A Mountain Milestone

A Mountain Milestone: Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy hits 50-year mark
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Researchers study ground cover on the Appalachian grassy balds of the Roan Highlands.

One of the leading nature and wildlife conservancies in North Carolina and Tennessee recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) was incorporated as a nonprofit on June 10, 1974. The organization’s roots go back even further, however, into the 1950s and ’60s. SAHC was established by a group of hikers—scientists, naturalists, and hiking enthusiasts active in efforts to improve the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan, explains Angela Shepherd, communications director for the conservancy.

“I believe this foundation has inspired much of the ethos and passion for the work that SAHC does: science-based conservation to protect critical habitat and natural resources, as well as a focus on recreation, connecting with nature, and adding to public lands,” she adds. “Some of the early, important conservation successes of SAHC were what we call ‘assist’ projects, in which we worked with the US Forest Service to acquire hundreds of acres of public lands for Pisgah National Forest in the Highlands of Roan.”

Left, A view of the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan. The orange blooms are native flame azaleas; Right, a hiker on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail in TN’s Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area.

SAHC has partnered with several municipalities in Western North Carolina (Canton, Waynesville, Woodfin, Marshall, and Weaverville) in a series of watershed protection projects. And over the past few decades, SAHC has become a leader in conservation defense and improved land protection through conservation easements, Shepherd notes. In the early 2000s, for example, SAHC realized that development around the region was quickly depleting the availability of farmland and subsequently launched a Farmland Protection Program, working with landowners to help protect important farm soils with agricultural conservation easements. “Also, we have remained strong partners with local, state, and federal agencies, helping to secure land for public parks and forests,” Shepherd continues. 

A farmland conservation easement at Hogeye Bottoms in the Sandy Mush community of Buncombe County. 

Acquiring terrain for conservation is a time-sensitive endeavor. “Opportunities to protect large tracts of land . . . are becoming more rare and difficult to attain. People thirst for places to enjoy outdoor recreation—and we’ve seen the repercussions of overuse at crowded trailheads and areas like Max Patch—so we need to make sure we can provide more places for people to spread out and connect with nature.” This summer, the Rhodendron Gardens, including the Cloudland Trail, are closed for infrastructure updates.     

Get Involved

June Jamboree -- June 15
Join SAHC guides for a day of hiking through the trails of the Highlands.

Grassy Ridge Mow-Off -- July 20-21
Hike the five-mile round-trip to one of Roan Highlands’ most ecologically significant sites for a day of pruning and purging invasive plants. 

Southern Appalachian 
Highlands Conservancy
372 Merrimon Ave., Asheville
828-253-0095; appalachian.org