Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina reached an important milestone this week with the acquisition of 377 acres in the Ivy Creek watershed of the South Mountains, which brings the land trust’s 20-year protection record over the 50,000-acre mark to a total of 50,322 acres.
“Foothills Conservancy formed in late 1995 to protect the 18,000-acre Rollins Tract in the South Mountains for a new state game land, so it is fitting that 20 years later we reached and surpassed 50,000 protected acres with a project in the South Mountains,” explained the conservancy’s executive director, Susie Hamrick Jones.
“We truly appreciate the many landowners, partners and supporters who have helped us reach this milestone, and we particularly thank Fred and Alice Stanback and Tim Sweeney, whose generous contributions funded the Ivy Creek land acquisition and the protection of many other tracts over the years. Together, we are leaving a legacy of protection for and public access to irreplaceable natural areas and iconic places like Wilson Creek, Lake James and the Linville Gorge, Chimney Rock and Catawba Falls, and of thousands of acres of permanently protected private farm and forest lands across our eight-county service area.”
Foothills Conservancy will eventually add the Ivy Creek land to South Mountains State Park. In the interim, the conservancy will be responsible for monitoring and stewardship of the property.
“We sprang into action when the opportunity arose to acquire this property,” said Andrew Kota, Foothills Conservancy Stewardship Director. “Adding Ivy Creek to state-owned lands will expand and buffer the current park area, and protect significant wildlife habitats and natural communities. Views from existing park trails and from the Civilian Conservation Corps road through the park will be forever protected for public enjoyment.”
The 377 acres protected at Ivy Creek comprises two parcels, the larger of which is 277 acres and the smaller 100 acres. The parcels have high conservation value due to both their proximity to existing public lands, and their location in the Henry Fork River watershed.
Together the Ivy Creek parcels share approximately 1.5 miles of boundary with South Mountains State Park and both have legal access from public roadways. The smaller of the two parcels adjoins the most recent addition to the state park: a 757-acre tract acquired by the state in 2015 that was part of the 2,207-acre Simms Hill property acquisition by Foothills Conservancy. They also adjoin or contain sections of two Significant Natural Heritage Areas: Jimmy Knob and South Mountains/Jacob Fork Watershed.
Combined, the parcels contain 500 feet of the Henry Fork River; 7,500 feet of Ivy Creek, a direct tributary of the Henry Fork River; and thousands of feet of unnamed tributaries that feed Ivy Creek. They were identified as high priorities for watershed protection in the South Mountains Outstanding Resource Waters Riparian Corridor Conservation Plan that Foothills Conservancy completed in 2010 with a planning grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The plan evaluated the streams and rivers in the South Mountains outside of state ownership that were designated as High Quality Waters by the N.C. Division of Water Quality.