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Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy celebrating another successful year

Pat Kenney • May 15, 2013 at 11:14 PM

KINGSPORT — The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy will celebrate another year of conservation success tonight from 6-8 p.m. at The Barn at Allandale Mansion.

“Our annual event is a time to congratulate members on our successes, reflect on our history and thank the volunteers and trustees who make our conservation vision a reality,” said Kristy Urquhart, Kingsport native and SAHC associate director. “Preserving the many-textured views and resources of these mountains requires incredible foresight.

“This year, we are especially thrilled to celebrate a success story almost four decades in the making — our purchase of the 601-acre Grassy Ridge tract in the Highlands of Roan.”

SAHC considered the tract a top priority because of its size and location within a large network of high elevation protected lands, adjoining Pisgah National Forest near the Appalachian Trail and Grassy Ridge Bald.

The mission of the SAHC is to conserve the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland and scenic beauty of the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations. This is accomplished by forging and maintaining long-term conservation relationships with private landowners and public agencies and owning and managing land.

To date, the SAHC has saved more than 50,000 acres of land, including the Highlands.

“The Appalachian Trail runs across the Highlands and the balds,” said David Ramsey, a retiring SAHC trustee. “Over the years there has been a great deal of interest from developers to build in that area.

“We wanted to avoid what has happened at Beech and Sugar mountains,” added Ramsey. “It was our focus to head off the destruction of the balds and the beautiful mountains up there.”

To that end, as land becomes available, the SAHC buys it and then works with state and federal agencies to protect the land.

The late Stan Murray was instrumental in the preservation movement in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

“Stan stood on top of the Grassy Ridge in the late ’70s and saw the Sugar Top hotel on top of Sugar Mountain,” said Ramsey. “He could see what was coming. There were Florida developers ready right then to put condos and houses on Round, Jane and Grassy balds.

“Stan saw the opportunity to protect the lands and he organized a group to capitalize on every favorable situation,” added Ramsey.

Murray’s widow, Judy, saw firsthand what her late husband and the SAHC were able to accomplish.

“It wasn’t just the views up there,” said Judy Murray. “It’s an area that is very ecologically important. There are many rare species of plants and animals there.

“They are relics from the ice age,” added Murray. “Northern species of flowers migrated south and integrated with native flowers.

“People must know that these balds may be as old as 10,000 years,” said Murray. “They really are a treasure.”

Another feather in the cap of the SAHC is the recent work by Ramsey, who was instrumental in the preservation of Rocky Fork. It has been designated as the site of the next Tennessee State Park.

“When you cross into Tennessee on Interstate 26 from North Carolina, everything you see to your northwest is Rocky Fork,” said Ramsey. “Imagine if developers got in there. You’d lose one of the most beautiful vistas imaginable. Not to mention all the wildlife in there.”

Tickets for tonight’s affair are $25 for SAHC members and $30 for nonmembers. The event includes dinner by Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant and music by local artists Trae McMaken and Will MacMorran as well as recognition of local conservation heroes.

For more information contact Cheryl Fowler at (828) 253-0095, ext. 209 or email her at cheryl@appalachian.org.

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