Joe Thomas and Lyda Family Receive Stewardship Awards
Conserving Carolina presented two landowners with the 2018 Lela McBride Stewardship Award for their outstanding contributions to land conservation and stewardship—Joe Thomas and the Lyda family. Both Thomas and the Lydas protected exceptional natural resources while opening beautiful places for the public to enjoy. The awards were presented at Land Lovers Day in Chimney Rock State Park on Saturday, April 28.
Thomas donated 98 acres on Hightop Mountain in Hoopers Creek, near Fletcher, to Conserving Carolina for a nature preserve that will be open to the public. The land, which includes a network of trails, has been used by the community for recreation for years—but if not for Thomas’s generous donation, this popular open space could have been lost. Conserving Carolina will maintain the land as a nature preserve called Youngblood Farms Preserve. The name comes from Thomas’s mother’s family, the Youngbloods, who operated a dairy farm at the foot of the mountain. The family has roots in Hoopers Creek that go back more than 200 years.
The Lyda family—including Nancy Lyda, her son Jeff Lyda, and her daughters, Tammy Lyda and Jenny Frady—granted a conservation easement to Conserving Carolina on more than 300 acres on Bearwallow Mountain in 2017. Bearwallow is a much loved hiking destination in the Hickory Nut Gorge with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge. Combined with earlier easements obtained in cooperation with Nancy’s mother Pearl Barnwell and her brother Henry Barnwell, both now deceased, the Barnwell and Lyda families have protected a total of 467 acres on Bearwallow. The family continues to own their land, which is a working farm, but the easement ensures that the land will not be developed. It also protects extraordinary natural habitats, including an old growth forest and a bog. While conservation easements on private land don’t typically allow public access, the Lydas granted access for hiking trails, so everyone can enjoy the mountaintop. New trails are planned to connect to the existing trail on Bearwallow Mountain.
Conserving Carolina’s land protection director, Tom Fanslow says, “Joe Thomas put the future care of his land ahead of self-interest, and he did it to make sure that others can enjoy it the way his family has always allowed responsible visitors to visit the property. Joe’s land is actually part of the same massif landform where the Lydas worked with us to conserve the top of Bearwallow. There, too, the landowners want folks to always have the opportunity to walk to the top of the mountain.”
Land Lovers Day is an annual event that celebrates our region’s natural landscapes and honors the people who help protect them. This year’s event includes guided nature walks in Chimney Rock State Park and a picnic featuring live music and recognition for conservation landowners and dedicated volunteers. Conserving Carolina volunteers gave 5,682 hours last year. Landowners helped protect 1,476 acres for a total of more than 44,000 acres protected through Conserving Carolina.
Conserving Carolina is a local land trust dedicated to protecting land and water, caring for natural communities, and connecting people and nature. It was formed by the merger of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Pacolet Area Conservancy. For more information, go to conservingcarolina.org.