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Best of 2018

It’s been a big year! We’re so grateful to all of our members, donors, and volunteers who made it possible for us to protect special places from an epic mountain biking trail to pristine trout streams to a rare mountain bog.

We narrowed it down to 8 top stories for the year, but we can’t choose a favorite. Which means the most to you?

And, hey, if you’re not a member yet, it’s a great time to join! Up until January 1, every new membership (including gift memberships) comes with a gorgeous 2019 “Protected Places” calendar, discounts at Diamond Brand, members-only hikes, and more great perks.

BECOME A MEMBER

 

Drumroll, please…

1. Weed Patch Mountain Trail Opens

Epic Mountain Biking and Hiking in 1,300+ Acres of New Parkland
view from Eagle Rock
Weed Patch Mountain Trail offers stunning views over the Hickory Nut Gorge.

This new Weed Patch Mountain Trail invites people into a stunning backcountry wilderness—traveling through 1,327 acres of mountain land that  we helped add to the Town of Lake Lure’s Buffalo Creek Park. It’s a dramatic turnaround for land that was once slated for development. The 8.6-mile trail immediately became a popular mountain biking destination. It also provides the first access to Eagle Rock in Chimney Rock State Park, a beautiful scenic viewpoint and rock climbing destination.

 

2. Welcome to Headwaters State Forest

6,730 Acres Full of Waterfalls and Trout Streams
Reece Place Falls, photo by Kevin Adams
There are many waterfalls to discover in Headwaters State Forest. Photo by Kevin Adams

You have a new mountain wonderland to explore, with the opening of Headwaters State Forest. The 6,730-acre forest in Transylvania County is full of beautiful waterfalls, pristine trout streams, and rare mountain bogs. The forest helps to create a vast conservation corridor spanning more than 100,000 acres. It’s 50+ miles of crystal-clear streams flow into the French Broad River.

 

3. Little White Oak Mountain Is Now Public Land

900 Acres Go to Local Park, Green River Game Lands
Little White Oak Mountain, Polk County NC
Little White Oak Mountain offers beautiful views throughout Polk County. Photo by Ford Smith

Not long ago, Little White Oak Mountain was threatened with development. Instead, we were able to protect this cherished scenic landmark, including 13 miles of streams and important wildlife habitats. This fall, we transferred 600 acres to expand the Green River Game Lands and 300 acres for a local park—a total of 900 acres of new public land! The local parkland is right behind Polk County Middle School. Plans for the park include seven to 10 miles of  hiking and mountain biking trails.

 

4. Life Changing Summer of Service

Local Teenagers Explore Personal Growth and their Role in Conservation
Ana Martinez crosses a stream during her first backpacking trip, with Summer of Service.

Our Summer of Service is having a powerful impact. This AmeriCorps program for local 17-to-19 year olds is changing lives and nurturing a new generation of conservation leaders. One of this year’s participants, Ana Martinez, saw her first waterfall in the wilderness, strengthened her connection to the Earth, and grew more confident. “It really did change me,” she says.

 

5. Citizen Scientists Find Rare Plants and Animals

“Polk County’s Most Wanted” Contributes to Major Biodiversity Study

 

Botanist David Campbell
Since he was a boy growing up in Canada, botanist David Campbell thought ‘Appalachia’ sounded like a magical word.

This year, we were thrilled to complete the much-needed Inventory of the Significant Natural Heritage Areas of Polk County, NC, authored by botanist David Campbell. The study found extraordinary biodiversity, including 127 rare or watch-list plant species. It drew on seven years of field work, including findings from Polk County’s Most Wanted—a citizen science initiative that enlists local residents to document rarely seen plants, animals, and habitats.

 

6. New Nature Group Gets More People Outdoors

Parks and Trails are for Everyone to Enjoy
Tanya Shahid Cummings, Flo Mayberry, and Larry Pender helped start Pathways to Parks.

At an event that we co-sponsored, Audrey and Frank Peterman talked about their passion for national parks but asked, “Where are all the black and brown faces?” A group of friends were so inspired that they started a new nature group, Pathways to Parks, that encourages people of color to explore the outdoors. We were glad to help this promising group get started with hikes on some of our preserves.

 

7. Conservation Burial Ground Protected

Carolina Memorial Sanctuary Offers a Place to Go Back to Nature
Carolina Memorial Sanctuary donated a conservation easement to Conserving Carolina.

There’s now a place where people can return their loved ones to the Earth—the first conservation burial ground in North Carolina. Carolina Memorial Sanctuary in Mills River offers natural burial and sites to scatter ashes, for both people and pets. Conserving Carolina helped protect the land and we support an ambitious habitat restoration, including a meadow, a stream, and a wetland.

 

8. Rare Mountain Bog Protected

Bog in Flat Rock Was Slated for a Housing Development
Bog turtle
Bog turtles are one of the rare animals that live in Appalachian bogs.

Once widespread in the French Broad River valley, mountain bogs are rare today. Where they exist they are havens of biodiversity—with unique wildlife like this tiny bog turtle. This year, we purchased part of a bog in Flat Rock on land that had been slated for development. We are now helping to protect this bog on three connected properties. Our goal is to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add the land we own to the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Imagine What We Can Do in 2019

That’s not nearly everything that happened in 2018! We took kids out for field trips on Bearwallow Mountain—and they loved it, running free on the mountaintop. We made strides to create new greenways like the Mills River Valley Trail and to Brevard greenway expansions. AmeriCorps Project Conserve, which we lead, placed 33 members at 18 different  environmental organizations in Western North Carolina.

Want to see what we’re doing close to you? You can go to our News section and filter by place.

It’s inspiring to look back on all that happened in 2018 and imagine what we can achieve in the coming year. It’s people like you who make these great stories possible. You can support our work by donating or volunteering. We appreciate you!