By Crystal Cockman, TRLT Associate Director

As 2022 comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the conservation successes after another year of working to save special places in the North Carolina Piedmont. Certainly, every year, and even every project, has its ups and downs, but with over 1,500 acres protected through a dozen different projects, overall, it’s been a really successful year. I’d like to take a minute to look back over some of these achievements.

Early on in the year, a fee donation was made to Three Rivers Land Trust of approximately 68 acres in Montgomery County along beautiful Cheeks Creek. This particular property was donated in memory of the landowner’s deceased wife, who loved this tract dearly and always wanted to see it protected. With mature hardwood forest and a diverse botanical understory, TRLT was happy to take ownership of this land to ensure its natural resources are preserved in perpetuity.

In March, the second project of the year closed with the protection of a 410-acre organic dairy and organic beef cattle farm in Iredell County. This project took nearly 4 years to accomplish, with both state and federal farmland funding involved, one of the most complicated types of projects TRLT takes on. These landowners were so grateful to see this farm protected, which has been in their family for 8 generations, and can use these funds to buy additional equipment and land to make their farming operation even more sustainable into the future.

The next project was a 210-acre acquisition, known as Watery Branch, that adjoins a portion of the Uwharrie National Recreational Trail. This project holds a special place for me as there is now a trail shelter there named “Crystal’s Place.” This hardwood forest has US Forest Service (USFS) land on both sides and we are very close to getting it transferred to the USFS for the public’s use and enjoyment, possibly before year’s end.

This brings me to the next accomplishment of 2022- the transfer of the Dark Mountain property to USFS. This 70-acre parcel is the stuff of legend and lore, with places like Liquor Springs, Painted Rocks, and Outlaw Cave purported to be located on this land. It’s also the highest peak in Montgomery County, and adjoins the Uwharrie Trail. Getting this tract into public ownership took several years, but it’s now available for us all to experience.

TRLT also closed our first Hoke County project this year, with the protection of 272 acres of forest and wetland near Raeford. This property is near Fort Bragg and helps provide a buffer to the base, and is also near land owned by The Nature Conservancy, their Callaway Preserve. Longleaf pines and beaver swamps are found on this unique site, and this conservation easement closed in August of this year.

The next two acquisitions were 165 acres and 82 acres that add onto our complex of conservation lands at “The Point” in Davie County, where the Yadkin and South Yadkin Rivers meet. This land will be incorporated into our Sportsman Access Program and available for hunting, hiking, and fishing to SAP members starting next year. These tracts also boast hardwood forest and farm fields, which are home to a wide variety of wildlife. We look forward to managing these sites to make them the best they can be now that they are in our ownership.

On December 1st, we closed a project that we’d also been working on for about 3 years. This is a 172-acre property in Moore County along McLendons Creek that adjoins another tract we already owned. There were some obstacles to overcome on this project, and we were down the wire, closing on the very day our option on the property expired. We’re excited to own this great tract now, thanks in part to funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service through their North American Wetland Conservation Act small grant program.

Building upon our mission to expand public lands, we transferred another great property to Morrow Mountain State Park on December 19th. This 215-acre tract has mature hardwood forests and rocky outcrops and adjoins the existing parkland, connecting it directly to the town of Badin. This site is near the Native American archeological site known as the Hardaway Site, and brings the total acreage of Morrow Mountain State Park to over 6,000 acres.

The Land Protection team at TRLT brought in more than $7,000,000 in grant awards this year including funds from the NC Land and Water Fund, state and federal farmland funds, military funding, and private foundations. We also applied for 9 farms to the federal farmland fund and 15 farms to the state farmland fund for consideration for funding next year. We are currently working on over 30 projects in progress fully funded, and have more than 60 projects total on our list, when you consider tracts partially funded, applied for, or on our waitlist for grant applications.

Next year should be an even bigger year with over 4,000 acres of conservation work slated to be accomplished, not counting anything else that comes in the door before year’s end. I’m proud to work for an organization that turns every operational dollar into $12 of project funding, and works with great landowners to see very special natural areas, family farms, and rural landscapes protected for the benefit of future generations.

Thanks to all our supporters who make this important work possible. Although nothing worthwhile is ever easy, this work would not be possible at all without committed landowners, and great TRLT members who believe in our mission.