In a time when Ashe County is faced with the possible closure of Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area as a recreation venue, the opportunity to open another mountain to the public was completed in January with the transfer of Pond Mountain to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC).
With the mountains opening this August, Pond Mountain will serve the area as both a nature conservancy for protected species and game land for hunters. It will also offer trails for horseback riding and hiking as well as a primitive campground.
The four-year long effort to purchase the private lands and transform the mountain into a public resource was completed in five phases by the Blue Ridge Conservancy.
A Boone based nonprofit land trust the conservancys interest in the mountain was three-fold before it was eventually transferred to the state wildlife commission agency.
One of the reasons was Pond Mountains scenic value, Executive Director Walter Clark said. It is situated right in the middle of four other mountains (Mt. Rogers, Whitetop, Threetop and Mt. Jefferson).
Another reason was for the wildlife habitat because its adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and it would be an increase in an already large area available for wildlife.
Conservancy officials realized the importance of protecting the mountains water quality as it is the head waters for Big Horse, Little Horse and Big Laurel tributaries that eventually flow into the North Fork of the New River, Clark said.
Land conservation and water quality go hand in hand, Clark said.
Previously owned by Dale Shepherd, the conservancy began purchasing the property after it was handed down to his heirs.
Clark explained the first stage of purchasing was completed with the contribution of a private donor in the amount of $1.3 million. Other phases were also completed in part through two state trust funds (CLEAR Water Management and National Heritage trust funds).
In these days of tight economic resources conserving land is challenging it takes time, creativity and the melding together of a variety of funding resources, Clark said in a press release. We hope its the first step in protecting surrounding properties, ultimately preserving thousands of acres in the northwestern corner of North Carolina.
With the paperwork finalized, the state resource commission, NCWRC, is aiming for an Aug. 1 public opening date.
Commission Supervising Wildlife Biologist Gordon Warburton said officials are still trying to establish gates and complete a parking area before it will be truly public accessible.
Unlike a state maintained park, Pond Mountain is a game land and will not be regularly staffed, but instead will be overseen by a group of tract managers based out of the Traphill area.
Although the nearly 1,800 acres of protected land will serve the local habitat as a conservancy, it will also offer local outdoorsmen new hunting grounds that in turn fund future nature conservancy efforts.
The two (hunting and conservation) are very interrelated, Warburton said. Hunting dollars provide money for conservations and is an integral part of our plan.
Hunting on the protected lands, should begin after the mountains opening in August and will be on a permit basis for this year to allow existing Christmas tree operations time to wind down as outlined in the transfer of the land, Clark said.
All seasonal hunts will be done in three-day blocks and information for permits can be found at www.ncwildlife.org under the regulations digest.
After the current stand of trees are harvest near the mountains peak, the conservancy plans on planting high elevation shrubbery for certain species of birds. A wetlands restoration project of the mountains ponds and other water sources should encourage the arrival of new species of frogs and salamanders, said Clark.
Through our work, we will enhance the habitat and existing species (bear and deer) should respond, said Clark. Our goal will be to maintain the current population levels of existing species.
This is an area we have had our eye on for a long time and are excited from a conservation standpoint to be stewards of the land.
Published: 1:37 PM, 02/04/2011
Last updated: 1:37 PM, 02/04/2011
by Jesse Campbell