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A view of the Grassy Ridge Property recently acquired by Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.



Originally published: 2013-01-31 16:33:25
Last modified: 2013-01-31 16:33:25

SAHC purchases 601 acres in Avery

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently purchased a 601-acre tract at Grassy Ridge in Avery County, adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest and near the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan. This tract borders one of the highest ridges of the Southern Appalachians, and has been one of SAHC’s top conservation priorities for four decades.
“Since SAHC's beginning, the protection of the Grassy Ridge Tract has been a top priority. There is still much more to be done, but we can all rejoice that this important tract is now protected forever,” Carol Coffey, former president of the SAHC Board of Trustees, said. “The purchase of the Grassy Ridge tract is a milestone in SAHC's efforts to protect the Southern Appalachian Highlands.”
The tract has been considered a top priority for SAHC and other conservation partners in the region for decades because of its size and location within a large network of high elevation protected lands. At its northern boundary, it takes in the crest of Grassy Ridge, where it joins Pisgah National Forest. At the southern end, the property joins a tract owned by the State of N.C. in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.
“It is a truly amazing property that we’ve aspired to protect throughout the 20 years I’ve been with SAHC,” Kristy Urquhart, SAHC associate director, said. “Working toward a goal for so long was daunting, but our perseverance and tenacity finally paid off.”
The property consists of a large, forested bowl within three ridges: Grassy Ridge, Big Roan Ridge and Martin Ridge. One of the largest concentrations of rare species and communities in the state is found on Grassy Ridge and the adjoining habitats of Roan.
“Nearby Grassy Ridge bald is the best remaining and most pristine grassy bald in the Southern Appalachians,” Judy Murray, SAHC Roan stewardship eirector, said. “This bald and its adjacent rock outcrops have the highest concentration of rare plant species and the fewest non-native species of any site in the Highlands of Roan. SAHC has been a lead partner in restoring and maintaining Roan's grassy balds for more than 20 years, and the purchase of this tract is a major achievement in protecting this globally endangered ecological community.”
The purchase permanently protects water quality as well as globally significant plant and animal habitat. Headwater tributaries of Roaring Creek originate on the property and flow into the North Toe River watershed.
The land trust seized a small window of opportunity to successfully complete this project at the end of the year. Urquhart attributes the success to persistent landowner outreach, good timing, some luck and support from private philanthropists. SAHC also obtained critical loan funds from the Open Space Institute, which made it possible to close before the end of the year, a stipulation by the seller.
“The Open Space Institute is pleased to once again support conservation in the Greater Roan Highlands Landscape,” Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president, said. “The protection of the Grassy Ridge tract preserves a highly significant wildlife corridor between Little Yellow Mountain and the highest summits of the Roan Massif. We salute SAHC for its persistence and personal interaction with so many of the people involved in this project. It was SAHC’s perseverance that made this deal happen.”
Over the past six years, OSI has assisted SAHC and other partner agencies in the protection of 1,500 contiguous acres in Western N.C. that are part of an important wildlife corridor between the two spines of the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion. In October 2007, OSI made a $1 million loan to SAHC for the acquisition of the 435-acre Powdermill Creek tract, which is also in the Roan Highlands, near the Appalachian Trail and the Pisgah National Forest.
The newly protected Grassy Ridge tract lies in the viewshed of the AT, visible from the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and other locations in the Highlands of Roan. It rises to 6150 feet in elevation. SAHC will offer guided hikes on the Grassy Ridge tract later this year.
For more information about the project and the mission of SAHC, click to  http://www.southernappalachian.wordpress.com.