Protection of mountain’s vast tract hinges on funding

An 8,000 acre tract in Transylvania County, the largest block of privately owned wilderness in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains, may soon be protected if enough funds can be raised.

The landowner, former Congressman Charles Taylor who is also a logger and cattle rancher, has agreed to sell the land for $33 million to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and The Conservation Fund. The selling price is a good deal at less than half the appraised value, but will still require substantial fundraising to make the conservation a reality.

“This is the last opportunity we will have to acquire such a sizable and significant tract in the southern Appalachians for conservation ownership ever again,” said Dick Ludington, southeast regional director of TCF.

The nonprofit land trusts hopes to raise the money to protect the tract, and then transfer the land to a public entity that would allow for public recreation including hunting, fishing, hiking and other uses.

“The Taylor family has offered the opportunity to add another jewel to the crown of conserved land in western North Carolina,” said Kieran Roe, executive director of CMLC.

The tract was owned by Taylor through his corporate entity, Champion Cattle and Tree Farms.

The acquisition project will open up over 50 miles of streams teeming with trout. The tract is home to rare plant communities, including pockets of Southern Appalachian bog, and lies atop the Blue Ridge escarpment, one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in world.

Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, philanthropists that champion land conservation in the mountains, have expressed an interest in donating a portion of the necessary funding.

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