Press release from the National Park Service:
National Park Service leaders along with representatives from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, numerous statewide and regional partners in land conservation, and other local leaders marked National Public Lands Day by celebrating ongoing conservation efforts protecting the Blue Ridge Parkway at and around Waterrock Knob.
Representatives from multiple land trust partners including the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Piedmont Land Conservancy, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy were on hand for the event to celebrate recent land protection efforts that widen the circle of organizations and individuals involved in the active stewardship and protection of the important natural and cultural resources at this location.
“Approaching the protection of Waterrock Knob area from a large-scale conservation perspective, and building on the thousands of years of stewardship of this place by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, requires partners and communities to share a recognition that healthy ecosystems, vibrant communities and economies, cultural heritage and local sense of place are best protected at a landscape level,” said Tracy Swartout, Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent. “The National Park Service is privileged to work alongside our partners in this work and we look forward to the ways these lands will enhance and enrich the Blue Ridge Parkway experience for generations to come.”
Recognizing the significance of this area, land trust partners announced a large-scale protection effort in 2016 that would ultimately lead to the donation of over 5,300 acres at Waterrock Knob to the National Park Service. Since the 2016 announcement, conservation partners have donated nearly 3,400 acres of land to the National Park Service at this location and 450 acres of additional lands throughout the park, with more anticipated in the coming months.
“Building on and learning from centuries of land stewardship by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, the State of North Carolina and generous private philanthropists have taken up such stewardship and have provided funding to work with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, the National Park Service, non-profit land conservation groups and North Carolina agencies over the last 27 years,” said Mike Leonard, representative and former board chair for The Conservation Fund. “Together, we have added protected land to the Blue Ridge Parkway itself and protected tens of thousands of acres along the Parkway by adding them to North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Wildlife hunting lands, conservation easements and other publicly-owned and protected forests.”
Shortly after the announcement of the Waterrock Knob additional protected area, local leaders and stakeholders also began a collaborative visioning effort facilitated by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and funded by the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. This effort helped set the stage for members of the regional community to share their feedback on the future stewardship of the area’s natural and cultural resources and its role in the broader landscape. These lands are part of a larger set of 16 separate tracts that will be donated to NPS by the nonprofit groups, thanks to long-term support from major private and public funding sources, including Fred and Alice Stanback and the North Carolina Land and Water Fund.
Waterrock Knob is located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway and features views of a vast landscape of rare Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests visible from the visitor center and summit. The Waterrock Knob region of Western North Carolina is one of the highest points along the Blue Ridge Parkway and is one of the most rare and biodiverse landscapes in the Eastern United States. Elk, rare salamanders, flying squirrels and slowly-disappearing high elevation spruce-fir forests all inhabit the area which is also home to rich Cherokee history.
Established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day celebrates the connection between people and green space in their community, inspires environmental stewardship and encourages use of open space for education, recreation and health benefits.