Youngs Mountain Summit Protected
There’s a new link in a chain of protected lands around Lake Lure. Conserving Carolina has purchased over 300 acres on the summit of Youngs Mountain in order to preserve exceptional natural habitats and to create trails where hikers can enjoy breathtaking views.
Youngs Mountain is part of the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment, where the mountains rise from the Piedmont. This land of steep mountains, sheer cliffs, and rushing creeks is home to some of the richest biodiversity in the United States and has been recognized as a top national priority for conservation.
The newly protected land on Youngs Mountain provides habitat for over 80 kinds of animals, from the Southern flying squirrel to the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. It’s home to numerous rare or endangered animals, including the crevice salamander, the green salamander, and the Diana fritillary—a kind of butterfly in which males are orange and females are blue!
There are even more kinds of plants. A scientist conducting an inventory counted 381 species, from trilliums to beautyberry to three kinds of dogwoods. It’s one of the few places in our region where one might come across granite dome goldenrod or a Carolina buckthorn. The property also includes a stand of extremely rare old growth forest.
Because of its exceptional biodiversity, the Blue Ridge Mountains have been identified as the #1 priority for conservation by the National Academy of Sciences—and within this region the Hickory Nut Gorge stands out as especially important. Protecting habitat where diverse creatures can thrive is especially important in the context of climate resilience, giving more plants and animals opportunities to adapt.
Conserving Carolina has been actively protecting this landscape for over 20 years, with the support of the local community and many partner organizations. Today, the pieces are starting to come together. Approximately 12,000 acres have been protected surrounding Lake Lure, including parks, an educational reserve, and private conservation land. Conserving Carolina helped to create Chimney Rock State Park in 2005. It also helped to create two local parks—the Town of Lake Lure’s Buffalo Creek Park and Rutherford County’s Youngs Mountain Trail Park. The newly protected tract adjoins Youngs Mountain Trail Park, which is not yet open to the public.
In the future, Conserving Carolina plans to build a trail network that will lead to the stone summit of Youngs Mountain with its breathtaking views over Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, Rumbling Bald, and the Piedmont to the east. These trails contribute to the Summits Trail, a vision for a long trail connecting a series of peaks around Lake Lure.
Conserving Carolina worked with a private conservation partner who was able to temporarily secure the property when it became available in 2014. The land trust purchased the land in in late 2017 with support from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Fund, the Open Space Institute, and Fred and Alice Stanback. It granted a permanent conservation easement on the property to the state, ensuring that it will be protected forever.
Rebekah Robinson, who directed this project for Conserving Carolina, says, “The Youngs Mountain tract has long been a conservation priority for our organization, with the opportunity to protect habitat for hundreds of species as climate patterns are shifting. It also gives us the ability to build on the network of conserved lands and public trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge. When the opportunity arose, we sprang into action to permanently conserve the land for the future.”
“The protection of this property atop Youngs Mountain is a crowning achievement in this multi-year effort to conserve a climate-resilient corridor used by hikers and wildlife alike,” said Peter Howell, executive vice president of Open Space Institute. “We congratulate Conserving Carolina for their collaborative efforts to conserve this beautiful landscape.”