ROAN MOUNTAIN — When the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy acquires land, it usually plans to hold the land permanently to protect the unique high elevation plant and animal habitats from the Roan Highlands to the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
But the agency recently purchased 150 acres adjoining Roan Mountain State Park in order to add the land to the park, while still meeting its goal of protecting habitats and the steams of the Doe River watershed.
“I’m thrilled we had the opportunity to help our partners at Tennessee State Parks expand one of the most beloved parks in the state,” Michelle Pugliese, the conservancy’s land protection director, said. “From the higher elevations on the property where you can enjoy views of the Roan Massif to the beautiful stretch of stream, this property offers exciting opportunities for people to connect with nature.”
The tract contains richly biodiverse habitat and mountain wetland areas. Five species of state-listed rare plants have been identified on the property, including round-leaf bittercress and Roan Mountain sedge. The forested property adjoins the state park along the eastern edge, rising to a ridgeline approximately 2,000 feet behind the park’s visitor center and stretching from Sugar Hollow Road to Hampton Creek Road.
“The Sugar Hollow addition to Roan Mountain State Park will provide park visitors an opportunity to reach a view of the Roan Highlands via trail access from our visitor center and will protect, in perpetuity, critical habitats for sensitive species found throughout the property,” Daniel Chuquin, real property manager at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said. “This valuable acquisition was made possible through a partnership with SAHC, who worked diligently to raise funds and secure the state’s interest in the property. SAHC’s ability to support the state through this acquisition is a key example of how their passion for land conservation will help protect land for the enjoyment of numerous generations to come.”
The route of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail passes along the lower edge of the property, and both Sugar Hollow Creek and the main branch of Hampton Creek run through it. In the spring, exceptional displays of wildflowers emerge across the property; it has a little something to interest everyone. Reflecting on her favorite experiences while visiting the area, Pugliese described views of the surrounding Appalachian grassy balds from the higher elevation spots on the tract, near the existing park border, as well as the relaxing environs of the stream area at the lower elevation.
“I can just imagine the Overmountain Men on their way to the historic Revolutionary War battle at Kings Mountain in 1780 trekking right by this property, perhaps even stopping to rest and refill their water or maybe even catch some fish,” she said.
Another player in the acquisition was Roan Mountain State Park Manager Monica Johnson. She noticed the landowners had decided to sell the property and had listed it on the real estate market. She immediately let the staff of the Tennessee Department of Conservation, which manages Tennessee’s state parks, know about the opportunity. She also let the conservancy know the land was on the market.
“This was a great opportunity for SAHC and Tennessee State Parks to work together to secure what will become the first major addition of land to Roan Mountain State Park since it opened in 1959,” Johnson said. “We could not have done it without the help of SAHC and its members, and we look forward to protecting and preserving these 150 acres for future generations to enjoy.”
With such a desirable property on the market, everyone knew they had to move quickly to purchase it or else risk losing the fleeting opportunity. The conservancy and several partners worked together to find a solution. Philanthropic leaders Brad and Shelli Stanback, along with other SAHC members contributed a portion of the funds for the acquisition. The nonprofit land trust also obtained a loan from a conservation-minded lender in order to finance the balance of the funds needed for the purchase price. When the conservancy transfers the property to the State of Tennessee to be added to the park, it will use those proceeds to pay back the loan and interest.
“We are so pleased to be able to help our partners secure land for the state park, and grateful to all the generous supporters of conservation who made it possible,” Pugliese said. “With a complex, time-sensitive project and the popularity of the park area for outdoor recreation, the outcome could have been very different. Development of this tract could have been devastating, marring views from public lands at Roan Mountain and the Appalachian Trail. We are all indeed fortunate that this land has been conserved for posterity.”
Contributed to the Times News