NC pursues Backbone Ridge purchase
by Anna Oakes
More than 250 acres of Backbone Ridge — a forested area
that borders Grandfather Mountain, Julian Price Memorial Park, Moses H. Cone
Memorial Park and Pisgah National Forest — will become a public state forest as
the result of a purchase from the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund.
The fund’s Board of Trustees approved a revised plan via a
conference call Wednesday to purchase a 159-acre tract of Backbone Ridge from
The Conservation Fund for $2.23 million. The funds include $1.23 million from
the state-funded Natural Heritage Trust Fund and $1 million in private funding.
Backbone Ridge, according to the fund, is considered an
important natural heritage area because of its rare plants and old growth
forests. The property, located in Caldwell County, also boasts a scenic view of
Grandfather Mountain and numerous recreational opportunities including hunting,
fishing and hiking.
“By making it public lands it opens it up for more
recreational opportunities,” said Lisa Riegel, executive director of the fund.
The purchase approved Wednesday represents Phase II of the
Backbone Ridge project. Phase I, the purchase of 94 acres at a cost of $1.13
million, was approved in 2010, Riegel said, but delayed because of state budget
The money to purchase the 94 acres included $380,000 from
the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, $470,400 in private funds and $278,680
in money from the Natural Heritage Trust Fund. Closing on Phase I is expected
The second phase of the project was initially planned to
include contributions from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, but state
legislators have gutted the fund over the past two years in efforts to make up
for declining tax revenues.
“Today, the board decided to change the scope of work in
order to move forward with the acquisition of 159 acres in the second phase of
Backbone Ridge without Clean Water Management Trust Fund monies, as that trust
fund has had limited funding in recent years and is expected to have limited
funding in the coming year,” said Jamie Kritzer, public information officer for
the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Arlington, Va.-based The Conservation Fund initially
purchased the tracts from private landowners and held the land until the state
could cobble together the funds for its purchase. The Conservation Fund also
raised the $1 million in private funds to help with the purchase and is
contributing an additional $250,000 in closing costs, Riegel said.
Save Backbone Ridge is a coalition of conservation
organizations, local communities and private individuals working to ensure the
long-term conservation and management of the ridge in its natural state,
according to savebackboneridge.com.
According to the site, the ridgeline is comprised of 754
acres filled with waterfalls, trout streams, old growth timber, rare plant and
animal species and historic trail systems.
Riegel said conservation partners hope to eventually preserve the entirety of Backbone Ridge. Plans include the purchase of about half of Backbone Ridge’s acreage by the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in Pisgah National Forest, she said.