Habitat for threatened and endangered species. A key area for the restoration of an important native tree. Old growth forests. These are just a few of the things being protected in North Carolina due to a large land donation from Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney.
Sweeney, whose company is based in The Tar Heel State, is donating 7,500 acres of mountainous land in northwestern North Carolina to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. This is the largest donation the conservancy has received in its 47-year history.
Carl Silverstein, executive director of the land trust, says, “As we watch so much of our region get carved into sub-divisions, strategic acquisition of large parcels of land is increasingly important — and increasingly hard to accomplish. In twenty years this gift might be one of the few sites in Western North Carolina that still looks like it looked one hundred years ago, or one thousand years ago.
“These parcels include some of the most sought-after conservation acres in the eastern United States, including over 100 miles of pristine creeks and streams. We really are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility to steward this vast mountain complex.”
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SAHC says Sweeney had long planned to take the separate Roan Highlands parcels involved in this donation and conserve them as a complete mountain ecosystem. Conservancy Senior Advisor Jay Leutze explains that the transfer will occur over the next year. Once that happens, SAHC will manage the area as a nature preserve. He says this acquisition will be a boon to local kids, as they’ll be offering guided hikes in the mountains. There, students, scouts, and church groups will be able to learn about migratory songbirds who make stops there, as well as the importance of healthy forests and the role they play in clean drinking water.
Leutze adds, “This property is the back yard for a lot of people who treasure it for the clear air and scenic views it provides. In a world that is constantly changing our commitment is to keep this place functioning as a healthy ecosystem forever.”
The Greater Roan Highlands include 60,000 acres of summits and ridgelines along North Carolina’s border with Tennessee, down to the outskirts of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail crosses a portion of the area up north. It’s also home to more than 1,500 native plant species. Fortunately, a lot of this pristine area is already protected, with the public able to enjoy more than 20,000 acres belonging to the U.S. Forest Service. There are other portions protected by The Nature Conservancy and the State of North Carolina.
The portion involved in Sweeney’s donation includes the largest American Chestnut restoration project in the country, boulder fields, coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heath-balds. This is in addition to being habitat for many threatened and endangered species.
Sweeney has a history of similar conservation moves. In 2016, he donated a 7,000-acre conservation easement in the Box Creek Wilderness of North Carolina to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That area is also home to at-risk species and habitats.
At a University of Maryland event, Sweeney said, “Land conservation is the one unquestionably practical and cost-effective thing we can do to protect ecology and the future habitability of the planet.”Whizzco