By Emma Castleberry
Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has raised more than $3.2 million for permanent protection of a 332-acre property in Blowing Rock that contains the headwaters of the Johns River and an iconic viewshed for The Blowing Rock attraction. The parcel of land is located on the Blue Ridge escarpment, in both the Blowing Rock and Globe communities of Caldwell County. “This was and is one of the few areas that has remained undisturbed by civilization in Blowing Rock which borders Pisgah National Forest and the town’s namesake attraction,” says Charlie Sellers, mayor of Blowing Rock and proprietor of The Blowing Rock attraction, a famous cliff known for its strong wind gusts.
The Johns River is a major tributary of the Catawba River and its headwaters provide habitat for many threatened plant and animal species documented by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. Sellers has fond memories of hiking the Johns River Gorge as a teenager, spotting wild animals in the wooded areas by the water. “Generations before us saw a need to conserve tracts of land for their children and grandchildren,” he says. “I am so pleased that our generation is planning for our children and grandchildren’s future.”
Of the money already raised, substantial funding came from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, the NC Department of Justice’s Ecosystem Enhancement Grant program, and the Glass Foundation. The overall fundraising goal is $4 million, which will allow for acquisition and permanent protection of the property through a conservation easement held by the State of North Carolina as well as the design of a public use trail along the upper section of the property. “The purchase of the land for permanent conservation and the trail development aspect of the project are conditional on whether we can raise the funds necessary to complete both,” says Andrew Kota, executive director of the Foothills Conservancy.
The current trail concept is four miles long with about 700 feet in elevation change, highlighting the unique aspects of the land like exposed granite, large boulders and impressive views. “Trails are an integral part of our mission,” says the Conservancy’s trails program director Shane Prisby. “They provide a window into the hard work we do every day to conserve, restore and manage land for future generations. By providing public access to our properties, we can showcase the importance of land conservation and provide people the opportunity to create lifelong memories with friends and loved ones, or a space for quiet contemplation and personal reflection.”
To learn more or donate to the project, visit FoothillsConservancy.org.