Florence Nature Preserve
Located between Chimney Rock and Gerton, NC, at the upper end of the Hickory Nut Gorge, the Florence Nature Preserve was finished being acquired by the Conserving Carolina in 2001. With the help of Dr. Tom and Glenna Florence, over 600 acres of land were placed under protection from development.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Tom Florence, a urologist from Atlanta, and wife Glenna began acquiring wooded property near the community of Gerton in the northeast corner of the county.
For more than a decade, the couple would make the drive from Georgia on weekends with Pratt and her brother and sister, Michael and Camille, to relish in their land’s natural beauty.
When Dr. Florence retired in the early 1980s, he and Glenna built a house on the property and made it their home for the next 20 years.
Tom and Glenna were persistent about fostering, and often restoring, the natural flora and fauna on their land.
On several occasions, the Florences hosted walks for the WNC Botanical Club on their property. Club member and botanist Anne Ulinksi, who had recently helped establish a local land trust, reached out to the couple to tell them about the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (now Conserving Carolina).
Observing its cascading streams and impressive rock outcroppings, Ulinksi could tell that the property was teeming with natural heritage. Rare species like the Blue Ridge grey cheeked salamander, crevice salamander and others call it home. So do pink and yellow ladyslipper wildflowers of which the Florences were particularly fond.
The land also hosts a plethora of unusual habitats and natural communities that likely harbor more uncommon plants and animals, enough so that the property was designated a significant natural heritage area by the North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program.
So important to the Florences was the land — and that it remain in its natural condition that they knew and loved — that the couple made the extraordinary decision to donate nearly their entire property to Conserving Carolina.
Under Conserving Carolina’s ownership, the property would be perpetually monitored and managed to maintain — and improve — its abundant natural heritage. Most important to the Florences, it would never be developed with new roads, homes, or buildings, thus protecting the flora and fauna that call it home. Its scenic character among region’s cherished landscape would also remain forever intact. “Its natural state is its best state,” Dr. Florence told the Times-News in 2001 when the conservation project was completed. “I did not wish for any development to occur on it. I wanted it preserved like it is.”
The tract was named the Florence Nature Preserve in honor of the couple who so generously protected it forever. In addition to conserving its natural resources, the land trust manages it for public access. Visitors are invited to explore the preserve and walk its nearly five miles of hiking trails comprised of old logging and farm roads as well as some paths cut by the Florences.
Trails access numerous scenic destinations within the preserve, including a stunning vista from a rock outcropping ominously named Rattlesnake Knob. The Florence Nature Preserve can be accessed from the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead, a Henderson County park managed in partnership with Conserving Carolina. The trailhead is located on Highway 74A one mile east of Gerton.