The Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina purchased 96 acres in Burke County on June 9 for permanent conservation.
The protected land adjoins the 46-acre Mineral Springs Mountain parcel, which the conservancy acquired in 2019 for the creation of a future public trail to South Mountains State Park, other Foothills Conservancy preserve lands and the town of Valdese. Foothills Conservancy and partners are exploring several trail alternatives to attempt to connect these areas for North Carolina State Parks’ new Wilderness Gateway State Trail.
“The Wilderness Gateway State Trail, while still in the planning stages, will provide public access to some absolutely gorgeous landscapes in McDowell, Rutherford, Burke and Catawba Counties,” said Smith Raynor, State Trails planner for North Carolina State Parks. “The WGST, like all of our state trails, will only be realized through essential partnerships with local government, private organizations and volunteers. Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has proven to be an indispensable partner in the efforts to make the WGST a reality. Their capacity to preserve land, organize volunteers and collaborate in the planning is proving invaluable.”
Acquisition of these additional 96 acres permanently conserves habitat for a rich variety of uncommon native plants, including the Yellow Lady Slipper, many of which are designated for conservation interest by the state of North Carolina. The Mineral Springs Mountain property contains source waters of Ball Alley Creek, which eventually drains to the Catawba and Henry Fork rivers, and also features unique geology with rock outcrops. The Henry Fork River is designated by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality as “Outstanding Resource Waters.” Foothills Conservancy and partners also are working to conserve important watershed lands of the Henry Fork and Jacob Fork rivers in southern Burke and western Catawba counties, with each river’s source in South Mountains State Park.
“The Leonard and Colene Thompson family is pleased that the family land will be preserved as a part of the trail system developed by the Foothills Conservancy,” said Denise Smith, one of the landowners. “Our parents were avid hikers, members of the club known as the Foothills Hoofers, and worked to develop parts of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. We hope that the trail system will be used and enjoyed for many generations.”
Funding came from a private contribution. Foothills Conservancy welcomes opportunities with other landowners, exploring a variety of options, to acquire Wilderness Gateway State Trail lands, an effort the conservancy anticipates will occur over many years.
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