In 2013 Southeast Regional Land Conservancy added three thousand five hundred twenty-two (3,522) additional acres of diverse communities to its protected reserves. From the previous total of sixteen thousand forty-two acres, this boosts SERLC up to nineteen thousand five hundred fifty-five (19,564) conservation acres across the Southeastern United States…. almost reaching the 20,000 acre mark!
Georgia gained three large Piedmont easements. A new easement was placed in the North Carolina mountains that can be seen from the tourist mecca of Asheville. And additional easement land along an Alabama lakeshore was added to enhance an existing easement.
How did we benefit Georgia this year?
The Kettle Creek conservation easement protects 968 acres along Kettle Creek, the Little River, and their confluence. It is midway between Athens and Augusta in the Piedmont country of Wilkes County, Georgia. It is within the Central Savannah River Resource Conservation & Development Council Area (http://csrarcd.org/) which was formed to assist in conserving natural resources, supporting economic development, enhancing the environment, and improving the standard of living for all citizens. The protection of the river, creek, tributaries, wetlands, streams, and springs allows for retention of many public benefits that will be increasingly important in the future. A number of bird species considered important in the Partners in Flight program were noted during a wintertime survey. The tract is within the Savannah River Flyway near the convergence with the Atlantic Flyway, which is an important migratory route.
The easement is brimming with history. During the American Revolution the most important event in the region, the Battle of Kettle Creek, appears to have occurred at this location in 1779. Within the easement is a small well-kept historic cemetery. The oldest legible date noted during the survey was 1817. There may possibly be graves from the Revolutionary War period, but it was difficult to discern. Quaker Springs, which is found on the tract, is said to be such a historically significant spring that a Quaker settlement formed along it (no structures currently exist at this location).
An additional 718 acres was preserved in Wilkes County with the Rock Creek easement. Since this easement is somewhat proximal to the Kettle Creek project, it fills in a puzzle piece towards creating a matrix of protected habitats in the area. The pine plantations are interspersed with pasture, hardwood riparian areas along Rock Creek & tributaries, and a small lake. The property is rather wild and natural within its interior. It also fronts on Highway 78 bypass / Highway 10 & Highway 78 business route, thus providing scenic views for all to see.
Conservation values on this tract recognized under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) program include 1) high priority habitats including Oak-hickory-pine forest, small cane breaks, and small streams, and 2) at least 100-foot buffer protection along streams and wetlands. The tract is also within the Savannah River Flyway near the convergence with the Atlantic Flyway (see discussion below). During the site survey visit, a ‘kettle’ of hawks was observed under migration.
The Macon, GA, area has gained permanent protection on 1,544 forested acres with the Big Knoll easement. Awarded the 2006 Georgia Tree Farm of the Year award, the tract has been used as an outdoor classroom to teach forestry and other principals. An interpretive trail is already in place. The well-maintained forest roads came through the torrential rain storms of 2013 with flying colors while many forest tracts around the region faced serious erosion. Aside from the pine plantations, there are hardwood forests along the drainages, creek corridors, and small wildlife fields and ponds scattered across the land. Very unusual rock formations can found on certain locations within the easement. It would be interesting to know more about the history of these features.
The easement provides a scenic backdrop for a heavily-traveled public road and the 3,000-acre Liberty Park, which serves as a municipal water reservoir for Macon. The park is utilized by the public for walking, jogging, picnicking, playground, and other activities. The easement directly provides a viewshed. Also, an historic stagecoach road that used to be the main route between Gray and Macon runs through the property.
Continuity, on a large property such as this, is an important ecological concept for sustainable habitat for plant and animal populations as well as ecological communities. Habitat value is enhanced exponentially when connectivity occurs because habitat potential and diversity is increased. Large land area means that the species within can maintain better genetic diversity and larger foraging/nesting habitats. As well as the large land area within the easement, the property adjoins the 3,000-acre park.
How did we benefit North Carolina this year?
In the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville NC, the Turnpike Conservation Easement will protect 281 acres of a tract that has long been coveted for potential developments. Adjoining land will be developed but the easement land will remain in perpetuity. The land starts out gently along Hominy Creek, rising up the rugged slopes of Thompson Mountain. The height, proximity, and aspect of the property are perfect to provide the public with scenic views from Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 19/23 (Smokey Park Highway), as well as the general Asheville area, and tourist destinations such as the Biltmore House and Grove Park Inn.
An unusually profound amount of water occurs on the property, including a strong artesian well with unusual mineral content that has been associated with concepts of health benefits, plus a reach of Hominy Creek, Wilson’s Branch, County Line Creek, and numerous springs. Hominy Creek flows into the French Broad River on the west side of Asheville. The non-profit RiverLink organization and Buncombe County have worked hard to create a public greenway along this reach of the creek (http://www.buncombecounty.org/Governing/Depts/Parks/Facilities/River/Hominy.aspx ). The easement is upstream from the park and therefore benefits water quality for the park and for the French Broad River. The third-oldest river in the world, the French Broad River supplies over 1 million people with drinking water (RiverLink data). Other parks and greenways follow the river downstream. Riparian corridors within the easement are being considered for streambank mitigation.
A plentitude of North Carolina Watchlist species are tucked into the easement. A preponderance of wildlife species use the tract, including a number of bears. A variety of bird species considered important in the Partners in Flight program were noted even during wintertime. The easement is within the Atlantic Flyway which is a bird migration route that generally follows the Atlantic Coast of North America and the Appalachian Mountains. The main endpoints of the flyway include the Canadian Maritimes and the region surrounding the Gulf of Mexico; the migration route tends to narrow considerably in the southern United States in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, which accounts for the high number of bird species found in those areas.
The property has been historically significant for a long time due to its proximity to Asheville and occurrence along travel routes. The property used to have its own railroad stop, hotel and store. This is also the location where travelers paid to use the early turnpike road for travel, hence the name. Historians have also documented a Native American trail that ran along portions of Hominy Creek downstream from the easement. A number of serious attempts at development have been made for the tract including a high-profile golf course and a health spa. The remarkable spring and other water features have been considered for bottle water sources and health benefits.
How did we benefit Alabama this year?
An existing easement in the central Ridge and Valley country of Alabama was enhanced this year. The new easement is small (9.5 acres), however it represents the fourth easement phase. Not only will new lakeshore land will be protected but existing conservation lands will be joined. Found on the land is an uncommon species narrowly-endemic to the Southeast, with a global range limited only to a region of eastern Alabama, SE Tennessee, and northern Georgia.