The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect back on the activities of the past year. Working for a land trust, the highlights of the year are often the projects that close – many of these having been worked on for a number of years before finally getting across the finish line. Three Rivers Land Trust (TRLT), the organization I work for, conserved just shy of 600 acres last year in Central North Carolina. This encompasses 9 projects that occurred in 5 out of our 10 counties.

Two of these projects were in Rowan County, and both adjoined our 1400-acre Two Rivers Property. One of these projects was made possible by a Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) grant, and had been a project we’d been working on for several years. This 40-acres has a nice mixture of habitat, with some hardwood forest and some field. There were some very patient and conservation-minded landowners who were willing to wait to see this property protected. Some other family members owned the 10-acre property that adjoined it, and through some negotiation The Land Trust was able to purchase that 10-acre tract as well. We already owned the land to the east of that tract as well, so this was an important acquisition to fill a gap in between conservation lands.

Stanly County received the most attention last year, with nearly 300 of the acres being protected there. A donated conservation easement of 183 acres near the Pee Dee River adjoining another conserved property comprised the majority of those acres. A 45-acre addition to Morrow Mountain State Park was made possible through conservation buyers who also were willing to purchase and hold this land for 3 years while grant funds could be raised. The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund contributed to this acquisition as well as generous private donors. On the last day of the year, another donated easement on a 54-acre farm on the outskirts of Albemarle was closed, and conserved for future generations.

In Montgomery County, where The Land Trust does a lot of our work, there was a purchase of a strategic tract along the Uwharrie Trail of 70 acres. This tract has the peak of Dark Mountain, the highest mountain in Montgomery County, at approximately 935 feet in elevation. This tract has mature hardwood forests and some important historical folk sites identified by Joe Moffitt, talked about in my last article. The landowners who owned the tract wanted to see it conserved, and had not offered it to any one else, but came to The Land Trust to see if we were interested in buying it for conservation purposes – hopefully to eventually transfer to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in the Uwharrie National Forest. The purchase of this tract was made possible through private donations.

In Randolph County, TRLT worked with the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund through the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program through the United States Department of Agriculture, to preserve a 72-acre farm on the Uwharrie River. Just after the New Year, we were able to preserve an additional 9.4-acre property on the Uwharrie River that adjoins land we protected last year on Highway 49.

TRLT closed two projects in Cabarrus County this year – a 42-acre donated easement on a property on Coddle Creek Reservoir in Concord, and we assisted with the conservation of the Suther Prairie, which property was 78 acres in total. This prairie is a unique piece of land that offers a glimpse into what North Carolina looked like in pre-settlement times. The Land Trust has spent many years working with the Cabarrus Soil and Water Conservation District and the Plant Conservation Program and the Suther Family, and it is so exciting to see this property finally protected.

Every New Year brings new opportunities to conserve our beautiful region’s important natural resources. Looking ahead, in November the CWMTF awarded TRLT just over $1.2 million for three new projects that will hopefully close in 2019. I am fortunate to work with some incredible landowners who are willing to conserve their properties for future generations. We rarely take a moment to consider their generosity when we walk a tract of conserved land that has been transferred to a public agency, or drive past a beautiful protected farm on one of our region’s scenic byways. Hopefully the stories of how those tracts were protected by landowners who had a vision far ahead of the present will be preserved as well, and others will be encouraged to do the same.