By Gina Malone | Photos courtesy of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) recently acquired a 234-acre tract of land located in the Highlands of Roan that had been considered a conservation priority for decades and fills in a previously private gap in the Pisgah National Forest. The property, Yellow Spot, is considered “a microcosm of the Roan Highlands” near the NC/TN state line, according to Marquette Crockett, SAHC’s Roan stewardship director.
“The high-elevation property is home to a variety of rare plant and animal species and contains more than 2.5 miles of pure headwater streams,” says Michelle Pugliese, land protection director for SAHC. “Because the property contains a variety of habitat types over varied and high-elevation topographies, its protection will provide a refuge for species to withstand the impacts of climate change.”
Land in the Roan began to be acquired by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in 1941 as a means of ending excessive logging on steep slopes, which had led to severe erosion. “The USFS has managed Pisgah and Cherokee national forests for both forest quality and public recreation,” Pugliese says. “SAHC’s acquisition of the Yellow Spot property will ensure more seamless land management practices through our working partnership with the USFS and other conservation partners.” A private conservation buyer purchased the tract three years ago so that it would not be sold for development, and acquisition of the property by SAHC was made possible by Fred and Alice Stanback, The Biltmore Company and other private donors.
Previously owned by a timber company, Yellow Spot’s last harvest occurred more than 20 years ago. “The steep terrain made some of the portions of the property less accessible, allowing these sensitive habitats to remain intact and undisturbed,” Pugliese says. “It adjoins a 195- acre preserve owned by SAHC and a large expanse of Pisgah and Cherokee national forests, thereby expanding one of the most biologically significant networks of conservation land in the country.” Among the flora and fauna found at Yellow Spot, some of them rare, are Gray’s lily, bog goldenrod, trailing wolfsbane, the Carolina northern flying squirrel, the Northern Saw-whet Owl and the eastern spotted skunk.
Although the land will remained privately owned by SAHC for the foreseeable future and not open to the public, it preserves the view from nearby publicly accessible lands. “The Appalachian Trail is located roughly 2.5 miles to the east, where visitors can traverse the high-elevation grassy balds and enjoy stunning 360-degree long-range views,” Pugliese says. “For those less inclined to tackle the Appalachian Trail, they can stroll through the Rhododendron Gardens just west of Carvers Gap and look out over Yellow Spot.” Its namesake peak rises above 5,100 feet and is visible from Bakersville and Buladean in Mitchell County and from other locations throughout the region. One theory for the name is the blooming of American chestnut trees once abundant in the Roan. “These blooms atop the high-elevation peak on this property may have led people to call it the Yellow Spot,” Pugliese says.
“SAHC’s work seeks to expand and connect existing networks of protected land to conserve wildlife habitat, water resources, scenic views, places for people to recreate and fertile soil to support productive farmland,” Pugliese says. “The Yellow Spot property contains many of these conservation features together on one tract of land, making this acquisition especially unique. Through this important work, we are safeguarding some of America’s most rare habitats and beloved recreation landscapes.”
SAHC president Jay Leutze compares land acquisition to a puzzle. “In our line of work, losing a piece of the puzzle can interrupt the integrity of a wildlife corridor or close off a gateway into the landscape for hikers.” Yellow Spot, he says, would have been desirable as a place for timber harvest or development. “But now Yellow Spot is safe.”
Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy will hold its annual June Jamboree on Saturday, June 15, with five different guided hikes in the Roan open to the public, followed by a social gathering at SAHC’s Big Rock Creek preserve. From July 19–21, volunteers are invited to help manage a rare grassy bald habitat while camping out for the weekend during the annual Grassy Ridge Mow-Off. To learn more about Yellow Spot and SAHC, or to register for these and other events, visit Appalachian.org.