Choose-and-cut to benefit Ashe conservation

Dylan LightfootStaff Writer

November 29, 2012

Walter Clark, executive director of Blue Ridge Conservancy, is a man on a mission “to protect the important land and water resources” of North Carolina’s High Country, and “to preserve the rural integrity” of mountain life.

To that end, BRC is holding a choose-and-cut Christmas tree fundraiser this Saturday at Old Orchard Creek farm in Lansing. Proceeds from the sale will go to fund BRC’s operations.

Old Orchard Creek bills itself as an artisan mountain farm raising blueberries and apples with sustainable practices — they are not in the tree business. But, there are several hundred trees on the farm ready for cutting this season, and “it was either use them or let them grow,” Clark said.

BRC’s stated mission is to permanently protect natural resources of agricultural, ecological, cultural, recreational and scenic value in northwestern North Carolina. The private non-profit was formed when West Jefferson’s Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust and Boone’s High Country Conservancy merged in 2010.

Clark, a Lansing resident who is also co-proprietor of OOC, said BRC’s preservation efforts in the seven counties area makes use of two key strategies: purchase and transfer, and conservation easement.

Using state monies and private donations, BRC purchases private land and transfers ownership to state agencies like the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, said Clark.

In this way, a 2,000-acre state game preserve was created on Pond Mountain in 2008, to which BRC recently added another 400 acres. “We’ve been leading the effort to preserve that mountain,” he said.

“We also work with landowners to protect land through conservation easement,” Clark said

This involves a voluntary but legally binding agreement between a landowner and the government which defines the use of the land and restricts development in perpetuity. Landowners retain ownership, but future owners are also bound by the agreement.

Rob McCorkindale, BRC’s Development and Communication Director, said the organization has protected 16,400 acres in the seven counties area, with approximately 5,000 in Ashe County. Roughly half the acreage has been preserved though purchase and transfer, the other half by conservation easement, he said.

In addition to the Pond Mountain state preserve, BRC has worked to expand the borders of Elk Knob State Park. Elsewhere in the seven counties, BRC has helped create Beech Creek Bog, Bear Paw and Bullhead Mountain state natural areas.

The BRC Christmas Tree Choose & Cut will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at Old Orchard Creek farm, 410 Swansie Shepherd Road, Lansing. For more information, call BRC’s office in Boone at 828-264-2511.