As the city of Asheville finds its way onto list after national list of best places to live, work, retire, panhande, etc., the task of local land conservationists becomes more pressing. Groups like the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy — founded in 1974 with the goal of “protect[ing] the world’s oldest mountains for the benefit of present and future generations” — play a critical role in helping to preserve the wild lands and bucolic beauty that draw so many people to Western North Carolina.
Conservation groups like the SAHC need the support of residents and local businesses in order to achieve their work. Building on this co-dependence, the nonprofit will hold its annual “Land Trust Day” celebration Saturday, June 6.
Now in its 13th year, Land Trust Day is held in conjunction with National Trails Day, which honors the important role that protected natural environments and the outdoors play in the health and economy of communities across the United States. Taking this theme a step further, Land Trust Day connects consumers, businesses and the SAHC and highlights the symbiotic relationship that towns across WNC have with the forests, rivers and ridge-lines around them.
“The natural assets we preserve have helped make this region an international destination for hiking, biking, camping, fishing, river adventures and farm-to-table culinary experiences,” says Cheryl Fowler, SAHC’s membership director. “Our conservation work directly impacts tourism as an economic driver in Western North Carolina communities.”
This year’s National Trails Day business partners will donate a percentage of their sales on June 6 to help fund the SAHC’s ongoing efforts to preserve land and water resources in the region. This year’s partner businesses include Mast General Store, Bellagio Everyday, Laughing Seed Cafe and Jack Of The Wood, Navitat Canopy Adventures, Second Gear, New Morning Gallery and The Fine Arts Theatre.
But Land Trust Day goes beyond funding conservation efforts, organizers note. The SAHC and its partners plan to show the public first-hand how conservation efforts benefit the community as a whole. A full day of events are planned for June 6, beginning with a free hiking tour of the organization’s community farm, located in Alexander, N.C. Beginning at 10 a.m., the hike will take attendees on a 1.5-mile loop along the farm’s Discovery Trail, where the public can see examples of some of the projects that Land Trust Days help to fund.
Highlights of the hike will include a peek at the SAHC’s Farmer Incubator Program, which helps to provide space and support for beginning farmers to launch agricultural endeavors. Hikers will also be able to explore streams around the property, which the SAHC is restoring to their natural state, as well as a section of their ongoing native shortleaf pine-restoration project in a formerly logged section of the property.
Attendees are welcome to bring chairs, blankets and a lunch for a picnic on the farm after the hike, according to the SAHC’s press release on the event.
For those wanting to see other examples of successful conservation efforts around the Asheville area, SAHC has also teamed up with local holistic heath retreat OM Sanctuary, located just off Richmond Hill Drive overlooking the French Broad River on the outskirts of Asheville, for a variety of presentations and a special tour of the urban forest on the sanctuary’s property.
“Nature is integral to our well-being — you can’t separate people from their environment,” says Shelli Stanback, OM Sanctuary founder and president, in an official statement on the event. “We are pleased to offer this event as a way to [help people] learn more about OM Sanctuary and what we offer, and to explore the connection between mind, body, spirit and nature in relation to personal health and well-being.”
Founded in 2012, the non-profit sanctuary offers overnight visits, classes and other educational programs centered around holistic living. This past January, 42 acres of the sanctuary’s land overlooking the French Broad River was protected under a land easement.
The newly-protected area includes stands of cove, oak and low montane pine forests, with hardwoods sprinkled throughout. The tract extends to the flood plain at the edge of the French Broad, which provides a habitat for a variety of salamanders, amphibians and reptiles, according to the SAHC.
Speaking to the importance of a natural setting to her organization’s work, Stanback says “protecting the forest with a conservation easement will assist OM Sanctuary in fulfilling our mission to inspire healthy lifestyle practices through holistic education and connection with nature.” In regards to this idea, OM has named the theme of their portion of the June 6 events “Human Health and Connection with Nature.”
In celebration of that theme, the sanctuary will hold an afternoon of free lectures, discussions and a guided hike, beginning at 11 a.m. Presentations will center around topics such as guided meditation, yoga practices and qi gong. A lunch demonstration on “Nutrition and Clean Eating” will be featured at noon, 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. with OM Sanctuary’s residential chef.
Capping off the afternoon at the sanctuary, SAHC’s AmeriCorps Stewardship Associate Andrea Thompson will lead a half-mile hike through the Sanctuary’s land easement, providing information to hikers on native plant species found there, such as the rosebay rhododendron and Carolina silverbell, as well as the importance of having a bio-diverse ecosystem.
A raffle drawing and silent auction will be held at OM Sanctuary at 4 p.m. following the hike, with proceeds going toward the Sanctuary’s programs and offerings throughout the year.
Summing up the importance of Saturday’s event, Angela Chandler, communications director for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, says “Land Trust Day is a win-win partnership for local conservation and local businesses. Our parks and forests attract visitors that spend money in this area, and they are drawn by the resources SAHC helps preserve. Artists are inspired by these incredible places. Restaurants rely on local farmers, such as those farming land protected by SAHC.”
“As funding sources for conservation have shifted over the past few decades, we have come to rely more on individual supporters and business partners to continue our work,” she adds. “We thank our business supporters for helping to continue to protect the places that need protected in the Southern Appalachians.”
Those interested in registering for the Alexander farm hike or wanting more information on the SAHC and Land Trust Day schedule of events are encouraged to contact Kana Miller via phone at 828-253 0095, ext 205, by email at email@example.com or to visit the Conservancy’s website at Appalachian.org.
For more information on the OM Sanctuary, its mission and available programs and services, check out omsanctuary.org.