Little White Oak Mountain Becomes Public Land
900 Protected Acres Will Become a Local Park, Expand Green River Game Lands
PRESS RELEASE: Oct. 26, 2018
Nine hundred acres of Little White Oak Mountain became public land on Friday, as Conserving Carolina transferred 600 acres to the state to expand the Green River Game Lands and 300 acres to Polk County for a local park.
The land added to the Game Lands, including the summit of Little White Oak Mountain, will be open to the public for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor activities. The local park will connect to the county’s recreation complex, next to Polk County Middle School. Plans for the park include a network of seven to 10 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking—the first mountain biking trails in Polk County.
Together, these 900 acres of conserved land in Mill Spring protect views of a local scenic landmark. They protect approximately 13 miles of streams, which flow into White Oak Creek, and then to the Green River. They also protect rare natural communities, including an endangered wildflower, the white irisette.
Next year, Conserving Carolina plans to convey another parcel at the foot of the mountain to the nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation, which will build much-needed workforce housing on the site. This will improve opportunities for local residents—such as teachers, healthcare workers, and small business owners—to become homeowners.
Conserving Carolina’s executive director Kieran Roe, said, “There was a time when it looked like Little White Oak Mountain would be heavily developed. We are very pleased that, instead, we were able to provide so many long-term benefits to the community—from protecting scenic views, to expanding land for hunting, to creating trails for the local community, to building workforce housing.”
During the peak of the housing market, the mountainside was slated for a development with 687 houses. However, during the recession, the developer dropped those plans. In 2016, two local land trusts, Pacolet Area Conservancy and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, worked together to purchase over 1,000 acres of Little White Oak Mountain. Those two groups merged to form one land trust in 2017, Conserving Carolina.
Many partners made the project possible, including Fred and Alice Stanback, the Open Space Institute (OSI), Polk County, the NC Wildlife Commission, the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program. Local donors contributed $130,000 to protect the mountain.
“The conservation of Little White Oak Mountain demonstrates the importance of protecting land for wildlife facing an uncertain future,” said OSI executive vice president Peter Howell. “OSI is proud to have supported this project through our Southeast Resilient Landscapes Initiative. We applaud Conserving Carolina whose dedication, perseverance, and ingenuity saved this property, which was once slated for development, for the residents of Polk County.”
Kip Hollifield, the mountain region supervisor with NC Wildlife Resources Commission, said, “Acquisition of this tract will conserve several rare plants and animals, as well as important natural communities. The property will soon be open to the public for hunting, wildlife viewing, hiking, nature study, and other outdoor activities. We will also be opening a new public access point from Houston Road.”
Jerry Stensland, director of Polk County Parks and Recreation, said, “We are excited to see this park expand outdoor recreation opportunities for local residents, by adding new hiking trails and creating the first mountain biking trails in Polk County. This park has the potential to make Polk County more of a destination for outdoor recreation and benefit local businesses.”
Todd Murphy, the principal of Polk County Middle School, said, “We are very excited about the plans for the Polk County park at Little White Oak. Our students will benefit through hands-on learning experiences. Our classroom teachers will have access to the park for outdoor learning activities. Our clubs and athletic teams will also benefit through the use of the multi-use trail system.”
Conserving Carolina is a local land trust dedicated to protecting land and water, promoting good stewardship, and creating opportunities for people to enjoy nature. Learn more and become a member at conservingcarolina.org.