By Frances Figart
French Broad Crossing: A Mountain Community in Harmony with Nature
Western North Carolina is home to old growth forests, ancient river systems, freshwater ponds, sun-drenched pastures, and a treasure trove of indigenous flora and fauna. For those who choose to live here, the challenge is—and always has been—finding the best ways to balance this pristine natural beauty with the development of homes so we can enjoy nature’s abundance while also preserving it.
French Broad Crossing (FBC)—a housing development situated on the French Broad River—has found a way to strike that balance. Since its founding in 2004, FBC has been creating a conservation-based community. More than 200 of FBC’s 750 acres have been placed in conservation easements over a 12-year period— and 67 more are slated to be protected this year. These legal measures ensure that this tract of land where the mountains meet the river will remain off limits to future development.
“The goal from day one,” says David Brannon, landscape architect at French Broad Crossing, “has been to safeguard this incredible piece of land that we have been entrusted with—not just for our current residents, but for their children’s children.”
When land is placed under a conservation easement, restrictions are enforced to protect the property’s ecological value. It is a French Broad Crossing A Mountain Community in Harmony with Nature legally binding contract that prevents harmful types of development from taking place now and in the future, while allowing for healthy types of development, such as trails and water quality enhancements.
“We love how French Broad Crossing fits our outdoor lifestyle and is an excellent example of how we can coexist with nature,” says resident Tim Hale. “The protective covenants assure minimal tree removal and minimal impact on the land as homes are built.”
The majority of land FBC has conserved centers on an area known as Elbow Hollow that safeguards the mighty French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world and one of the few that flows north. “We certainly have placed great emphasis on that area, as we want to protect the quality of the water and waterfalls that decorate this land,” says David, who also serves as president of Southeast Regional Conservancy, which holds FBC’s easement. “Over time we have also selected strategic locations to serve as buffer areas— again, with the goal of preserving the quality of the water and the ecosystem as a whole.”
Southeast Regional Conservancy was founded in Asheville in 2002 and has bases of operation here and in Atlanta. Serving parts of five states—North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee—it has preserved 21,000 acres in conservation projects in the Appalachian foothills, forested tracts in the Piedmont, and coastal marshland areas.
FBC residents share their home with healthy forests containing ferns, oaks, pines, maples, and poplars, as well as turkey, deer, bear, hawks, and mountain trout. “By taking care of the land, we take care of ourselves,” says Christen Miller, FBC’s general manager. “Our conservation efforts ensure an undisturbed habitat for the wildlife, which ensures the natural resources remain abundant and aren’t taxed by users of the land. They also give us—the French Broad community—a sense of comfort and fulfillment that we have all contributed to doing the right thing for the wildlife and those resources.” Some trails have been constructed on FBC’s conserved lands, taking care not to infringe on delicate buffer zones. More are planned for the future, along with interpretive signage to identify plants and sensitive wildlife habitat. In addition to its conservation easement, FBC has invested in sustainability by using solar installations and passive solar orientation on most homes, and strongly encourages hiring local architects, builders, and contractors. An on-staff landscape horticulturalist advises residents on how to plant native species, while educational hikes led by property owners and biologists help increase stewardship of the natural resources.
“This community is comprised of people from all across the nation, at varying stages of life, yet everyone is knit together by a common bond: to enjoy and protect this beautiful land,” says Christen. “They view the land not as a right, but as a gift, a blessing which the people are entrusted to maintain and steward, an attitude that permeates the very fabric of life here.”