Our story is one of grassroots community action, dedication, and perseverance. In the early 1990s, we began as The South Mountains Coalition, a group of volunteers living on all sides of this unique low-elevation mountain range who were determined to protect the 35,000-acre “heart” of the South Mountains. Many joined in support of our mission, leading to our incorporation in December 1995 as a private, nonprofit regional land trust.
At the time, more than 23,000 acres of the ancient South Mountains were in imminent danger of being clear-cut and subdivided – the 5,285-acre Morganton Watershed and the 17,829-acre Rollins Tract. North Carolina had never taken on acquisitions of this magnitude, requiring securing than $16 million in public and private funds.
All of the work paid off in 1997-98 when, in partnership with N.C. State Parks, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and the N.C. chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the South Mountains Coalition – renamed Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina in 1997 – helped secure a combination of grants from North Carolina’s natural resource trust funds, a special $5 million state appropriation, and more than $1 million in private donations to forever protect the threatened expanse in an unprecedented victory for conservation in North Carolina. The Morganton Watershed was added to South Mountains State Park and the Rollins Tract formed the core of the South Mountains State Game Lands.
That monumental accomplishment was just the beginning. Foothills Conservancy turned its attention to other beautiful places in the Blue Ridge Foothills threatened by development, subdivision, and other harmful land uses. With the new name, the group expanded to eight counties – adding Caldwell and Alexander to its original six-county service area – and prepared to serve as the regional land trust for the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains and Foothills. Since then, Foothills Conservancy has been dedicated to preserving and protecting not just the South Mountains, but all the natural, historic, and culturally rich areas of this region.
By 2004, working with an array of public and private partners, we had secured broad public and political support at the local, state, and national level and raised more than $25 million in federal, state, and private funds to protect almost 9,000 acres around Lake James and the Linville Gorge from development for thousands of home sites – instead expanding Lake James State Park by almost 3,000 acres and 30 miles of public shoreline, and acquiring lands below Linville Gorge for a new state game land and Pisgah National Forest.
In 2007, we led efforts that secured legislative authorization for a new state park in the Hickory Nut Gorge and helped secure Chimney Rock and other lands for the new Chimney Rock State Park.
In 2009, backed by an outpouring of public support, we protected more than 700 acres along more than four miles of National Wild & Scenic Wilson Creek for a new public game land and world-class trout fishery, thwarting development plans for more than 200 home sites along this special creek.
Along the way, we have also protected several thousand acres by working with private landowners to place permanent conservation easements on farms and forests and acquired significant lands along the Broad and Catawba Rivers as conservancy preserves.
In 2015, Foothills Conservancy celebrated our 20th anniversary and the protection of more than 49,000 acres across our region.
Today, that number is 54,117 acres and growing, because of the support of our donors, the communities we serve, and numerous public and private partners.