Conservation Outdoors

Conservation: Foothills Conservancy Gains Important Tract in Catawba River Basin

By Emma Castleberry

Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina (FCNC) has acquired 130 acres in Catawba County along the Jacob Fork River in the Catawba River Basin. The land, which was purchased with funding from a private conservationist, will eventually be transferred to North Carolina State Parks for the development of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail.

For more than 230 years, this property has belonged to a single family. Michele Kling is a descendant of John Jacob Weaver, who bought the land in 1786 at an astonishing price of 70 pounds for 226 acres. Kling has been visiting the property since she was a little girl. “We would go exploring,” she says, describing how she and her brother would dip their feet in the ice cold water of the river, collect eggs from the chickens and milk the cow. “We lived in Miami,” she says, “so it was a treat for us to be out in the country and go barefoot and have to wash our feet because of the red clay.”

Most of the family’s ancestors were subsistence farmers, potters and weavers who worked off the land, which contains a scenic half-mile of shoreline along the Jacob Fork River, a source of drinking water for the town of Newton downstream. “The river frontage is gorgeous,” Kling says. “You could just sit there for hours and listen to the water.”

A biologist contracted by FCNC discovered more than 200 species of plants on the property. In the river, there was also documented occurrence of the Seagreen Darter, a freshwater fish rated “Significantly Rare” by the NC Natural Heritage Program. “We always knew it was a neat place,” Kling says. “It’s really neat when a third party says it, too.”

Kling inherited the property along with her brother, sister and cousin, also descendents of John Jacob Weaver. “We sold it to the Conservancy so it would never be developed, so the land will still be ours to enjoy,” she says. “We look forward to still hiking hiking the property and going to the river. I’m hoping it won’t be too long before there are trails we can enjoy and use to be with nature.”

A recently passed state funding package that included $3 million for the development of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail means that Kling’s dream of walking the property soon might be realized. “With this available funding, it’s possible that NC State Parks will be able to provide passive recreation access to the public in the project area in the near-term,” says Andrew Kota, executive director of FCNC. “FCNC anticipates conveying ownership of this property to NC State Parks in 2022 or 2023. At that time, the state will own approximately 310 acres of adjoining land along the Jacob Fork River at the project location.”

To learn more, visit FoothillsConservancy.org or Trails.nc.gov/state-trails/wilderness-gateway-state-trail.

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