On June 20, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina received two land donations for conservation: 90 acres on Old Highway 18 in Burke County and 19 acres on Highway 64 in McDowell County.
The Burke County property is situated in the watershed of the Henry Fork River, a major tributary of the South Fork Catawba River. It borders the conservancy’s more than 1,800-acre South Mountains Headwaters Preserve to the south and contains 34 acres of significant local farmland soils, 27 acres of riparian stream buffers, and 31 acres recognized by Audubon as part of the South Mountains Important Bird Area. The property is also a high priority for protection due to its documented high level of climate resiliency and its potential to offer habitat for species as they adapt to climate change.
The conservancy’s protection of the property also ensures conservation of streambank areas, wetlands and surface waters on the property; pine forests; and wildlife habitat for mammals, a variety of birds including large birds of prey, a variety of reptile and amphibian species, and a variety of aquatic organisms.
The newly donated 19-acre McDowell County property buffers North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s South Mountains Game Lands and offers an opportunity to link the game lands to the 7,000-acre Box Creek Wilderness to the west via trails.
Foothills Conservancy is pursuing a wetland restoration project on the site, with funding already in place. Wetlands are unique ecosystems, not suited for development, that host plants and wildlife that can adapt and survive in wet and saturated soil conditions. They offer a natural method of filtering water by removing pollutants and sediment from streams. As nature’s storage for flood waters, wetlands also mitigate damage from flooding.
“Protection of this property is part of a much larger conservation effort to connect the South Mountains to the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Tom Kenney, land protection director for the conservancy. “When we identify parcels of land such as this to conserve, we get closer to closing that gap.”
The property includes a section of Cane Creek and its tributaries. Along with its natural importance, Cane Creek has historical significance as a landmark in the Battle of Cane Creek, a 1780 Revolutionary War skirmish. The property is also located within a half-mile of the corridor of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.