The Conservation Fund announced Dec. 29 the $5.5 million purchase of a privately-owned 786-acre tract that represents the last, unprotected section of the storied Foothills Trail, which winds along the border between North and South Carolina. The land was owned by former Congressman Charles Taylor and his family.
The support of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, a donation from Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury and a $1 million grant from the Carolina Water Management Trust Fund helped make the project possible.
By protecting the land for the State of North Carolina to ultimately purchase and manage, a corridor of conserved land will be established stretching more than nine miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, including key headwaters of the French Broad River, according to a press release from the Conservation Fund.
The property sits adjacent to the 43,000-acre Jocassee Gorges, acquired in 1999, through the Fund, by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Late last year, the Fund and others had urged the public to support the proposed purchase and plan to make the area a park. A November article in Xpress detailed the push.
Preserving this property is the first phase of a potential multi-year, multi-phase effort that is contingent upon support from state and federal conservation funding programs to protect an 8,000-acre property known as the East Fork Headwaters Tract, according to the Conservation Fund. The tract features pristine forests, waterfalls and bogs long prized by conservationists. Protecting this entire expanse will ensure the land is publicly available for hunting, hiking and other outdoor pursuits accessible through the property’s 100 miles of trails. The Headwaters Hunting and Fishing Club currently leases the property and manages it for hunting.
“By protecting a key nine-mile stretch of Blue Ridge crest followed by the longest yet to be protected stretch of the 70-mile Foothills Trail, The Conservation Fund has focused this first phase where the general public will get the most immediate use and good,” said R. Michael Leonard, vice chairman of the board of directors for The Conservation Fund. “Hikers will be out there enjoying the magnificent views along this ridge crest between now and the New Year, and I wish that I could join them. We will also be protecting pristine headwaters and rare plants and animals, but I am glad that this first step will provide immediate enjoyment to the people of North Carolina.”
“The completion of this initial Headwater acquisition is an exciting first step that conserves some of the most significant featuresof the larger tract,” said Kieran Roe, executive director of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. ”Due to the cooperation of the Taylor family and the generosity of public and private funders, a key link in the corridor of conservation along the Blue Ridge Escarpment is now permanently protected for the benefit of North and South Carolina.”