Protection Spotlight

Protecting the Past

Acquisitions Begin on Historic Wildcat Mountain

Turn off I-40 in Old Fort, and you will find the N.C. Mountain Gateway Museum. Inside there are interpretive exhibits and photographs from Western North Carolina’s past. But outside, towering over the building is a piece of natural history that won’t fit in any museum.

“Wildcat Mountain is the front porch of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a historic corridor associated with the Revolutionary War era and the settlement of western North Carolina,” says Tom Kenney, Foothills Conservancy’s land protection director. “We are interested in preserving its outstanding historical and natural assets and using them to attract more visitors to Old Fort, growing tourism-related economic benefits.”

With those goals in mind, Foothills Conservancy has purchased 364 acres of scenic Wildcat Mountain for preservation.

“Adjoining 1,400 acres we’ve protected since 2005 around the Catawba River’s headwaters, like Catawba Falls, the preservation of Wildcat Mountain will protect water quality, where rivers and streams begin; the place where it should be protected,” Kenney says.

Wildcat Mountain stands next to the conservancy’s 753-acre June Adams Preserve and near the 88-acre Catawba Falls tract that the conservancy sold to the U.S. Forest Service in 2010.

Map of Wildcat Mountain Acquisition and Protection Project

Initial funding has come from sources that recognize the importance of conservation in the Catawba River headwaters area. A generous donation of $713,000 from philanthropists and conservationists Fred and Alice Stanback was used to purchase the first portion of the mountain. The N. C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund also awarded Foothills Conservancy a grant of $1,341,000 toward the acquisition of the remainder of Wildcat Mountain and the protection of its headwater streams.

“The range of funding speaks to this project’s importance of protecting headwaters of the Catawba River in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” says Kenney. “Even in an economic recession, partnerships were formed, and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund was willing to award a partial grant.”

As of January 2012, Foothills Conservancy secured addition funds totaling $149,500 for the Wildcat Mountain acquisition in the Catawba Headwaters as part of the Blue Ridge Forever coalition’s grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Service’s “Acres for America” program and the N.C Department of Justice’s Environmental Enhancement Grant program. Additional private funds of $35,000 contributed by conservancy’s donors add to these recent grant funds. The conservancy has until October 2013 to raise additional funds of $862,000 million needed to purchase and protect the remaining 320 acres of the forested mountain tract.

Behind the N.C. Mountain Gateway Museum, Wildcat Mountain stands as a reminder of the region’s storied past. Now, with the help of its members, friends, and local and state government, Foothills Conservancy is ready to ensure it stays that way.