For more than four decades, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) has been working to protect the stunning places beloved by visitors to the Blue Ridge. Since 1974, SAHC has protected over 73,000 acres of plant and animal habitat, sources of clean water, productive farmland, scenic beauty, and places for people to enjoy outdoor recreation in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.
SAHC often works in partnership with public agencies like the US Forest Service and National Park Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and NC /TN state parks. They have helped secure thousands of acres now enjoyed as public lands. Be sure to visit some of these.
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Top 10 SAHC Protected Places to Explore
The Highlands of Roan: (photo above) Straddling the NC/TN border, the Highlands of Roan contain globally significant ecosystems and hiking trails. Here, the Appalachian Trail traverses the world's longest contiguous stretch of grassy balds. Brilliant Catawba rhododendron, Flame azalea, and rare Gray's lily blooms attract an abundance of hikers to this high elevation marvel. The Stan Murray Shelter on the AT and a memorial plaque at Houston Ridge commemorate SAHC’s founder. In addition to ongoing land protection, SAHC leads a multi-partner effort to manage habitat and recreation areas of the Roan — including volunteer work days open to the public.
Mt. Mitchell State Park: You can see SAHC-protected lands in every direction from the observation tower atop this highest elevation peak in the Eastern U.S. — including almost 10,000 private acres protected by conservation easement just to the west. SAHC secured and transferred tracts that were included in the state park and purchased a 2-acre parcel in the saddle of Deep Gap, which was later transferred to the US Forest Service for public ownership. It is a popular camping spot for hikers trekking north from Mt. Mitchell State Park. The Deep Gap Trail is a relatively strenuous hike that begins at Mt. Mitchell and winds its way to Deep Gap, then continues beyond as the Black Mountain Crest Trail, traversing six of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.
Hemphill Bald: Located on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the site of SAHC’s first land conservation easement, the historic Cataloochee Ranch has been family owned and managed for three generations. The 800-acre, privately owned & operated ranch offers lodging, horseback riding, hiking, wagon rides and more. SAHC-protected lands here provide a valuable refuge for wildlife, including a number of threatened migratory songbirds, on the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enjoy sweeping views from the open crest of Hemphill Bald after emerging from the park’s Hemphill Bald Trail.
French Broad River: The world’s third oldest river is central to our western North Carolina's economy, tourism, agriculture, and way of life. In addition to the French Broad River Basin, they target surrounding high grassy meadows, forested coves, and farmland.
SAHC Community Farm: Just 12 miles from downtown Asheville in the community of Alexander is a 135-acre farm property that serves as a demonstration model where productive agriculture and environmental health go hand-in-hand. An interpretive 1.5-mile Discovery Trail (available to the public during guided hikes and scheduled tours) meanders across the property. Stops include discussion of various conservation and farming projects on site, including SAHC’s stream restoration area, Shortleaf pine reforestation project, Farmer Incubator Program, and Farmer Education Workshops. Visit during special events only. The Community Farm is available for weddings and events with outdoor spaces with mountain views, farmhouse and indoor event space. Wedding packages are available for small elopements to all-day events for up to 180 guests.
Waterrock Knob: The Blue Ridge Parkway is in the process of expanding the Waterrock Knob area, incorporating into the public park thousands of acres collaboratively protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. Perched in the Balsam Mountains between Waynesville and Maggie Valley, the area offers majestic views and high elevation spruce-fir forest habitat.
Snowball Mountain Trail: Nestled in the Craggy Mountains, this 90-acre tract adjoins the publicly accessible Snowball Mountain Trail and Camp Sequoyah Trail. SAHC’s purchase of Snowball Mountain protects wildlife corridors, habitat for native species, and diverse plant communities adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest. Access to the Snowball Mountain Trail is near Craggy Gardens Picnic Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Rough Creek Watershed: Find more than 10 miles of trails, open to the public for hiking and mountain biking year-round. The 870-acre property is owned by the Town of Canton and protected by a conservation easement held by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and co-managed with SAHC. It encompasses exceptional clean water resources and unique ecosystems. Trails are open to public but tricky to follow.
Hickory Nut Gap Farm: Located between the fertile bottomlands of Fairview, NC and Hickory Nut Gorge, the land on which Hickory Nut Gap Farm operates has been protected with an agricultural conservation easement. They offer local grass fed meats, farm tours, and more. Other farms operating on land protected by SAHC conservation easement include: Flying Cloud Farm, Claxton Farm, Reeves Homeplace Farm, Sandy Mush Herb Nursery, and Bee Branch Farm.
Go to the SAHC Web site for more information about their work. Become a member or donate to help protect more mountain places.