Conservation Outdoors

Outdoors: The Great American Outdoors Act in Action

The Highlands of Roan. Photo by Ravis Bordley

By Emma Castleberry

Conservationists everywhere released a long-held breath when the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law on August 4. Among other things, this Act finally provides permanent, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) is particularly excited about this legislative development. “For several years, SAHC has been an active partner in the LWCF coalition, advocating for federal funding for land and water conservation, reauthorization of legislation enabling LWCF and permanent, dedicated LWCF funding,” says Angela Shepherd, communications director for SAHC.

Tanasee Ridge. Photo courtesy of SAHC

“The Great American Outdoors Act is the vehicle that finally ‘fixes’ funding issues with LWCF.” The Act will help to address an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance on national public lands. “Congress has shortchanged the public for decades and now the wear and tear are showing,” says Jay Leutze, SAHC advisor to the Board. “People want to know that when we buy public lands, we are prepared to take care of them. Each national forest and park unit keeps a record of the backlog of maintenance and management items. The Great American Outdoors Act funding will help fix leaking roofs, broken bathrooms and more throughout the region.”  The US Forest Service will use LWCF funds secured by the Act to purchase the following recently acquired lands from SAHC, making each of the properties part of a National Forest.

Big Creek
The 110-acre Big Creek property in Macon County is nationally significant as a headwater source for the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River. In addition to its unique watershed location, the Big Creek property boasts a variety of habitats including granite cliffs, oak-hickory forest and riparian areas, which support a diversity of species like chantrelle mushrooms, otters and salamanders.

This property is outside of SAHC’s typical focus areas, so the organization coordinated with Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT) in the protection effort.

“This tract, which is both the gateway to Secret Falls and contains significant natural heritage, has always been high on the priority list for the Nantahala Ranger District,” says Gary Wein, executive director of HCLT.

Waterfall on USFS land off Big Creek property. Photo courtesy of SAHC

Tanasee Ridge
The 109-acre Tanasee Ridge property straddles Jackson and Transylvania counties. Surrounded by Nantahala National Forest on three sides, this property is significant because of its potential to provide an alternate public access to Panthertown Valley. It also contains important water resources in the Wolf Creek-Tuckasegee River Watershed.

Tiger Creek
The 54-acre Tiger Creek property will be made a part of the Cherokee National Forest when SAHC transfers it to the US Forest Service. Located in the Highlands of Roan, the tract is within 2,000 feet of the Appalachian Trail. “Located on the northern slopes of Iron Mountain, the Tiger Creek property was destined for protection,” says SAHC land protection director Michelle Pugliese. “Overlapping its western boundary is the 608-acre Moffett Laurel Botanical Area, which is noted for the presence of rare plant and animal species and high-quality natural communities. Those communities include northern hardwood forest, rich montane seeps and swamp forest-bog complex.”

So next time you find yourself in one of our region’s vast and impressive public lands (hopefully on Saturday, September 26—National Public Lands Day!), take a moment to appreciate the tireless efforts of conservationists who are protecting and expanding these special places. “Our natural heritage is something that everyone in the region owns a part of,” says Leutze, “and especially during this pandemic crisis, we are reminded of how healthy trails, rivers and mountaintops make us all.”

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