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Thunder Hill Overlook, Watauga County

CTNC Acquires 229-acre Thunder Hill Overlook Property

Conserved land will impact clean drinking water for nearly 1 million North Carolinians downstream of the Yadkin River headwaters

Thunder Hill Overlook, a 229-acre tract of land on the outskirts of Blowing Rock, N.C., will be permanently free from subdivision, development and logging after being acquired by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC). CTNC plans to donate the Watauga County property to the National Park Service (NPS) for incorporation in the Blue Ridge Parkway park boundary.

The Thunder Hill Overlook property is highly visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway between mileposts 290 and 291, and can be viewed from both the Thunder Hill and Yadkin Valley overlooks. This is a significant acquisition for the region with numerous unnamed streams and Martin Branch, one of the primary streams forming the headwaters of the Yadkin River.

“As the surrounding towns of Boone and Blowing Rock continue to grow, conserving parcels of this significance is increasingly important. The land not only supports significant wildlife habitat, but also holds the headwaters of the Yadkin River, a water system that supplies provides drinking water to almost one million North Carolinans across 21 counties and 93 municipalities,” said CTNC Executive Director Chris Canfield.

CTNC’s purchase of the property was made possible by a generous price reduction offered by the sellers, Howard B. Arbuckle lll, Corinne Harper Arbuckle Allen, Anne McPherson Harper Bernhardt, Lee Corinne Harper Vason, Mary Gwyn Harper Addison, and Albert F. Shelander, Jr., heir of Betty Banks Harper Shelander, and significant contributions from a number of private donors including Fred & Alice Stanback and other local conservation enthusiasts.

Finley Gwyn Harper, Sr., was born in 1880 near Patterson, Caldwell County, in the scenic Happy Valley area of North Carolina. He grew up in his birthplace with his 5 siblings, and, except for time spent earning his college degree in Raleigh (now N.C. State University), he lived his entire life within 25 miles of Patterson. His grandfather had given land for the founding of Lenoir and many descendants were active in the business, civic, and social activities of northwestern North Carolina. In 1905 when he was 25 years old, Gwyn Harper, Sr., acquired the first of several tracts which form the Harper lands in Blackberry Valley. Two years later, he married Corinne Henkel who also grew up in Happy Valley and Lenoir. Through the years he continued to purchase additional adjoining parcels, some of which were original land grants from the state. The last deeds for his assemblage are dated in the late 1940’s shortly before his death in 1951. Gwyn Harper, Sr., and his wife, Corinne, loved the rolling hills, rivers, ridges, valleys and views of the Blowing Rock area. Their story reflects the sentiments of the extended family who also have treasured these pristine mountain lands and waters. The direct descendants of F. Gwyn Harper, Sr., have continued to hold his acreage for 68 years since his death.

“We, the current owners, are pleased and humbly grateful to convey the Harper lands to the Conservation Trust for North Carolina for protection by the National Park Service as a part of the Blue Ridge Parkway while also providing permanent protection to wildlife and water quality in this beautiful region of western North Carolina,” the sellers shared in a joint statement. “We express our sincere, heartfelt thanks to the Piedmont Land Conservancy, Foothills Conservancy, and, in particular, Conservation Trust for North Carolina for working cooperatively, collaboratively, and professionally to make preserving this unique property a reality.”

For more information on Blue Ridge Parkway land protection efforts visit protecttheblueridgeparkway.org.

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Conservation Trust for North Carolina works to inspire and enable people to build resilient, just communities throughout our state. We work to conserve land that enhances climate resilience, provides a community benefit, and seeds equity and inclusion in conservation. More information about CTNC is available at www.ctnc.org or @ct4nc on Facebook and Twitter.

For media inquiries related to this project please contact Communications Director Mary Alice Holley.

Saddle Mountain Meadow, Alleghany County.

Saddle Mountain Acquisition Expands State Game Lands

CTNC Purchases 24 acres Adjoining Mitchell River Game Lands

Conservation Trust for North Carolina recently purchased a 24-acre tract adjoining North Carolina’s Mitchell River Game Lands and the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 222. North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (WRC) will accept this property for incorporation into the Saddle Mountain area of Mitchell River Game Lands. This conservation partnership adds to North Carolina’s public lands that support hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

The Saddle Mountain State Natural Area boasts significant natural heritage in Alleghany County. This property includes approximately 14 acres of mixed-hardwood forest and approximately 10 acres of early-successional habitat for species dependent on non-forested, natural land.

Additionally, visitors can enjoy views of this property from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway continues to be one of the most visited national park units in the country, contributing to the $28 billion annual economic impact brought by the growing popularity of outdoor recreation in North Carolina.

“Expanding North Carolina’s state natural lands creates more places for all North Carolinians to connect with our state’s natural and cultural heritage.” said Chris Canfield, CTNC executive director. “And it is all thanks to the long-term commitment to land conservation by CTNC along with our partners at Piedmont Land Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the Wildlife Resources Commission.”

“CTNC purchased 251 acres on Saddle Mountain and conveyed it to the state in 2005. Since then, CTNC and Piedmont Land Conservancy have protected well over 100 more acres on Saddle Mountain.” said Rusty Painter, CTNC land protection director. “We’re grateful to the landowner, Barney Folger of Marietta, Georgia, who sold this property to CTNC for expansion of the state game land boundary.

The acquisition of Saddle Mountain Meadow was made possible with generous funding by Fred & Alice Stanback, The National Wild Turkey Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, and a local conservation enthusiast.

For more information on Blue Ridge Parkway land protection efforts visit protecttheblueridgeparkway.org.

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Conservation Trust for North Carolina works to inspire and enable people to build resilient, just communities throughout our state. We work to conserve land that enhances climate resilience, provides a community benefit, and seeds equity and inclusion in conservation. More information about CTNC is available at www.ctnc.org or @ct4nc on Facebook and Twitter.

For media inquiries related to this project please contact Communications Director Mary Alice Holley.

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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