Conserving The Ridges Of The Southern Blue Ridge

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, announced on Thursday the protection of more than 1,680 acres of high-elevation ridges and pristine headwaters in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Located in both North Carolina and Tennessee, the conservation acquisition was made possible with funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and connects more than 127,000 acres of public lands from Cherokee National Forest to Mount Rogers National Recreation area in Virginia.

From the property’s highest elevations, including the 4,325-foot Bald Knob, one can see three states and many high peaks, including Mt. Rogers and Whitetop in Virginia, as well as Snake Mountain, Elk Knob and Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. The land, known as Cut Laurel Gap, features some of the best remaining stream habitat for Southern Appalachian Brook Trout and will eventually be open to the public for fishing as well as hunting for ruffed grouse, turkey, white-tailed deer and black bear.

Cherokee National Forest Supervisor JaSal Morris said, “This is an outstanding example of how federal, state and private partners can work together to achieve common goals. This beautiful and unique tract of land will be a great addition to the Cherokee National Forest.”

The Conservation Fund purchased the Cut Laurel Gap property in December 2013, serving as the temporary owner until funding could be provided for its permanent protection. In 2016, it transferred 586 acres in North Carolina to the Wildlife Resources Commission with a grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The conveyance of the final acreage in Tennessee to the U.S. Forest Service this month was made possible with funding from the LWCF. Private contributions from Fred and Alice Stanback and a grant from Trout Unlimited also enabled the protection of land in both states.

“The Cut Laurel Gap property adds an additional 586 acres to Pond Mountain Game Land, connecting it to the Cherokee National Forest and establishing a significant wildlife travel corridor,” said Kip Hollifield, Mountain Ecoregion supervisor with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “The Cut Laurel Gap project was a complicated one since it spanned state boundaries. Acquiring this valuable property would not have been successful without the cooperative efforts of multiple conservation partners. The North Carolina portion of the property is currently open for public use.”

This conservation effort was selected as part of a national, agency-wide competitive and merit-based process within the U.S. Forest Service, which prioritized the project for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017 LWCF funding. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Representative Phil Roe (TN-1) supported Tennessee’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program. LWCF is a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to acquire critical lands and protect our country’s best natural resources for more than 50 years.

“Today’s announcement that more than 1,600 acres of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains will be permanently protected is another great example of how federal, state and local officials in Tennessee and private organizations, like The Conservation Fund, work together to use funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help protect Tennessee’s and the nation’s lands and heritage,” said Senator Alexander. “When I chaired the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, one of the main recommendations of the commission was to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund—and the completion of the Cut Laurel Gap project is another example of the great work being done in Tennessee with LWCF funding to ensure future generations have an opportunity to enjoy the Great American Outdoors.”

“Millions of people visit Tennessee each year to experience our incredible God-given outdoor amenities, and this newly protected land in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains will help conserve stream habitats for trout and expand recreational opportunities for Tennesseans and visitors,” said Senator Corker. “I am also pleased that headwaters for South Holston Lake, which provides drinking water for many Bristol residents, will be protected. It is important that these resources are available for future generations, and I appreciate the hard work of all who are making that a priority.”

“As an avid outdoorsman, protecting East Tennessee’s national forests and parks is very important to me,” said Rep. Roe. “The Cherokee National Forest is a treasure in East Tennessee that greatly contributes to the local economy, which is why I've joined our senators to support funding for the Cut Laurel Gap project. This project, which will preserve approximately 1,684 acres of high-altitude habitat, will help increase public recreation in our state.”

The headwaters located on the property, together with one linear mile of perennial streams also now conserved, are tributaries to South Holston Lake, which provides drinking water to residents in Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia, and popular water-based recreation for more than four million visitors and surrounding communities along the Tennessee-Virginia border and each year.

“Nestled next to Cherokee National Forest, the ridges, bogs and mountain balds of the Cut Laurel Gap property provide a natural extension to the mosaic of conserved lands in the Southern Blue Ridge,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee representative with The Conservation Fund. “The natural and community benefits of protecting a landscape like this are not confined within state boundaries, and we are grateful to the U.S. Forest Service and the State of North Carolina for their partnership. We also thank Senators Alexander and Corker and Representative Roe for their continued support of LWCF, which is so critical to conservation here and across the country.”

“Trout fishing in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee generates hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for local economies,” said Keith Curley, vice president for Eastern Conservation with Trout Unlimited. “By conserving brook trout habitat and opening up public access, the Land and Water Conservation Fund again delivers a conservation success with the Cut Laurel Gap project to enable current and future generations of anglers to enjoy this valuable resource.”



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