By | January 18, 2024

Foothills Conservancy of NC surpasses 70,000 acres of permanent land protection with its most recent conservation acquisition in the South Mountains

MORGANTON, N.C. — On December 29, 2023, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina (FCNC) acquired 1,460 acres in the Pinnacle Mountains, a section of the South Mountains in McDowell and Rutherford counties. With this conservation transaction, FCNC has permanently protected 70,193 acres of land in the foothills and Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina since its founding in 1995.

This land purchase is a crucial component in the conservation strategy of FCNC and its partners to create an expansive assemblage of conservation lands connecting the South Mountains to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and to develop the Wilderness Gateway State Trail as a long-distance, public trail system.

“Surpassing 70,000 acres of permanent land and water conservation is a major accomplishment for our land trust,” said FCNC Executive Director Andrew Kota. “We share this achievement with our donors, supporters and partners who worked alongside us during this 29-year journey, and we’ll soon share the land itself with the communities in this region when a section of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail is constructed.”

In the early part of 2024, FCNC will convey a permanent conservation easement on the property to the State of North Carolina with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program, the Baker Hughes Foundation and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, N.C. Complete the Trails program, and support from the Blumenthal Foundation.  Funding support from the N.C. Complete the Trails Program and the McDowell and Rutherford Tourism Development Authorities will further the design, layout and construction of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail.

The land, referred to by FCNC as Pinnacle Mountains West, adjoins 960 acres that FCNC purchased in 2022 using a North Carolina Land and Water Fund grant. The project areas connect to a state and federal assemblage of conservation lands to the east, including Box Creek Wilderness, which is protected by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easement, and state-owned public lands in Bobs Creek State Natural Area and South Mountains Game Land.

Pinnacle Mountains West extends this impressive conservation assemblage westward toward Hickorynut Mountain, another large aggregation of private conservation land.

Preliminary work has also begun on FCNC’s pending acquisition of 1,686 acres adjoining Pinnacle Mountains West to the south, aptly named Pinnacles Mountains South, with funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund.

The undeveloped, forested tract of land that makes up the Pinnacle Mountains, along with its natural ecosystems and habitats, protects multiple rare species and natural communities. “The Pinnacle Mountains are ecologically important – hosting three large North Carolina Natural Areas designated by the Natural Heritage Program,” said Michael Gaffney, FCNC’s Conservation and GIS Specialist. “FCNC’s acquisition of Pinnacle Mountains West also protects extensive surface waters in the headwaters of the Broad River Basin.”

Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina is a nationally accredited regional land trust that inspires conservation in Western North Carolina by permanently protecting land and water for the benefit of people and all living things. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Foothills Conservancy has conserved more than 70,000 acres in its eight-county service area: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, McDowell and Rutherford, in three major river basins: the Broad, Catawba and Yadkin. Information about Foothills Conservancy, including ways to support its work, can be found online at www.foothillsconservancy.org or by calling 828-437-9930.