Foothills Conservancy acquires 330 acres in Oak Hill for future park, part one of two-part project

On Jan. 28, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina acquired 330 acres of the Oak Hill Community Park and Forest project, the first of a two-part acquisition process that is expected to total 651 acres when complete. Foothills Conservancy continues to raise funds to acquire the second, 321-acre portion of the property by May 2020.

The decision to purchase the property in two phases came in late 2019, when the sellers agreed to a contract extension, giving Foothills Conservancy more time to complete fundraising for the entire tract of land. The contract, however, was contingent upon the land trust purchasing half of the property by January 2020.

Acquisition of the 330-acre tract ensures permanent protection of a segment of Canoe Creek and its tributary streams, forested uplands, agricultural land and scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and South Mountains. Areas of the property that were timbered by the seller will be stewarded through forest restoration projects. The conservancy intends to make the Oak Hill Community Park and Forest a future destination for hiking, mountain biking, outdoor education, archeological exploration and community events.

Funding for this first phase of the acquisition was made possible by donations from private individuals, small businesses and churches, matched by grants from N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Huffman-Cornwell Foundation, Community Foundation of Burke County, Grace Episcopal Church Foundation, Jefferies-Kendall Foundation and Mull Foundation.

“We have our community to thank for this huge accomplishment,” said Andrew Kota, executive director of Foothills Conservancy. “Almost $500,000 of the private funds raised to acquire this first portion of the property came from five generous individuals in our community. Our board of directors felt so strongly about the importance of protecting this land for future public use that it allocated $100,000 of our organization’s funds to the acquisition, and authorized Foothills Conservancy to finance almost $200,000 so that we wouldn’t lose the property.”

Associate Director Beth Willard-Patton noted that this future park means a great deal to the community.

“For many in the Oak Hill community, this property holds sentimental value,” she said. “For others, it’s an exciting opportunity for Morganton to truly embody ‘Nature’s Playground.’ It has been rewarding to see our community come together in such a big way for a common goal!”

The conservancy must raise an additional $1 million by the end of May 2020 to be able to purchase the remainder of the property. If it cannot, its purchase contract with the sellers will expire and the rest of the property will be subdivided and sold. Contributions are still being sought and accepted in order to complete Foothills’ effort that strives to conserve a total of 651 acres.

“It’s incredibly important for people to have access to natural areas, and it’s part of Foothills’ mission to make that happen in our area,” Kota said. “Spending time in nature supports better mental and physical health, gives respite from busy lifestyles, and creates places that add deeper meaning to life. Having nature in close proximity to our daily lives is important for all people, and that’s why the conservancy wants to protect the entirety of the Oak Hill property and open the land for public use, with help from the county and city. Our children, their children and all subsequent generations will appreciate the natural places we were able to conserve now.”

Kota added: “The commitment to protecting this land feels contagious. I’ve been approached many times by people asking how the project is going and how they can get involved.”

Foothills Conservancy is confident in the next stage of this project and is moving forward with purchasing the remaining half of the property. The next few months will be a big fundraising push, and the conservancy is hopeful for a successful outcome.

The public is invited to a celebration on the property on March 28. Information about the celebration will be available at foothillsconservancy.org/events and on Facebook at facebook.com/foothillsconservancyofnc.