A $20,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund will fund educational brochures and group presentations that increase awareness of the connections between people, land, and water. The outreach program will also highlight programs that can help landowners keep their lands rural while getting tax breaks and benefits. Interested landowners can get one-on-one assistance to learn about land conservation tools including designation as Voluntary Agricultural District, government cost-share programs, and “working land” conservation easements.
“The Pigeon River is the lifeline in the Upper Pigeon Valley,” said Bill Holbrook, a farmer in the Bethel community. “The grant from the Pigeon River Fund will help keep the valley rural and the river clean.”
Other project partners include the Haywood Waterways Association, the Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
“We think we can be a model for other rural communities that want to protect their floodplains, their water quality, and their rural heritage,” said George Ivey, a Bethel resident who has been contracted to carry out the grant activities.
Haywood County’s people, lands, and waters are closely tied together, as evidenced by the severe September 2004 floods, which destroyed many homes and businesses and caused scouring or failure of many streambanks and riverbanks. The farms and forests of the Upper Pigeon River Valley — especially the undeveloped floodplains — helped absorb some of those heavy rains and floodwaters.
With more development occurring in the area — including more houses, paved driveways, parking lots, and lawns and lawn chemicals — the Upper Pigeon River Valley could face adverse changes to both water quality and increased runoff. However, by promoting positive alternatives to land development, the Bethel Rural Community Organization hopes to maintain a more natural water cycle while also safeguarding the area’s rich cultural heritage and rural economy.
The grant from the Pigeon River Fund went to the Southwestern NC Resource Conservation and Development Council, which is managing the grant on behalf of the Bethel Rural Community Organization.