Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy celebrates 50th anniversary

Published 12:34 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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This year the nonprofit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) celebrates 50 years conserving clean water, plant and wildlife habitat, farmland, scenic beauty, and places for all people to enjoy outdoor recreation in the mountains of NC and TN. The 50th anniversary will be marked with a special celebration event on Friday, May 31 – “Rooted in the Past, Growing for the Future” – at the TN Welcome Center on I-26 near the NC/TN border. The location overlooks the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed, one of SAHC’s keystone conservation success stories.

“SAHC has grown from a small group of dedicated volunteers into a sophisticated, multi-state organization at the forefront of nationally recognized conservation efforts,” says Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director.

The celebratory event will highlight milestone achievements of the past 50 years and announce major projects for the future of conservation. Special guest speakers include Dr. Mamie Parker, ground-breaking biologist and former Head of Fisheries for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and New York Times best-selling author Wiley Cash. The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

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Welcome music will be supplied by the East Tennessee State University’s Old Time Band, and the celebration will be followed by an optional guided group hike at TN’s Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

“We look forward to sharing stories, reminiscing with friends, and soaking in the beauty of protected land,” says Kristy Urquhart, SAHC’s associate director. “We hope SAHC members and folks new to the organization will all savor the benefits conservation in the Southern Appalachians and be inspired by epic conservation plans on the horizon.”

Milestone achievements of SAHC’s 50 years of conservation include protecting:

– Rare plant and animal habitat in diverse locations, from the Highlands of Roan to the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

– Ongoing land protection and active land management efforts with a broad coalition of partner – Headwater streams in the Nolichucky/Cane/Toe, French Broad, Doe, Catawba, and Pigeon River systems

– Farmland in both TN and NC

– Myriad places for people to enjoy outdoor recreation, including an expansion of Roan Mountain State Park, areas in Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests, Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area, along the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, future Pisgah View State Park in NC, and many more!


Dr. Mamie Parker, Former Head of Fisheries for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), has been breaking barriers as a professional fish and wildlife biologist, success coach and principal consultant at Ecologix Group, Inc. She spent a successful 30-year career as a biologist and senior executive in the federal government as the FWS Chief of Staff, Assistant Director of Habitat Conservation/Head of Fisheries. Dr. Parker made history serving as the first African American FWS Regional Director of the 13 Northeastern states after working in the Great Lakes and Big Rivers regions and in the southeastern United States. While serving as board chair of Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries Commission, the board passed a diversity resolution that’s become a model for other states, changed the board name from “game” to wildlife, and protected migratory birds threatened by major bridge construction. Instead of “rubber-stamping” a project that would have displaced many birds (allowed under the weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act), the Department drafted regulations to protect migratory birds across Virginia.

Wiley Cash is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels – When Ghosts Come Home, The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind Than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy – and the founder of This Is Working, an online creative community. He’s been a fellow at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and he teaches fiction writing and literature at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, photographer Mallory Cash, and their daughters. Cash’s short stories and essays have appeared in The Oxford American, Garden & Gun, Our State Magazine, and other publications, and his fiction has been adapted for the stage and film. He has taught creative writing and literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Bethany College, the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from UL-Lafayette, an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and a B.A. in Literature from UNC-Asheville. 

SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein joined the SAHC staff in 2000. He graduated from Stanford University in 1984 with a BA in History, and the University of Alabama Law School in 1988. Carl practiced law in Seattle before moving to Asheville in 1995. Carl serves on the Claims Committee of Terrafirma Risk Retention Group. Terrafirma is a charitable risk pool created by the national Land Trust Alliance to insure its members against the legal costs of defending conservation interests. With 24 years of experience as Executive Director of SAHC, Carl has guided staff through countless obstacles and navigated successful conservation outcomes for some of the most exciting and worthwhile projects in our 50-year history.