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Climate Resilience Leaders – Rusty Painter

Photo of Staff Member Rusty Painter

Rusty Painter’s Master of Environmental Management from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University wasn’t the end of his connection to the school and the future of climate protection. He returns each year to present to classes on a variety of topics, from CTNC’s strategic approach to address climate change and more. “I’m motivated by my son and future generations, from whom we are all ‘borrowing’ this planet.”

His background and his master’s degree in forestry are invaluable as Land Protection Director for CTNC. Rusty joined the CTNC family in 2001. He oversees CTNC’s land protection efforts along the Blue Ridge Parkway and our collaborative partnerships with local land trusts. Recent successes include the preservation of the Florence Boyd Home / Asutsi Trailhead Property, and the Cranberry Creek Expansion project, both of which will be transferred to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rusty Painter tours the Florence Boyd/Asutsi Trailhead property with Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Swartout, Chloe Ochocki, & Caitlin Markus (L to R).

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
The concept of global warming due to the greenhouse effect made sense to me the first time I heard about it, but I guess I really grasped the severity of the problem when Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth came out. What a shame that our political, social and economic systems continued to drive us down this path. Think how much progress could have been made over the last 30 years had we committed to solving the problem back then.

What does climate resilience mean to you?
Adaptation using a combination of evolution and technology – applying our experience, and projections based on sound science to adapt to our changing climate. We must realize that adaptation isn’t the only path forward. Humans must commit themselves to actions that will minimize the need to adapt, or the extent to which we must adapt.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
One example that I struggle with in my work at CTNC is the expansion of tick habitat. I never used to get ticks while visiting our conservation properties along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but climatic shifts have enabled ticks to colonize areas that were previously too cold, so I’m now getting ticks while out on properties in the mountains. Yuck!

What are actions that organizations in NC can take right now to make our state more resilient?
Conserve energy. Simply using less results in immediate reductions of carbon emissions and has the potential to save far more resources (of all kinds) than our slow, incremental conversion to renewable energy sources. I challenge everyone to consider every action they take throughout the day and do it with half of what they currently use. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you think. That approach can be applied to most organizations, corporations and government agencies as well. Once ingrained in our psyche, daily routines, organizational procedures, and subsequently, our infrastructure, carbon neutrality on a timeline that will make a difference becomes legitimately achievable.

What’s one thing everyone should know about climate action?
It’s up to all of us to change our mindset and daily routines, but also to support groups doing good work, and electing leaders committed to making the difficult decisions & changes we must make.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
I remain optimistic because of the resilience of the human spirit and advancements in technology. Organisms change and adapt…daily, yearly, and over generations. Humans have evolved to the point where we can adapt naturally, like other species, but also use technology to ‘artificially’ adapt. I just hope society is willing to change sooner rather than later, so future generations don’t have to rely on artificial adaptations that will diminish our connection to the natural world.

If you have questions about how CTNC’s land protection enhances climate resilience, contact Rusty to start a conversation.

Climate Resilience Leaders – Mary Alice Holley

Mary Alice Holley’s conservation roots run deep. Her dedication to protecting the land on which we live and play is evident to everyone who meets her.

Mary Alice has been with Conservation Trust for North Carolina since 2016 and currently serves as Director of Community Innovation. In her current role, she works with CTNC’s staff, board, and partners to ensure the organization advances its mission to build resilient, just communities for all North Carolinians.

She has built on a long career in nonprofit communications and public relations. She has been at the forefront in helping change the conversation about climate change from oppositional to encouraging a community effort. Prior to joining the organization, she put her B.A. in mass communications and rhetorical writing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to work as she supported conservation organizations throughout the state in building smart communication strategies that better connect supporters to their missions.

During her career, she’s worked on a variety of climate change communications campaigns including the Audubon North Carolina Birds and Climate pilot program and served as the Z. Smith Reynolds Conservation and Climate grant program lead on behalf of North Carolina land trusts. Most recently, she developed a climate communication tool kit in partnership with Land Trust Alliance to provide Southeastern United States land trusts with a guide to engaging their supporters on climate change issues locally and regionally.

When not working to protect the planet, she’s hard at work making her own land more resilient by building rain gardens, pollinator habitats, and a vegetable garden on her 1-acre homestead in Orange County, NC. She also finds time to manage a flock of chickens, 2 dogs, honey bees, and an ever-expanding system of raised garden beds.

She’s incredibly passionate about protecting our state’s communities by managing our water. “For North Carolina – climate change is often thought of as a sea-level rise issue – and I believe this challenge reaches far beyond our coastlines. North Carolina is in the top 10% of states in the United States with land situated along coastlines, rivers, and streams. Our ability to protect our communities and maintain our resilience in the future is wholly reliant on our ability to better manage water quantity and water quality challenges. Water issues will impact every North Carolinian across the state and we have the opportunity to come together as one state to find innovative solutions.”

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
From a young age, I knew changes were occurring with more frequency and severity. I can remember when my hometown was covered in a foot of snow in the middle of spring, or when the Tennessee River was inundated from storms and our community park was underwater for two weeks before the floods receded. These weather events were not at that time normal or expected – but today they are. It took time for me to study environmental issues and to connect these events to global warming and climate change – but once I could identify the root cause of these events, I began to see my role in identifying and implementing solutions. I felt empowered to think about how my actions could either contribute to climate change or contribute to the effort to create a better outcome. Since then, I’ve committed myself to making decisions for myself, my household, my family, and my community that offer solutions to the climate crisis on small and large scales.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
North Carolina has nearly 38,000 miles of river in our state. I have been fortunate enough to paddle many of our rivers and even more of our lakes and marshlands. They’re incredibly beautiful and scenic, but our river systems are also critical to the health of human and natural communities. As climate change brings more frequent and severe storms to our state, these rivers will be our first line of defense to hold water and protect communities from the destruction caused by floods. But that will only happen if we bring together experts, policymakers, and funding resources to evaluate how we can better utilize our rivers as assets to face the climate crisis.

In Princeville, residents and community leaders have been dealing with the threat of floods since its founding. Their position along the Tar River has caused extreme challenges for their residents – but that experience as a town that floods has now positioned them as a leader in the effort to find innovative solutions to live with flooding rivers in the face of climate change. They’re marrying the best of science, technology, and conservation to tackle this challenge head-on and their counterparts in more communities across the state are taking notice. Our climate will continue to change and we will continue to feel those effects, but we can’t let the opportunity pass by to change our habits and policies to better equip ourselves for these future realities.

What actions can organizations in NC take right now to make our state more resilient?
A resilient community is one where people are meaningfully engaged and empowered, where leadership is responsive to community needs as defined by its residents, and where its people are able to respond to climate-related disasters by rebuilding or adapting in ways that make them stronger and more prepared for future challenges. What better way for organizations to have an impact than to partner with each other, with funders, elected officials, and local community members with a shared goal to collaborate toward finding and implementing solutions to the climate crisis? We as mission-oriented, community-driven organizations have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina to do whatever we can to increase our resilience because everyone will benefit from this collective effort.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
I remind myself that every action I take as an individual has an impact on someone else – so why not channel that energy toward being a climate champion and environmental steward? Within my home, my family are all committed to reducing our climate impact by composting our food waste, reducing our energy consumption where possible, growing food for ourselves and our neighbors, and sharing our passion for conservation and environmental stewardship with others. Professionally, I have dedicated my career to supporting initiatives that have a net-positive effect on the climate crisis whether that be educating North Carolinians on the importance of land conservation as a climate solution or helping other organizations communicate about and celebrate their own climate impact successes.

I find energy from modeling my life in ways that can inspire others. If I am able to wake up every day and know I contributed to a national movement to conserve land in ways that absorb more carbon, protect people from the harm of floods, support climate-smart agriculture and farming practices, and increase the number of people who are committed to taking small actions in their everyday lives – I will have been successful. I believe that people’s actions coupled with smart policies will change the course of our climate future.

Do you want Mary Alice to speak at your next event? Contact Mary Alicemholley@ctnc.org.

Advocating for Smart Conservation Policies

CTNC’s 2022 Policy Agenda

Conservation can provide solutions to many challenges facing our communities. Through innovative conservation strategies, we can build places to hold excess water after storms, protect trees that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and offer places for people to relax for their mental and physical health.

In 2021, North Carolina legislators voted to spend nearly $200 million to support efforts that will allow our state to become more resilient to climate change. We urge our state leaders to repeat this important investment in our state’s natural resources. Only with smart conservation policies will we successfully build resilient communities that are prepared to weather any storm.

CTNC’s Policy Goals include:

  • Increase public funding for land acquisition, park maintenance, trail construction, and recreation access
  • Empower communities to invest in flood-resilient strategies
  • Prevent involuntary land loss caused by forced partition sales of heirs property
  • Build capacity within communities through AmeriCorps and other service opportunities

These goals will guide our work with policymakers and legislators for the years to come and key outcomes will prepare our state for whatever comes next.

INCREASING FUNDING FOR CONSERVATION
CTNC supports the continued funding of the conservation trust funds as recommended by Land for Tomorrow. We hope to work with members of the General Assembly to increase recurring funding for the state’s conservation trust funds and state agencies. Read more about the legislative priorities set by members of Land for Tomorrow.

As a member of the Great Trails State Coalition, CTNC will continue to work with members of the General Assembly to bring the economic, health, and environmental benefits of trails to North Carolina communities.

Read more about the legislative priorities set by members of the Great Trails State Coalition.

EMPOWERING RESILIENT COMMUNITIES
North Carolina communities need greater investments, increased capacity, and a cadre of service-minded people to be successful in implementing the recommendations of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80 and Climate Risk and Resilience Plan. CTNC will advocate for the funding and resources that provide every community with the opportunity to benefit from AmeriCorps service that builds capacity and finds innovative conservation solutions to address the issue of climate change. Learn more about Resilience Corps NC.

Land trusts can lead the way in addressing the impacts of climate change and flood risk. Alongside the Land Trust Alliance, CTNC will promote policies and funding that advance natural climate solutions while supporting the protection, restoration and stewardship of open and working lands that increase climate resilience. Read more about Land Trust Alliance’s policy priorities.

PREVENTING INVOLUNTARY LAND LOSS
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 UPHPA will help families by giving them a solid chance at keeping the land in the family when one or more owners wants to divide or sell the land through a partition action. Currently, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering adoption of the bill that would safeguard families from forced sales through partition action. Read more about the NC Heirs Property Coalition and our effort to adopt the Uniform Act for NC families and landowners.

It All Starts with Collaboration to Seed Better Outcomes
CTNC is committed to participating in coalitions to find a better future for our state. Our team is active members of Land for Tomorrow, the Great Trails State Coalition, and the NC Heirs Property Coalition, Conservation Trust for NC. These coalitions advocate for smart conservation policies and adequate funding on behalf of our members, community partners, and collaborative projects.

Join Us
As a member of the CTNC community, we hope you will stand with us and advocate for smart conservation policies that allow every North Carolinian to benefit from conservation and get the tools needed to build communities that are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Climate Resilience Leaders – Chris Canfield

Since 2017, Conservation Trust for North Carolina Executive Director Chris Canfield has held the helm of the land protection nonprofit organization. He has steered it to face our state’s greatest economic and environmental foe – climate change.

His career path wasn’t always focused on conservation. His logical mind is balanced with a rational heart. After completing a bachelor’s in mathematics from Birmingham-Southern College, he traveled to England to complete a master’s focusing on 20th Century English Literature from the University of Oxford.

His first direct work in mitigating climate change was in his previous role as Vice President for the Mississippi Flyway at the National Audubon Society. He co-led a national coalition supporting climate resilience for the state of Louisiana and also advised on the formulation and rollout of Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report in September 2014.

As the executive director for CTNC, Chris has been asked to sit on numerous climate resilience coalitions and state committees, including the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency’s Steering Committee advising on the creation of a Community Resilience Planning Guide.

Chris is thankful for the foundation laid by the supporters and leaders before him. “I feel fortunate that the conservation work we and all of CTNC’s partners have been doing, long before most of us heard much about climate change, turns out to be an integral part of the needed response. Our preserved natural lands already provide a refuge that wildlife will need and store carbon and hold water in ways crucial for reducing impacts on communities in the future. Of course, we will need to greatly increase the pace of this work now that we understand that linkage to climate change. But we are already pointed in the right direction.”

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
Like so many of us with long careers in conservation, I knew climate change was a threat decades ago. But what turned that parts-per-million into people-per-place was my return in 2010 to my childhood home state of Louisiana. There I led Audubon’s response to the BP oil spill disaster. I soon discovered that the place I spent the first ten years of my life was changing dramatically and rapidly. It is no longer theoretical when you see land disappearing at the rate of a football field every hour and see people displaced a hundred miles inland. Returning to North Carolina years later, I felt I had to share the story of what I had seen and learned. I would often hear, “yes, but Louisiana is a very different state.” And in so many ways, I, of course, agreed. But enough was similar to a coastal state in the hurricane zone not to give up on pushing for a massive mobilization in North Carolina to mitigate against and adapt to the changes coming.

What’s one thing everyone should know about climate action?
Climate change is not just an issue of science; it is an issue of community. Without strong intentions to change the reality, climate change will further stratify us into communities with more resources and options and those with markedly fewer. So any process for responding to its effects equitably has to bring all community voices to the table.

What does climate resilience mean to you?
Climate impacts are asking us to see resilience in environmental terms, but also social and economic ones. If we meet the challenge with that broad view, communities can end up not just able to survive the next hurricane, but actually fairer and more cohesive places for people in their everyday lives.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
It is increasingly well documented that we have more and stronger hurricanes and other storms and increasing droughts in North Carolina as a result of climate change. Those make the headlines. But personally, I see it in the shift in birds in my backyard, the timing of their arrival and nesting and migration. The changes in our gardening season and hardiness zone are likewise very real. I also see it (and feel it) in the increase in pollen, which has a longer and more intense season. And many places in the state I know and love that only thought about flooding in extreme conditions now see standing water and inundations without seeming direct causes – so-called “sunny day flooding.”

What are actions that organizations in NC can take right now to make our state more resilient?
The most important thing is acknowledging that this is happening and that we need to respond. I’m happy to see the 2021 legislative session in North Carolina embrace reality and support more than $200 million in planning and implementation of projects to help improve the state’s resilience. Of course, that is only a down payment. Louisiana has already committed to a 50-year, $50 billion plan. Many there acknowledge even that isn’t enough. Studies show that as high as those price tags sound, failing to plan and act now will cost many, many times more in damages later. And I’m convinced that we can also create economic resilience through climate resilience work.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
First, I try to minimize the blame and shame part of climate change work because we all are complicit out of ignorance or denial in getting us here, and second because it is exhausting. I’d rather expend the energy on working together toward solutions that help build that more resilient North Carolina community by community. That is why the work with the people of Princeville is so important to me. Together we are creating a model that we believe many other communities can be inspired by and follow. On a tough day, just thinking about the resilience and hopes of the people of Princeville gets me up and at work again.

Do you want Chris to collaborate with your organization on climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation solutions or speak at your next event? Contact Chris – chris@ctnc.org.

Seeds of Climate Resilience: Rain Gardens

“Seeds of Climate Resilience” is a blog series to inspire ideas to help our state weather our changing climate. We can protect our families, economies, and the environment. The seeds of change planted today will help communities thrive for generations to come.

Rain gardens offer an attractive and effective solution to address flooding and increased rainfall on a property.

According to the North Carolina State Climate Office,

Heavy rains from hurricanes and other weather systems will become more frequent and intense. Annual precipitation is also expected to increase. These changes are driven primarily by increases in atmospheric water vapor as the climate warms. Extreme rainfall in North Carolina can result from hurricanes, Nor’easters, or other weather systems like thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms are also likely to increase in a warming climate and can cause flash flooding, especially in urban areas.

https://climate.ncsu.edu/learn/climate-change/

Water containment will be increasingly important as our communities in low-lying areas or near lakes, rivers, and streams see rising waters and flooding.

What is a rain garden?
A rain garden has grasses, flowers, and shrubs that can survive in water-soaked soil after a rainstorm. Rain gardens are located in the low points of yards so that the water that runs off of roofs or driveways can be directed towards the rain garden. After the storm, the soil and plants absorb the rain, and the area dries out quickly.

A rain garden is NOT a wetland, a place for mosquitos to thrive, or difficult to maintain long-term. This garden area is dry to lightly moist most of the time. And it is naturally beautiful!

How does it help mitigate climate change?
As our climate changes, communities are experiencing more frequent and severe rainfall and greater swings between rains and drought. Creating permeable spaces designed to capture water benefits plants, wildlife, people, and the built environment.

If rainwater has nowhere else to go, it will often result in flooding or standing water. However, if rainwater is captured where it lands, it can promote healthy plants and sustainable ecosystems that provide a conservation benefit to nearby residents.

Supporting habitat: Rain gardens capture and store water after heavy rainfall. The water is held in the garden area, absorbed by the water-loving plants, and naturally filtered back into the soil.

Managing stormwater: Any water that does not infiltrate the groundwater then moves through a canal, ditch, drain, or pipeline until it reaches a larger body of water such as a river, pond, or wetland area.

Rainwater is not treated at a facility to remove pollutants before entering larger waterways. This means that rain gardens are essential to help naturally filter the water that passes through them.

This process allows communities to better manage heavy amounts of rainfall and stormwater by slowing it down and using natural spaces to provide an added layer of filtration before the water reaches your home.

North Carolina Success Story: Princeville Elementary School
After Hurricane Matthew devastated Princeville Elementary School in 2016, students had to go to schools in surrounding communities for three years until their school could be renovated and flood-proofed. Finally, in 2020, the Princeville Elementary School welcomed back its almost 200 students.

As part of a $200,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo Resilient Communities Program, CTNC worked with local organizations to install rain gardens at the school to capture and redirect water. Today, the gardens work to protect the school from excess water. The gardens were designed by the NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab and installed by volunteers from Conservation Corps NC, CTNC, NC State, M&M Landscaping Co. and residents of Princeville.

Learn more about our work in Princeville.

How can citizens help build a rain garden in your community?
This article from NC State has great tips to bring this climate adaptation strategy to your community:
“Why Your Yard Might Need a Rain Garden”

SOURCE: Rain Water Guide developed by NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab

Turning the tide for flood-prone communities

Photo: NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab arial view of the Tar River.

There is even more great news about the Princeville – Seeding Resilience project! 2022 brings many exciting actions to protect this community from the changing climate.

Since the debut of our latest video, this story has captured the attention of conservation champions nationwide. The project was featured in:

As we conclude the first phase of executing recommendations outlined in the Princeville Floodprint, the collaboration is turning our attention to Phase II. This phase will further lay the groundwork toward establishing an effective model of community-driven climate change adaptation that can be replicated in communities across the state. Throughout North Carolina, rural communities established along rivers, the coast, and lakes face repeated flood events. With the increasing threat of climate change, more communities will experience these impacts.

Phase II focuses attention toward converting vacant and underutilized land.
The Town of Princeville, North Carolina State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, Conservation Corps NC, and Temboo Software will work to complete another round of conservation projects designed to better manage flood and stormwater, establish recreation opportunities for residents, build a model community garden to support locally-grown food operations, and connect youth and adults to environmental education opportunities. This phase focuses on transforming underutilized town-owned lots and property that FEMA has determined to be at risk of future flooding into absorbing flood impact while making them usable spaces for the community.

Over the next two years, this partnership will work to complete:

  • Installation of 6,000 square feet of rain gardens and managed wetlands on vacated lots to hold up to 28,000 gallons of water per rain event
  • Opening of a 24-bed model community garden on vacated lots to promote local, low-carbon agriculture
  • Planting of trees and native plants for 250,000 gallons of water absorption and 2,900 pounds of carbon storage per year
  • Creation of trails with educational and health-benefit elements at Princeville’s riverfront Heritage Park

“Our town has already seen the rewards from our collaboration with Conservation Trust, NC State, and all our partners,” said Princeville Town Manager Dr. Glenda Lawrence-Knight. “This next phase will only further prepare our town for the next flooding incident while showing a true investment in the health and well-being of our citizens.”

This is possible in part to a grant from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, supported by the EPA, called EJ4Climate: Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience. This new grant program addresses environmental inequality and promotes community-level innovation and climate adaptation. CTNC was one of 15 projects across three countries to receive a grant award through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a tri-national effort to promote and facilitate sustainable development in North America.

In tandem with the on-the-ground work, CTNC and our partners are writing an effective model for building a resilient community. We hope this community-based model can be replicated to benefit others facing similar challenges.

“Communities across North Carolina will benefit from the lessons learned as a result of the partnerships and outcomes in Princeville,” said Andrew Fox, FASLA, PLA of NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab. “It’s exciting to see people benefit from the principles that we’ve studied and developed.”

Your support fuels all this work. Together, we can turn the tide for flood-prone communities, and you are the first line of defense.

This work will be carried out with financial support from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the Anonymous Trust, and generous donors who have made an investment in resilience through CTNC and our partners.

A Story of Community Resilience

This article originally appeared in Saving Land Magazine.

During the summer, staff of the accredited Conservation Trust for North Carolina visited the small town of Princeville that has been repeatedly devastated by floodwaters. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd caused the Tar River to rise and the town was submerged. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought heavy flooding again. Princeville has yet to recover from either catastrophe.

This story is similar to the plight of many towns in North Carolina and across the country. Princeville is unique, though, in being the oldest town incorporated by African Americans in the nation. They were given few options for land on which to settle after emancipation. Since 1885, the people of Princeville have weathered many storms, and not just meteorological ones. Their resilience is deep, yet its limits are strained.

The town lies at the intersection of three issues that have been growing in urgency for CTNC: climate, community and equity.

Every piece of land we hope to protect is being affected by a more volatile climate. Not just hurricanes, as in Princeville, but also droughts, fires, infestations and other extremes. We have already incorporated climate resilience models into our planning. We must go further. Land conservation can help  with the rising climate crisis by storing carbon to reduce long-term effects and by providing increased natural resilience to inevitable changes.

We are inspired by the many land trusts who already make innovative connections between community needs and conservation. We commit ourselves to leading with questions before answers, and to working alongside neighbors often given no voice in decisions affecting them. The process of building trust will take years of work and lots of humility.

Humility also requires us to admit the limitations of conservation. Our system of land ownership and use has too often excluded and disregarded entire communities of people. Again, Princeville is symbolic. Our work must honor the stories of black, indigenous and other people of color who have felt the loss of access to productive land for living, farming and for preserving their heritage. Land is at the core of racial and other inequities. We must ensure that we don’t worsen those realities and ultimately help change the system for the better.

Our staff and board embrace this new strategic vision. It builds on CTNC’s history of bringing together uncommon alliances. Our goal is to conserve land in ways that inspire and enable people to build resilient, just communities. Led by our values, we will continuously learn, share, admit and care.

Many of our plans are new and yet to be verified. So we’ve entered our experiment mindful that it will often be more about how  we work than what  we do.

History dictated that Princeville be in the floodplain of a river. We can’t change history. But, using the power of community and conservation together, we can change the future.

Chris Canfield is the Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. Jamilla Hawkins is Chair of CTNC’s Board of Directors.

1,000-Acre Conservation Project Promises Clean Water and Pristine Parkway Views

Wildacres Retreat, a 1,076-acre property adjacent to Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway, is now permanently protected thanks to a collaborative partnership among Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), and Wildacres Retreat.

Wildacres Retreat, located in northern McDowell County near Little Switzerland, is a nonprofit conference center governed by a board of directors. The center offers its facilities and surrounding woodlands to nonprofit groups for educational and cultural programming, and for board and staff retreats.

The property is protected under two conservation easements. A state-held Clean Water Management Trust Fund easement will protect stream buffers and critical natural heritage areas, while a second easement held by Conservation Trust for North Carolina will preserve a key portion of forested lands connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. Together, the easements will safeguard wildlife habitat and protect water quality in five miles of streams of the Armstrong Creek watershed in the headwaters of the Catawba River.  Foothills Conservancy will monitor and steward these conservation easements on a contractual basis.

“Protection of these lands fills in a very important piece of the puzzle to permanently conserve extensive forests and habitats in the very high-quality Armstrong Creek watershed of the Catawba,” said Tom Kenney, Land Protection Director for Foothills Conservancy. “Wildacres adjoins a Wildlife Resources Commission fish hatchery and more than 10,000 acres of federal Pisgah National Forest Service lands. All this conservation helps ensure Lake James has a very clean water supply protection source.”

There are nearly six miles of hiking trails on the property for public use, including one trail into the property from Deer Lick Gap Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The project was primarily funded by a $1 million grant from North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund awarded to Foothills Conservancy and a $26,000 donation from Philip Blumenthal, director of Wildacres Retreat. In addition, CTNC secured a Duke Water Resources grant, $50,000 grant from the Cannon Foundation, a $100,000 grant from the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, and $177,240 from the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which is made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Resilient Landscapes Initiative seeks to build the capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change. A grant of $34,779 from the Duke Energy Water Resources Fund, administered by the NC Community Foundation enabled CTNC to pay off a loan secured to purchase the easements.

Clean Water Management Trust Fund Executive Director Walter Clark described the organization’s reasons for contributing to the project to conserve what he calls an “incredible piece of property.”

“The Clean Water Management Trust Fund supported the Wildacres project for multiple reasons, including its protection of five miles of high-quality trout waters, which contain headwater streams in the Catawba River Basin,” said Clark. “The project also protects multiple forest communities important to North Carolina’s natural heritage.” Since its establishment in 1996, Clean Water Management Trust Fund has protected over 500,000 acres, including 2,500 miles of streams.

“The Wildacres Retreat property has been among CTNC and Foothills Conservancy’s highest priority projects for years,” said Rusty Painter, CTNC Land Protection Director. “Conserving its ecologically diverse habitat between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest achieves the type of landscape-scale conservation that’s one goal of our Blue Ridge Parkway conservation plan. Successes like this would not be possible without the commitment of champions like Philip Blumenthal and the Wildacres Retreat Board of Directors.”

Blumenthal added, “It’s been a long-term goal of the Blumenthal family to ensure the ecological integrity of this unique property for the benefit of Wildacres Retreat visitors and all who enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’re fortunate to have land trusts like CTNC and Foothills Conservancy who work tirelessly to save places we all love in North Carolina. They ensure our state’s most valuable assets will be protected forever.”

“Permanent conservation of the Wildacres property marks a major milestone for the protection of habitat in North Carolina,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s Executive Vice President of Conservation Capital & Research Programs. “As the climate changes, this highly resilient property will provide a long-term haven for sensitive plants and animals. The Open Space Institute is proud to have supported this project and we applaud Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina for their collaboration and tireless work to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Federally-protected land in this region is fragmented and thousands of acres are still vulnerable to development. Western North Carolina land trusts frequently partner to preserve National Forest and Blue Ridge Parkway lands for the benefit of all North Carolinians.

For more information, contact:

Tom Kenney, Land Protection Director, Ph: 828-437-9930, tkenney@foothillsconservancy.org

Mary Alice Holley, CTNC Communications Director, Ph: 919-864-0428, mholley@ctnc.org

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