By Gina Malone
The last piece of a missing link between DuPont State Recreational Forest (DSRF) and a conservation corridor spanning more than 100,000 acres along the North Carolina-South Carolina line was recently conveyed by Conserving Carolina to the NC Forest Service. This second phase of what is called the Continental Divide Tract added 315 acres south of the main body of DuPont to the 402 acres conserved last year in the first phase. The property straddles the Eastern Continental Divide, the separating point for waters flowing toward the Atlantic seaboard and those flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico. Headwater streams protected by this conservation include tributaries to the Green River and Reasonover Creek. Included among the 100,000 acres are Jones Gap State Park, Caesar’s Head State Park, Greenville Watershed, Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, Headwaters State Forest, Gorges State Park, Jocassee Gorges and Sumter and Nantahala National Forests.
Although there is not public access to the tract at this time, its acquisition was important for several reasons. “The addition of the tract to DSRF comes at a time when the NC Forest Service is weighing the merit of a recreational master plan for the Forest,” says Tom Fanslow, Conserving Carolina’s land protection director. “We can’t be certain how the Continental Divide Tract will figure in a future plan, but the addition of 717 acres gives the NC Forest Service more options for providing trail access and expanded hunting opportunities.”
Communications about conserving the land began in July 2008, the year its owner at that time considered plans for creating a gated community. “Our forests are like a wool sweater,” Fanslow says. “A few tears won’t diminish the comfort and warmth. But development gradually unravels the fabric. We may still see lots of trees, but the ecological network is gone. Adding this land to DuPont keeps development from encroaching on the boundary of other conserved land, like the Green River Preserve.”
With this latest addition, DuPont now encompasses nearly 12,500 acres. Forest supervisor Jason Guidry says the hope is that the new property will provide opportunities not available in the rest of the Forest where a well-traveled trail system and popular waterfall attractions draw lots of visitors. “Traditional activities such as hunting and fishing remain an interest to many people, as well as a more remote experience when enjoying nature,” Guidry says. “While there is much to learn about the new property in terms of its natural communities, we are excited in how it may support the mission of the forest through scenic enjoyment and preservation of our forest resources.”
A part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the tract is perched where the land drops greatly in elevation into SC and as such, in the face of climate change, gives plants and animals a chance to adapt by shifting their range. The land contains a variety of habitats, including some wetlands. “Our botanist was frequently puzzled by the plant communities on this tract,” Fanslow says, noting their unexpected variations. “They don’t fit the nomenclature.” Even Duke Energy’s massive power line easement here is an anomaly, he adds. “Most of these corridors are choked with non-native species or blackberry. The corridor crossing the Continental Divide tract resembles a prairie. A few years ago, the US Forest Service harvested native seed from the power line corridor to help restore land elsewhere, and that speaks to the quality of the site.”
Because conservation of the site will help protect water quality as well as preserve a wildlife corridor and create future opportunities for public recreation, vital funding for the project came from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Other major supporters include Open Space Institute, the Duke Energy Water Resources Fund, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the NC Forest Service and individuals. The land was acquired as a bargain sale in three phases from its previous owner, Gwinnett Industries.
Conserving Carolina has been active in protecting DSRF since the 1990s, when, as a young land trust, it helped protect the first 7,600 acres of the state forest.
To learn more about Conserving Carolina’s projects or to become a member, visit ConservingCarolina.org.