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Preservation of key heritage sites marks 2004

Posted Wednesday, January 26, 2005

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RALEIGH - Several key natural areas in North Carolina received protection in 2004, thanks to the combined efforts of three state conservation trust funds, non-profit organizations and the new Ecosystem Enhancement Program.

The North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund joined with EEP and private land conservation groups across the state to save some of the state’s most pristine and ecologically significant natural areas from being lost to development. As a result, water quality and habitat for endangered and threatened species will be permanently protected, impact of growth around military bases will be reduced and more recreational opportunities will be available to the public.

Key conservation projects for 2004 include:

•A 276-acre acquisition for addition to Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest in Wilkes County. The land purchase will allow the N.C. Division of Forest Resources to begin a comprehensive stream restoration project on a creek that lies in the watershed of the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir, which supplies drinking water for Wilkesboro and other parts of the Piedmont Triad.

•The purchase of 2,915 acres in Burke County to expand Lake James State Park by nearly six times its current size, protecting key natural resources, water quality and boosting tourism and recreational opportunities. The state is expected to complete the acquisition in early 2005.

•The purchase of 11 tracts of Shaken Creek in Pender and Onslow counties in the Cape Fear River basin. These tracts are included in a Nationally Significant Natural Heritage Area and are adjacent to the Camp Lejeune Marine Base Joint Land Use Study planning area. (One tract closed in 2004; the rest will close in 2005).

•The award of over $3.5 million from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to help protect 1,249 acres along waterways adjacent to Seymour Johnson Air Force and Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. These acquisitions will not only protect water quality but will aid in protecting the bases from encroachment from development.

•The purchase of 39 acres on Mountain Island Lake and 184 acres along upper Lake Wylie to complement existing protection areas within the critical areas for water supply intake.

•The acquisition of the 125-acre “Eure tract” at the northern boundary of William B. Umstead State Park in Wake County, purchased in conjunction with trust funds and Wake County. It will provide a buffer against development north of the park and protect water quality in the Crabtree Creek area.

•A 188-acre acquisition at the Gorges State Park in Transylvania County on the eastern side of the Toxaway River. It will protect the viewshed on U.S. 64 near the park’s entrance and will protect water quality in the Toxaway watershed.

•A 531-acre acquisition on the western side of the Mayo River in Rockingham County will protect water quality in that drainage and provide the core property for a new state park.

•The purchase of 164 acres along the Scuppernong River near Pettigrew State Park in Washington County will protect water quality and scenic values and contribute to a corridor of public lands in this sensitive ecosystem.

•The 1,000 acres to be added to Bushy Lake State Natural Area in Cumberland County. It will protect rare habitats on the dry Bushy Lake and Big White Carolina bays.

•The 2,152-acre acquisition at Len’s Knob and Little Mountain in Surry County. The scenic vistas and troutwaters on this large tract along the upper Mitchell River headwaters make it a good candidate for public access. A transfer to the state Wildlife Resources Commission for public use is planned. The acquisition protects seven miles of outstanding resource waters. As a result of the purchase, 10,000 contiguous acres are now protected in the upper Mitchell watershed.

•A 506-acre purchase in Stanley Creek Forest in Gaston County. The preservation of the North Stanley Creek watershed completed protection of the highest priority natural area in Gaston County and doubled the permanently protected land in the area.

•A 786-acre acquisition at Drowning Creek Camp Mackall in Moore and Richmond counties. The acquisition of the high quality blackwater stream protects the largest water supply intake in the county and protects habitats for several rare sandhills species. The sites will add nearly 800 acres to the Sandhills Gamelands.

•A 545-acre purchase at Little Tablerock Mountain in Mitchell, Avery, and McDowell counties. The Blue Ridge Parkway is adjacent to this site, which includes the corners of three mountain counties. Dense rhododendron and clear streams make this site a haven for trout, black bear and other animals. Public accessibility is planned through transfer of the property to the Wildlife Resources Commission.

•A 726-acre acquisition in Carteret County along two miles of Pettiford Creek. The Pettiford Creek property is bordered on three sides by Croatan National Forest and will greatly facilitate the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to manage adjacent natural areas and rare species habitats through prescribed burning.

•A 110-acre acquisition at New River Heights in Ashe County. The acquisition will add to a 45-acre section of the New River State Park and contains a mature hardwood forest and 4,000 linear feet of river frontage on the South Fork of the New River. Protection of the property was vital to the beauty of the South Fork of the New River, a National Scenic River. This portion of the river is a favorite of canoeists and fishermen. The river contains several rare aquatic species.

•The placement of 1,220 acres of Duke Forest on the State Registry of Natural Heritage Areas. Duke Forest contains some of the best remaining natural areas in the Eastern Piedmont; these areas provide important landscape connections between New Hope Creek to Jordan Lake Game Lands. The registry will protect habitat for area-sensitive species such as bobcat while allowing the continued use of the forest for research and teaching. (The registry is a voluntary agreement, which recognizes the special natural features of a natural area and the landowner’s willingness to protect those features. In 2004, over 300 natural areas, representing more than 600,000 acres, were included in the voluntary program.)

•The Upper Tar River Basin agreement. The Tar River Land Conservancy signed a "memorandum of understanding" with International Paper, The Nature Conservancy, and several state and federal partners that will protect more than 57 miles along the Upper Tar River. The agreement protects riparian hardwood forests adjacent to some of the most ecologically rich streams in the state.

•Enhanced public access to beaches and coastal waters through a record $1.8 million in grants for 23 projects in 21 local communities for public access projects. The grants help pay for a variety of projects to improve access to coastal beaches and waters, including walkways, dune crossovers, restrooms, parking areas and piers.

The CWMTF was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1996 to help finance projects that enhance or restore degraded waters, protect unpolluted waters, and/or contribute toward a network of riparian buffers and greenways for environmental, educational, and recreational benefits.

The Natural Heritage Trust Fund was created by the General Assembly in 1987 as a supplemental funding source for state agencies to acquire and protect the state's ecological diversity and cultural heritage and to inventory the natural areas of the state.

The North Carolina General Assembly established the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund in 1994 to fund improvements in the state’s park system, to fund grants for local governments and to increase the public’s access to the state’s beaches.

EEP combines an existing state wetlands-restoration initiative from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with advance-mitigation efforts by the state Department of Transportation to offset unavoidable impacts from transportation projects. EEP’s mission, over a two-year transition period and beyond, is to improve habitat, stream and water-quality protection, and to reduce road-construction delays by streamlining required environmental-permitting processes.

The efforts are key parts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ One North Carolina Naturally initiative. The program focuses on coordinating a statewide conservation plan with public and private partners and landowners and restoring functional ecosystems, biological diversity and working landscapes through the stewardship of land and water resources.

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