Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina purchases land for new park in Catawba County

On April 22, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina purchased 188 acres of land in Catawba County that could become a future state park and provide river access. The land was acquired from two landowners of adjoining properties as part of a collaborative effort to establish state-owned parklands that would be owned and managed by the State of North Carolina in partnership with North Carolina State Parks’ Division of Parks and Recreation.

This acquisition is the first step in a larger effort to acquire lands on the Jacob Fork and Henry Fork rivers for a new state park. Catawba County, the City of Hickory and other local partners have expressed support for the effort. Legislation to authorize the establishment of the new park was introduced in the North Carolina House and Senate and supported by Sen. Andy Wells, Sen. Warren Daniel, Rep. Mitchell Setzer, Rep. Jay Adams, and Rep. Hugh Blackwell.

In addition to its potential recreation benefits, conserving this property permanently protects one-and-a-half miles of forest along the Jacob Fork River. Preserving land along waterways like the Jacob Fork helps protect water quality, which benefits both aquatic species and people who rely on waterways for drinking water. In this case, the City of Newton relies on the Jacob Fork River for its public drinking water needs and this project will help protect the river’s water quality.

The newly acquired tract also includes a North Carolina Natural Heritage Program designated natural area — Jacob Fork East Corridor — and preserves outstanding scenic views from the river for canoers and kayakers.

“Foothills Conservancy and the state officials and local government officials we have partnered with are excited to add this property to the state-owned lands in our region and expand the network of parklands along the Jacob Fork and Henry Fork rivers in Catawba County,” said Tom Kenney, land protection director with the Morganton-based land trust. “Our goal is to create a premiere, regional outdoor destination and this property’s location is ideal — it’s minutes from Hickory, I-40, and US 321 and has a variety of hiking, mountain biking, and river paddling access locations.”

North Carolina State Parks is interested in buying the 188-acre tract from Foothills Conservancy, but must wait until the NC General Assembly passes legislation to do so.

Landowner Keith Townsend was pleased with this outcome for his land.

“When my wife and I bought this property, we planned to build on some and retain about 50 undeveloped acres,” said Townsend. “When we changed our minds about building, we knew that the next best solution was to preserve the property through Foothills Conservancy. We’re glad to help preserve the already clean Jacob Fork River and the integrity of this beautiful piece of land.”

A private loan and a recently awarded grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund helped fund the acquisition. The Beaver Foundation and Unifour Foundation also provided grant funding support to Foothills Conservancy for this effort.

The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was established in 1996 to protect the state’s drinking water sources. Today the fund is additionally tasked by the North Carolina General Assembly with conserving and protecting the state’s natural resources, cultural heritage and military installations.

“The acquisition is a perfect fit for the fund’s mission of protecting land with important natural resources while creating valuable recreational opportunities,” said Walter Clark, executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. “The acquisition will protect 7,700 linear feet of Jacob Fork and its tributaries and provide much needed recreational opportunities, including paddling, hiking and camping, for Hickory and surrounding communities.”