Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Land trusts win $2.7 million to protect scenic byways

North Carolina’s land trusts have for a second time been entrusted with federal funds to help them complete land protection projects that will protect the views from 20 of our state’s scenic byways, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and three National Byways.

The Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program recently awarded $2.7 million to the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and 10 local land trusts to advance the permanent protection of natural, historic, cultural and visual resources along the designated scenic byways.

Land trusts will use the new grant funding to build on accomplishments under a 2006 Scenic Byways grant, which helped 10 land trusts prepare conservation plans along 25 Scenic Byways in North Carolina. The 2011 grant will pay to implement elements of those plans, such as outreach to landowners regarding conservation efforts and acquiring property and conservation easements, and will finance new conservation plans along additional byways.

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) will use funds from this second grant to help with two land acquisition projects along Drovers Road Scenic Byway: a 26-acre trailhead property in Henderson County and 90 additional acres on the summit of scenic Bearwallow Mountain, part of an ongoing effort to protect the entire peak. The funds will also pay to create scenic byway corridor plans for six routes in Western North Carolina.

As in the first phase of the project, land trusts will team up with local, state and federal agencies, and other non-profit partners to protect the byway landscapes that communicate to travelers about North Carolina’s history, culture, geography and wildlife habitat.

The protection projects will not only safeguard scenic farms, other landscapes and critical wildlife habitat along the byways, but will help to strengthen the economies of byways communities and expand recreational opportunities for local residents and visitors.

"State figures show that tourists in North Carolina spent a record $17 billion last year, directly supporting 185,500 jobs across the state," CTNC Acting Executive Director Margaret Newbold said. "North Carolina is renowned for its scenic drives, from the Outer Banks Scenic Byway to the Sandhills Drive and Pottery Road in the Piedmont to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which by itself welcomes 16 million to 17 million visitors a year. We must protect the breathtaking natural landscapes that bring people to these regions."

The 11 land trusts involved in the 2011 phase of the project are: Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, Sandhills Area Land Trust, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Triangle Land Conservancy, Piedmont Land Conservancy, Catawba Lands Conservancy, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

The targeted routes traverse rural North Carolina and include the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina’s only All-American Byway), three National Byways (Cherohala, Forest Heritage and Outer Banks) and 16 State Byways. (Funding for a project along an additional State Byway was approved but the project is no longer in the works.)

CTNC will administer the grant and also will use a share of the grant funds to preserve the Blue Ridge Parkway’s scenic and natural corridor at the Heffner Gap Overlook and parking area, as well as provide public access to almost a quarter-mile of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVT). CTNC will acquire property adjacent to the Overlook and link 1.5 protected miles of the OVT to the north with 1.7 miles of the OVT immediately to the south. The grant will also help CTNC identify and map additional significant natural, cultural, and scenic properties along the Blue Ridge Parkway for protection.


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