CTNC’s latest acquisition enhances the community resiliency and visitor experience for residents and visitors of Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Conservation Trust for North Carolina recently purchased 408 acres of forestland near the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Highway 421 at Deep Gap. The property adjoins the Parkway between milepost 272 (Cascades Parking Area) and 273.5 near Elk Mountain Overlook, at E.B. Jeffress Park.
This land adjoins the Blue Ridge Parkway along its western and northern boundaries and is located just below Tompkins Knob Overlook, near the Cascades Trail and E.B. Jeffress Park picnic area. It lies along the Blue Ridge Escarpment, with its higher elevations visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway and parts of the popular Cascades hiking trail. It also provides a natural buffer for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway along the northern boundary of the property and the 0.6-mile Tompkins Knob trail to Tompkins Knob Overlook above the property.
This latest acquisition builds on continuing efforts to expand public land around Jeffress Park, named for a native North Carolinian who was instrumental in routing the Blue Ridge Parkway through Western NC. This newly protected property is a key part of CTNC and Blue Ridge Conservancy’s conservation work in this area. Jeffress Park is the largest block of protected land along the 55-mile stretch of Parkway between Moses Cone Park and Doughton Park. Millions of visitors to the Parkway (locals and tourists) will benefit from the expansion of this ‘conservation node’ that’s a popular destination for tourists and locals from Boone, North Wilkesboro, and Winston-Salem.
Expansion of protected land along the Blue Ridge Parkway enhances its importance and effectiveness as a south-to-north habitat migration corridor, enabling plants and animals seeking cooler climates to migrate to northern latitudes. This property also allows species to move upward from the foothills to cooler sites at higher elevations. The permanently protected forests on this property will continue to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Protection of headwater streams will help mitigate the impacts of downstream flooding during heavy rain events.
This conservation achievement was made possible by the generosity of the landowners who donated a portion of land value that reduced the overall purchase cost. This reduction enabled CTNC to purchase the property and secure another win for America’s most popular National Park unit.
We look forward to transferring this property to the National Park Service. With three other nearby and adjoining properties already transferred to the park service by CTNC, and another pending conveyance of 72 acres by Blue Ridge Conservancy, the amount of public land around E.B. Jeffress Park will collectively almost double.
Your donations help us to continue the expansion of protected property in Western North Carolina. Thank you for your continued support of our work as we expand the boundaries of the Blue Ridge Parkway one property at a time.
Landowners participating in the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project.
Training Future Practitioners to Protect Heirs Property Landowners
As much as 4% of all property in North Carolina is held as heirs’ property, yet only a handful of organizations in North Carolina provide legal services to protect landowners. This land, valued at approximately $2 billion, should be retained by families instead of being lost through forced partition sales.
Thanks to the support of an anonymous donor and the NC Heirs’ Property Coalition, CTNC has pledged $50,000 to fund the new Heirs’ Property Project of the Wake Forest Law Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. Now, families facing heirs’ property difficulties can receive direct legal services from skilled attorneys and law students. Beyond legal help, this project strives to support, train, and provide a framework for other legal practitioners, to help stem the rate of land loss in North Carolina due to forced partition sales.
This project will help folks keep property in their families, resist unwanted development, enhance their farming or forestry practices, and build wealth to weather natural disasters and economic downturn. By addressing heirs’ property, families can create a legal structure for managing their land as a performing asset over the long term.
New Frontier For Protecting Heirs’ Property The project also builds a new node in the network of organizations tackling heirs’ property issues and addressing land loss among African-Americans, Native Americans, and other disadvantaged communities in North Carolina. The Clinic will build capacity for future efforts to resolve heirs’ property in North Carolina, and potentially serve as a model for other law school clinical projects in the Southeast. Organizations working on heirs’ property issues, including the Land Loss Prevention Project, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Black Family Land Trust, have supported launching a law school clinical project to reinforce their own efforts.
Working with partner organizations, the Heirs’ Property Project will provide direct legal representation alongside conflict resolution and land management support. The Heirs’ Property Project will assist in three ways:
By providing direct representation to heirs’ property owners,
By building a pipeline of lawyers trained to handle heirs’ property cases, and
By serving as a hub for research and interdisciplinary training on land rights issues in North Carolina.
In addition to producing a pipeline of students with training in heirs’ property issues, the project will engage students and scholars in research on land rights’ issues, contributing to practical knowledge about the prevalence, consequences, and social context of heirs’ property—as well as to broader conversations about the economic, social, and political trajectory of rural spaces.
Conversations are underway as to how heirs’ property issues can be included in Wake Forest Law’s curriculum more generally as well. Most importantly, the project will convene expert practitioners to provide training in heirs’ property and related issues to practicing North Carolina attorneys, and to foster an interdisciplinary approach to supporting rural communities as they protect and steward their land. The project will partner with other North Carolina law schools and organizations to help address heirs’ property issues in the state at scale.
The Heirs’ Property Project at Wake Forest will convene a Board of Advisors to provide collaboration and support to students and families. Director of Community Innovation Mary Alice Holley will represent CTNC as a member of the board.
Other coalition members have also pledged to find funding to support this effort over the next two years in addition to our ongoing effort to encourage the NC Legislature to adopt the Uniform Act for NC.
What is Heirs’ Property? When landowners die without a will, their surviving family members are each left with a fractional interest that lacks many legal protections and privileges. Such land, called “heirs’ property,” is concentrated in communities of color and low-income communities. Owners of heirs’ property face unique difficulty improving their land, stewarding its environmental condition, and securing it against predatory development.
Holding land as tenants in common and heirs’ property can make the property vulnerable to forced sale. When family members decide they want to sell their share, or a non-family member or developer acquires a share of the property, they may be able to force the partition of the property into smaller pieces, thus fragmenting the land. They may also be able to force the sale of the property without a right of first refusal for other family members or a guarantee of fair market value.
Holding land as heirs’ property can make it difficult or impossible to access credit markets, as clear title cannot be demonstrated. It can also slow or frustrate access to government support for agriculture and/or disaster aid.
Led by a supervising attorney, this project will enroll ten or more students each semester to provide legal services to clients referred from partner organizations. The project will represent heirs’ property owners as they clear title to their land, resolve adjacent legal issues like boundary disputes, and navigate state and federal land management programs—partnering with the Wake Forest Divinity School to provide clients with skilled support for family decision-making processes, as well as with environmental experts to support heirs’ property owners in stewarding their land. Embracing the model of community lawyering, we also expect the project to serve as a legal advisor and first point of contact for local community organizations confronting threats to rural land and community autonomy.
Thank You to Generous Funders Thanks to donors and supporters, the project launched in January 2023 and is funded through December 2024. Additional thanks to the Skadden Foundation, Wake Forest University’s Provost Office, American Farmland Trust, and Black Family Land Trust for helping make this project a reality.
At the core of Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s ability to deliver conservation success alongside community partners is a commitment to support the health and well-being of our staff and their families. In order to more fully institutionalize a values-driven approach to delivering our mission, the CTNC Board of Directors adopted an employee-forward handbook that incorporates best practices in race equity and inclusive nonprofit management.
In recognition of this accomplishment, CTNC became a Family Forward NC Certified Employer through Family Forward NC. Family Forward NC, an initiative of the nonprofit North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF), designates employers that offer policies and practices that support the health and well-being of working families and children using NCECF’s Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Measures of Success and Action Framework and guidance from medical and early childhood organizations across NC and the country.
At CTNC, we support our employees and their families by prioritizing a transparent and supportive suite of policies including an expanded PTO and holiday observance calendar, 100% of health benefits offered, 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and a sabbatical incentive following five years of service.
Family-friendly workplaces have a competitive advantage. But more importantly, for children and families, the benefits of family-friendly workplaces are numerous and long-lasting. They include positive impacts on health, development and well-being, financial stability, and future career success.
Children whose parents have access to family-friendly benefits receive much-needed support and time with their parents during the most critical years of brain development. This leads to positive health outcomes, higher education attainment, and future career success. Pregnant workers and parents and caregivers who have access to family-friendly benefits also have improved health outcomes and are happier and more productive at work.
We’re proud to be a Family Forward NC Certified Employer. To learn more about Family Forward NC, visit www.familyforwardnc.com.
Together, we can continue to ensure North Carolina is prosperous and resilient; working parents and caregivers are supported; and our state’s children have a strong foundation for academic and career success in the future.
After six years serving as Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s Executive Director, Chris Canfield announces his retirement. Chris will continue to serve in this role until December 2023.
With Chris’ guidance, CTNC has grown its role as a conservation leader for North Carolina and nationwide. Together, the Board and staff have solidified an organizational commitment to conserving land in ways that inspire and enable people to build greater resilience to the impacts of a changing climate while ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the organization.
Chris’ legacy leaves CTNC and the conservation landscape of North Carolina on a trajectory of success. During this time, CTNC:
adopted a nationally-renowned strategic plan that centers climate resilience and race equity in conservation strategies;
established an ongoing commitment to race equity practice through a revised DEI assessment, work plan, and focus to ensure conservation strategies provide an outsized benefit to traditionally marginalized groups;
centered people and communities in the role of conservation;
balanced the organization’s budget while maintaining nearly $1M in reserve assets;
laid the groundwork to launch an endowment fund to ensure the long-term sustainability of CTNC;
and oversaw the acquisition and transfer of prime conserved lands to the National Park Service along the Blue Ridge Parkway to ensure their permanent protection.
Through these foundational investments, CTNC will carry this spirit of innovation forward. The Board of Directors will be leading a national search for a new Executive Director. CTNC is confident we have built an organization that will invite a dynamic leader to guide our work into the future.
Beyond his impact on CTNC, Chris has dedicated his career to protecting our most precious natural resources. Before joining CTNC, Chris worked with the National Audubon Society for 17 years as the executive director of Audubon North Carolina and VP for the Gulf and Mississippi Flyway. Chris led Audubon’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. He successfully implemented Gulf-wide conservation efforts in concert with federal and state agencies, local communities, land trusts, and national funders. In 2009 he was awarded the Charles H. Callison Award, Audubon’s highest recognition for staff conservation achievement.
The staff, board, and nonprofit partners will miss Chris’ vision and leadership significantly. Upon retirement, Chris will focus on enjoying our state’s beauty and life with his wife and family.
“I have felt the tug toward retirement for a while. My wife Kate is ready for us to share some new adventures while we have the time and health to do so. Now, with CTNC on such solid footing, I feel able and ready to take this next step.”
Chris’s goal as Executive Director was to build the state’s most sustainable, well-rounded, people-forward organization poised to tackle the growing challenges presented by our changing climate. There will be opportunities throughout the year to thank Chris for his dedication to our organization and the state. Please keep an eye out on your email and mailbox for forthcoming announcements.
This past Valentine’s Day, CTNC gave another gift of land to the National Park Service. CTNC donated its 21-acre Woodfin Creek Headwaters property to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The property contains the headwaters of Woodfin Creek and offers scenic views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most-visited unit of the National Park Service. It is an example of a successful public-private partnership that benefits all of us who appreciate public lands and the natural beauty of Western North Carolina.
“We are extremely grateful for a generous landowner who was willing to donate property to CTNC to help us achieve our shared goals of permanently protecting the places we all love,” said Rusty Painter, Land Protection Director. “The Woodfin Creek Headwaters property is a shining example of how one person’s generosity can benefit many people, including generations to come.”
The Woodfin Creek Headwaters property is nestled within the Mount Lyn Lowry – Campbell Creek State Natural Area, as designated by the NC Natural Heritage Program. According to the site report prepared by ecologist Owen Carson with Equinox Environmental, globally-significant pockets of spruce-fir forests like those found on this property are characteristic of forest types found as far north as Canada. Mr. Carson’s site report states that the property “contains a wealth of existing conservation values and has the potential to support a considerable number of rare plant and animal species.”
The Woodfin Creek Headwaters is visible when driving south along the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Waterrock Knob. The tourism economy of Western NC is highly dependent on undisturbed views from the Parkway and its hiking trails and other amenities. Most land visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway is still privately owned, with no land use restrictions, leaving it vulnerable to destructive land uses that can compromise the scenic views that attract millions of visitors each year.
This donation furthers CTNC’s mission to deliver conservation that is inclusive, supportive and meaningful conservation for all communities. This area contributes to so many bottom lines that impact North Carolina:
Climate Resilience – Expansion of protected land along the Blue Ridge Parkway enhances its importance & effectiveness as a south-to-north habitat migration corridor, enabling plants and animals to migrate to northern latitudes to cooler climates. The permanently protected forests on this property will continue to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
Community – Millions of visitors to the Parkway (local and tourists) will benefit from scenic protection. Land conservation around Waterrock Knob has been a multi-partner effort over the past ten years, including local and national land trusts and the National Park Service. Expansion of this ‘conservation node’ enhances recreation opportunities benefiting nearby communities, including the Qualla Boundary, owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Equity – While not accessible by public transportation, the Blue Ridge Parkway is free to all visitors, unlike many national parks that charge user fees.
The property was generously donated by a real estate investor based in Florida in 2017. Donations by supporters like you covered the transaction-related costs of accepting and holding the property until it was donated to the National Park Service. Thank you to all who support our work!
Making North Carolina’s Land, Water, and Air a Priority
Elected leaders from across our state are gathering in Raleigh to make key decisions that will shape the trajectory of conservation funding, land-use policies, and critical investments in community resilience strategies. Conservation Trust for NC is meeting with decision-makers to advocate for strong conservation policies you care about and to further expand our mission to build resilient, just communities throughout our state.
Our Board, staff, and community partners hope to collaborate with leaders in our state to achieve a range of conservation goals in our upcoming session:
Build Capacity for a Statewide Resilience Service Network Building on the success of AmeriCorps in bringing new energy to the world of conservation, CTNC is working with partners to launch a statewide Resilience Service Network. This effort is designed to support North Carolina communities seeking to address the impacts of flooding, fire, extreme heat, and other environmental challenges. The Network proposal was informed by the results of a feasibility study completed with funding from the State Service Commission. Over the course of the year, network supporters will begin educating our lawmakers about the opportunity, the funding requirements, and the ultimate benefits to communities throughout the state.
Push for Additional Landowner Protections Through the Uniform Act Enacting the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) in North Carolina will address how current state laws leave landowners of heirs’ property vulnerable to involuntary land loss. The legislation safeguards families from involuntary partition sales and allows access to beneficial funding and aid programs, including FEMA disaster recovery and the USDA Farm Bill. We believe North Carolina should be the next state to adopt legislation that better protects heirs’ property rights. We strongly believe the UPHPA provides substantial benefits and safeguards to North Carolina families. We join a bipartisan group of conservation organizations, land trusts, family farmland preservation advocates, and more in encouraging the enacting of these protections.
Fund North Carolina’s Trails Conservation Trust for North Carolina supports recommendations from the Great Trails State Coalition for appropriations to establish the Great Trails State Fund.
Bring Back Funding and Conservation Tax Credit Conservation Trust for North Carolina supports restoring dedicated funding from state deed excise stamp tax revenues to the Land & Water Fund and Parks & Recreation Trust Fund and restoring the 25% conservation tax credit.
Support Job Expansion and Additional Conservation Staffing Conservation Trust for North Carolina strongly supports requests by the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and Department of Agriculture requests for staff to manage the conservation trust funds and to manage new state parks, historic sites, game lands, and state forests.
We’ll need strong voices committed to sharing their commitment to conservation and community resilience throughout this year. Join our advocate network to be alerted about opportunities to support conservation policy-making alongside CTNC and our partners.
Conservation Trust for North Carolina offers Resilience Corps NC, a national service program of AmeriCorps, designed to support capacity building for resilience, environmental education, and stewardship and outreach that builds bridges between conservation organizations and the local communities they seek to serve. Meet a few of the AmeriCorps members making a difference across the state.
AmeriCorps Spotlight: Lance Nathaniel Lance Nathaniel promotes intersectionality and community engagement with Resilience Corps NC at Keep Charlotte Beautiful. Get to know more about Lance’s work.
AmeriCorps Spotlight: Grace Sigmon As the AmeriCorps Natural Areas Conservation Educator Grace Sigmon helps to expand the North Carolina Zoo’s education, recreation, and conservation programs in Asheboro. Get to know more about Grace and her work.
AmeriCorps Spotlight: Bryce Tholen Bryce Tholen makes connections with coastal communities and lands serving with Resilience Corps NC at North Carolina Coastal Land Trust in Wilmington. Get to know more about Bryce.
AmeriCorps Spotlight: Emily Taylor Emily Taylor teaches future generations about Western NC species and how to protect them, serving with Resilience Corps NC at Balsam Mountain Trust in Sylva. Get to know more about Emily.
In a recent blog post, NC Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler wrote about the urgency of farmland preservation to help ensure resources for the future, especially as NC is ranked as second in the country for potential farmland loss by 2040:
“Nearly everywhere I travel, development is taking place. As a department, we will continue to rally support for Farmland Preservation efforts so we can secure the natural resources we need for future generations. We cannot afford to wait until we are in a crisis with land loss. We have to have the foresight to understand the long-term needs today, because we know others are eyeing the future and projected population increases.”
Commissioner Troxler: Farmland preservation is critical as North Carolina’s population continues to rapidly grow
The Agricultural Development & Farm Preservation Trust Fund has protected more than 30,000 acres this past year.
We agree that North Carolina should prioritize the preservation of farmland for the health and resilience of communities statewide. The adoption of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act is a vital tool to allow families to preserve their land as it is passed to future generations. Learn more about why and how the Heirs Property reform will make a difference for future farmland and the families who own it.
We may need your voice to help this Act pass the NC General Assembly this year. Become an advocate for conservation so you can share your support when we call!
North Carolinians love the outdoors. Visitation to NC State Parks increased to 22,800,000 in 2021 – 3,000,000 more than in 2020. Visitation to state forests, game lands, trails and local parks continues to increase.
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition greatly appreciates the strong support of the General Assembly and Governor for our Conservation Trust Funds and looks forward to working with them in 2023 to build upon our success. Land for Tomorrow recommends the following to the 2023 General Assembly.
NC Land and Water Fund Increase recurring funds to:
$20,000,000 in non-recurring funds in FY 23-24
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition strongly supports continuing NC Land and Water Fund’s flood risk reduction grant program.
$15,000,000 to continue NCLWF’s flood risk reduction program
Parks and Recreation Trust Fund
$20,000,000 in non-recurring funds in FY 23-24
Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund
$15,000,000 recurring as recommended by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Great Trails State Funding The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports the Great Trails State Coalition’s request for appropriations to establish the Great Trails State Fund.
Dedicated Funding and Conservation Tax Credit The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports restoring dedicated funding from state deed excise stamp tax revenues to the Land & Water Fund and Parks & Recreation Trust Fund and restoring the 25% conservation income tax credit.
Stewardship of State Lands, Facilities & Funds The Land for Tomorrow Coalition strongly supports requests by the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, NC Wildlife Resources Commission and Department of Agriculture for staff to manage the conservation trust funds and to manage new state parks, historic sites, game lands and state forests.
New Tools Help North Carolina Orgs Set Land Conservation Priorities Amid Climate Change
Conservation Trust for North Carolina and Nicholas Institute designed the tools to evaluate the benefits of natural and working lands to climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation
Conservation organizations and land trusts in North Carolina increasingly view their mission to protect the state’s natural lands through the lens of climate change.
A new pair of online tools aims to help them more efficiently consider how their work could contribute to climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation, as well as deliver other conservation benefits. The tools were created jointly by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability.
“North Carolina’s natural and working lands are critical to making our communities and ecosystems more resilient to climate change in the decades to come,” said Katie Warnell, a senior policy associate at the Nicholas Institute who co-led the project. “These tools will help inform decision-making processes for conservation organizations and land trusts by making the best publicly available data on these lands easily accessible without the need for advanced geospatial expertise.”
Natural and working lands—such as forests, farms and wetlands—cover more than 80 percent of North Carolina. They protect water quality and supply, reduce flood risk for communities, provide habitat for pollinators, and much more. These lands—particularly forests—also store carbon in their soils and vegetation, helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
The two tools deliver complementary information to organizations looking to preserve new lands, better manage lands they already own or demonstrate their value:
The high-level conservation prioritization tool enables users to identify broad areas for conservation action, either within the entire state or by county, river basin or a defined region. The tool prioritizes sub-watersheds with the greatest potential to meet a set of up to 11 conservation metrics selected by the user.
The benefits calculator estimates conservation benefits for specific areas of interest, such as individual properties. Organizations could use this information to communicate the benefits provided by currently conserved properties or to support decisions about conserving new areas.
“Land conservation provides so many overlapping benefits to communities,” noted Chris Canfield, executive director of CTNC, “yet documenting and sharing these can be difficult for many organizations. Input from nonprofit and government conservationists has driven this effort to tell a more complete story of our work together.”
The tools are also part of a growing set of resources from the Nicholas Institute related to natural and working lands in North Carolina. Launched in January 2022, three online dashboards map the benefits of these lands, making detailed data easily accessible to communities, land managers, non-governmental organizations, and the general public. The dashboards allow users to quickly see these benefits by county, river basin or land type:
Overview Dashboard – General information about the area and benefits of natural and working lands
Carbon Dashboard – Details about past, current, and potential carbon storage by land type
The NC Conservation Prioritization Tool and NC Conservation Benefits Calculator were designed by recent Duke University graduate Israel Golden, who holds dual master’s degrees in environmental management and forestry from the Nicholas School of the Environment. Support was provided by Open Space Institute and the Land Trust Alliance.
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