Pond Mountain conservation completed

Linda Burchette, Assistant Editor

January 24, 2011

In late December, a four-year long effort to protect Pond Mountain in the northwestern corner of North Carolina was completed. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Blue Ridge Conservancy, a private, non-profit land trust based in Boone, nearly 1,800 acres on this beautiful Ashe County mountain have been purchased and transferred to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). The project permanently protects significant views, open space, water resources and wildlife while creating recreational and economic opportunities.
At 5,000 feet elevation, Pond Mountain overlooks the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Immediately to the north are the peaks of Virginias Grayson Highlands State Park and Jefferson National Forest, Mount Rogers and White Top Mountain. To the west lies Tennessees expansive Cherokee National Forest. Visible to the east and south are the high peaks of North Carolinas Blue Ridge. Pond Mountain is about a 30 minute drive from the mountain community of West Jefferson.
According to Walter Clark, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Conservancy, protecting Pond Mountain involved multiple private and public partners. 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.
The protection of Pond Mountain began with a major gift from a private donor through the Foundation for the Carolinas and was completed with substantial assistance from the North Carolinas Natural Heritage and Clean Water Management Trust Funds.
Pond Mountain was given its name in the 1700s by Thomas Jeffersons father, Peter Jefferson, as he was surveying the line that would become the border of North Carolina and Virginia. Jefferson chose the name because of the many natural ponds that dotted the mountains high ridgeline. The historic ponds point to the mountains special significance as an important water resource. Several important streams and creeks originate on Pond Mountain, including Big Laurel, Ripshin and Big Horse Creeks all of which flow into the New River, a National Heritage River and one of the oldest rivers in the world. Land conservation and water quality protection go hand in hand, said Richard Rogers, executive director of the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Both are essential to the sustainability of our natural resources and heritage and to our economy as well.
In addition to preserving the regions natural beauty and vital water resources, the protection of Pond Mountain is important for wildlife. Because of the mountains close proximity to Cherokee National Forest to the west and Jefferson National Forest to the north, protecting the area greatly expands wildlife habitat, including habitats highlighted in North Carolinas State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). Pond Mountain will be held by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and will eventually be open to the public for hunting and other recreational activities such as hiking and horseback riding.
Conservation of the Pond Mountain tract will protect priority aquatic and terrestrial habitats while providing wide-ranging public recreational opportunities, said NCWRC Director Gordon Myers. We are thrilled to be part of this project that will protect wildlife, recreational and economic resources for North Carolina.
Despite the economic downturn, Blue Ridge Conservancys success on Pond Mountain leaves the organization optimistic about future of land conservation in North Carolina. According to Clark, protecting Pond Mountain was a major goal for our organization. We hope it is a first step in protecting surrounding properties, ultimately preserving thousands of acres in the northwestern corner of North Carolina.
The mission of Blue Ridge Conservancy is to protect the natural resources of northwestern North Carolina by conserving land with significant agricultural, ecological, cultural, recreational or scenic value. Serving landowners in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey counties, Blue Ridge Conservancy has protected a total of 16,109 acres.