridgeline. and habitat for birds, amphibians and reptiles. This new preserve reaches all the way from the valley floor to the ridge, and includes both sides of Cane Creek.
“Preserving both Hawk Spur and this farm on Cane Creek, so close together, is an exciting step forward in our conservation mission,” says Michelle. “The public benefit includes expanding protected habitats, protecting sensitive high elevation natural communities and climate resilient ecosystems, and protecting pristine headwaters. This opportunity is thanks to the previous landowners who have cared for the land, and we appreciate their confidence in transferring that care to SAHC.”

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