By Dave Russell
In an era of spreading out, Jackson County residents will soon have another 157 acres of open space to get away from each other. Mainspring Conservation Trust, which has an office in downtown Sylva, was awarded grant funds from the N.C. Land and Water Fund to purchase a parcel in the Plott Balsams.
The land, 157 contiguous, sloping acres, lies in the headwaters of Dills Branch, adjacent to Sylva’s 1,088-acre Pinnacle Park.
“It’s in our Plott Balsams focus area,” Mainspring Land Conservation Manager Sara Posey-Davis said. “We have not actually bought it yet. We are under a long contract to purchase the property. Part of the due diligence of the contract is to get the grant award.”
Mainspring submitted four applications to the Land and Water Fund this cycle, and of 100 applications submitted, Mainspring had the first, sixth, seventh and 13th highest-scoring projects in the state.
The Jackson project was ranked sixth.
“We knew it would score well, because of the natural heritage elements on the property, but we had to go through the application process,” Posey-Davis said.
The total purchase price is currently under negotiation, she said. “The landowners have agreed to a bargain sale price,” Posey-Davis said. “We haven’t gotten a final survey, and we’re negotiating by the price per acre, so we don’t actually know the final figure.”
Grant contract in hand, the nonprofit will match that with private dollars to purchase the property by next May, she said.
“At that time we won’t have trails constructed and a parking lot or anything,” Posey-Davis said. “After we take ownership we’ll have a conversation with our partners, like trail groups, the town, the county, and at that point, the clock starts ticking as far as when the public can start using the property.”
The parcel would be protected for land and water quality, and offer recreational opportunities such as mountain biking and hiking. Land uses would match those of Pinnacle Park and the nearby Blackrock Tract.
“There are some old logging roads that we think would be really suitable to confer into trails,” she said. “We’ll be managing it for a forested area to protect water quality, but we’ve retained the right to allow sustainable mountain biking trails or hiking trails.”
Mainspring last year spearheaded the purchase of the 441-acre Blackrock Tract, which borders Pinnacle Park to the south and extends down the ridgeline towards U.S. 19, Wolfetown Road. Mainspring serves as steward of the property. The new parcel is on the south side of the slope, bordering Pinnacle to the east and U.S. Forest Service land to the north.
Mainspring is leading the way on purchasing this new property and will monitor the conservation easement, but would work with various partners to find a good fit to actually own the land, Posey-Davis said.
The four Mainspring projects total more than $800,000 received from the N.C. Land and Water Fund. The funds will protect more than 268 acres and 26,400 feet of stream or river footage in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, including nine acres of wetland, two cultural heritage sites, three native brook trout habitat areas and 16 rare plants, animals and natural communities.
The Land and Water Fund is crucial for the successful conservation of large tracts of land in Western North Carolina, Posey-Davis said.
“This real estate can be quite expensive,” she said. “When Mainspring is able to leverage Land and Water Fund grants with private donations, often at a 50/50 ratio, that enables us to conserve important areas that may not be attainable otherwise.”
Mainspring Conservation Trust is a regional nonprofit working to conserve the Southern Blue Ridge’s forests, farms, waters and cultural heritage places. Learn more at mainspringconserves.org.