Commissioner Troxler among recipients of 2013 Lela McBride Award for land conservation

by | May 20, 2013

Photo of Hidden Falls at East Fork Headwaters

Hidden Falls is part of the land that will become Headwaters State Forest. (Photo: Everette Robinson)

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is one of three recipients of the 2013 Lela McBride Award for his role in conserving thousands of acres of forest in Western North Carolina. Other winners are former U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor and family, and Dick Ludington of The Conservation Fund.

The award was presented May 19 by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. It recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to land conservation and stewardship in North Carolina’s mountain region.

In a news release, the conservancy said the 2013 recipients won the award for their role in creating the new Headwaters State Forest. The land is named Headwaters because of the many streams that rise on the property, which is in the East Fork watershed of the French Broad River in southern Transylvania County.

The Taylor family contacted the conservancy in 2009 about their interest in selling the land for conservation. The conservancy partnered with The Conservation Fund and its N.C. director, Dick Ludington, who led the negotiations for acquisition of the Headwaters tract. Commissioner Troxler has made acquisition a high priority for the N.C. Forest Service.

Earlier this year, the Forest Service, in partnership with The Conservation Fund, acquired 977 acres of the Headwaters tract. Last week, the Forest Service purchased an additional 342 acres. Added to 786 acres purchased by The Conservation Fund in late 2010, 2,105 acres are now in conservation ownership. This property will form the core of the new Headwaters State Forest.

Funding for the acquisition has come from the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, a private donation by Fred and Alice Stanback, and from the state’s settlement agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Headwaters State Forest will preserve more than 60 miles of streams classified as High Quality Waters. The French Broad River is a major source of drinking water for residents in Asheville, Hendersonville and Brevard. The tract will also protect documented occurrences of a federally endangered plant species and other plant and animal species of concern, such as the native strain of the Southern Appalachian brook trout and Appalachian mountain bogs.

The property will be managed as a working stewardship forest by the N.C. Forest Service and as a state game land in cooperation with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. The forest will continue to be part of the commercial timber base, and its wildlife habitat favors both game and non-game species. The property will serve as a model for multi-use natural resource management, blending sustainable forestry, wildlife conservation, habitat management and restoration with educational and recreational opportunities.

The East Fork Headwaters project will ultimately protect 8,000 acres of working forest land in Transylvania County. This land is one of the largest remaining privately owned tracts in Western North Carolina, and has particular significance because it connects more than 100,000 acres of existing conserved lands in North and South Carolina. The project will expand opportunities for public recreation by protecting the final privately owned nine-mile section of the venerable Foothills Trail and providing a future opportunity for more than five miles of public trout streams.

During the ongoing land-acquisition phase, the property — except the Foothills Trail corridor — will remain closed to the public. Access to the property as public game land will occur after the acquisition phase and Land Management Plan have been completed. The Forest Service hopes to complete acquisition of the entire tract in three to five years.

The conservancy’s award is named for Lela McBride, a community leader and conservationist who enabled the completion of Henderson County’s first Natural Heritage Inventory. She subsequently created the Henderson County Natural Heritage Trust, forerunner of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.