Upper Catawba River

Foothills Conservancy continues to focus on protection of the Catawba River headwaters area to help ensure its pristine waters. This work is the essential first step in protecting the drinking and industrial water source for millions of Carolinians.

We began our Catawba River protection efforts in earnest in 1998 as a stakeholder in Duke Energy’s hydropower relicensing process. This work was essential to conserve thousands of acres the company owned bordering the river, its lakes and its major tributaries. Duke’s relicensing spurred us to complete a comprehensive conservation plan for the upper Catawba River Basin, as well as several N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund riparian protection plans for different sections and tributaries of the river.

These plans guided us as we worked with other partners in the relicensing process. We helped achieve hydropower relicensing agreements in 2008 that protect almost 1,000 acres along four miles of the Catawba River below Lake James – through conservation easements, land transfers and bargain sales to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In addition, the negotiated agreements allowed for the bargain-sale purchase by Foothills Conservancy of 2,770 acres at the confluence of the Catawba and Johns rivers for a new state wildlife game land near Morganton.

Meanwhile, Foothills Conservancy began working with the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and private landowners in 2004 to protect the main headwaters of the Catawba near Old Fort through land purchases and conservation easements. To date our land trust has protected 1,650 acres in the Catawba headwaters, including much of Edmondson and Wildcat Mountains. This includes our acquisition and subsequent sale of 88 acres to the U.S. Forest Service that provides long-sought public trail access to spectacular Catawba Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

In total, Foothills Conservancy has protected almost 4,500 acres along the Catawba River and in its headwaters, including more than 1,100 acres of conservancy-owned preserve lands; public access to Catawba Falls; and 552 acres in private conservation easements at Creston-Hicks Mountain and along the Catawba River below Lake James.