SAHC announces new South Yellow Mountain Preserve

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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The nonprofit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has accepted the donation of 7,500 acres, creating the new South Yellow Mountain Preserve. Tucked between Spruce Pine and Roan Mountain, SAHC’s South Yellow Mountain Preserve provides a haven for wildlife and natural beauty, permanently protected as a nature preserve and research forest.

“This is the largest single gift in SAHC’s history, and the largest gift of land to a land trust in NC,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. “Strategic acquisition of large parcels of land is increasingly important for climate resilience and protection of water sources – and increasingly hard to accomplish as privately owned parcels continue to be subdivided and developed. These 7,500 acres include some of the most sought-after conservation acres in the The nonprofit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has accepted the donation of 7,500 acres, creating the new South Yellow Mountain Preserve. Tucked between Spruce Pine and Roan Mountain, eastern United States, including over 100 miles of pristine creeks and streams. We really are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility to steward this vast mountain complex.”

The SAHC South Yellow Mountain Preserve includes one of the largest American Chestnut restoration projects in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, 11 waterfalls, over 100 miles of streams in the Toe River basin, and a system of rare heath-balds.  

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The size of the preserve, unbroken by bisecting roads, provides connection and space for animals and plants to move through different elevations and ecological communities as the climate changes. From ephemeral native wildflowers spotting the forested upper slopes to a plunging waterfall tucked behind moss-strewn pegmatite boulders, the preserve abounds with natural beauty. Streams flow into the North Toe River and Cane Creek, cascading through forest slopes shaded by twisting rhododendrons.  SAHC’s new South Yellow Mountain Preserve stretches across thousands of acres of undeveloped terrain straddling the border between Avery and Mitchell Counties, from rocky escarpments to hidden hollers.  It supports numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species and features some of the most extraordinary scenery in the eastern U.S., visible from local communities, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and other recreation areas in the Highlands of Roan. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail passes by the eastern portion of the preserve.

“Over 70,000 hybrid American Chestnut trees have been planted across the preserve since 2016,” said Park Greer, preserve manager for South Yellow Mountain Preserve. “The planting sites were chosen to study how the hybrids adapt to various conditions such as elevation, amount of sunlight, and proximity to water. The next step in the process is to evaluate the trees’ health or resilience in various locations.”

Greer has spent much of the past two years connecting with local community groups and exploring the physical and biological features of the preserve. The preserve provides a potential learning environment for researchers as well as a place for local school and community college groups to learn about conservation and environmental education. Greer has partnered with Mayland Early College High School to conduct field trips to the preserve to showcase various conservation science tools and methods such as stream surveys, soil sampling, and invasive species removal. 

“Geologists from the NC Department of Environmental Quality completed a survey to update the geologic map of the Spruce Pine quadrant that had not been updated since 1953,” continued Greer. “Not only does this add to our understanding of how these mountains are formed, but it may aid in locating certain species that are associated with rock types/geologic environments.

Headwaters of tributaries of the North Toe River flow down from the property, supporting water quality for hellbender habitat downstream. Water flowing off or seeping underground through the preserve also provides drinking water for surrounding communities.”

Creation of the preserve has been years in the making. In 2021, landowner Tim Sweeney announced plans to donate the 7,500 acres to SAHC and to donate smaller tracts to land trusts in other areas of North Carolina and Virginia. Even before his first acquisition here in 2012, longtime SAHC member Tim Sweeney envisioned assembling these parcels into a unified block of land with the intention of conserving the entire mountain ecosystem. With this gift the philanthropist’s dream has become a reality for the benefit of future generations.

“The core donation of these 7,500 acres of land will leverage multiple layers of positive benefits through SAHC’s long-term stewardship of the resource,” added Silverstein. “We are immensely grateful to the landowner for making this historic, incredibly generous gift to SAHC for the benefit of the entire region, fulfilling his conservation vision.”

SAHC’s preserve manager and Roan stewardship team are in the process of creating a comprehensive land management plan to thoughtfully guide the care and long-term management of the preserve. The public is invited to join a guided hike to a part of the preserve during SAHC’s annual June Jamboree on Saturday, June 15. More information and registration (required) can be found at


Photo Contributed/The Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy has accepted the donation of 7,500 acres, creating the new South Yellow Mountain Preserve. The preserve is tucked between Spruce Pine and Roan Mountain and provides a haven for wildlife and natural beauty.