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A New but Familiar Landscape

This past week, I spent a couple of days looking at potential conservation projects in Moore County. As a result of the impending merger of the Sandhills Area Land Trust with Three Rivers Land Trust, the organization I work for, we have begun taking on some projects in the new service area. As a local girl born and raised in Robbins, Moore County is not foreign to me by any means. However, looking at land – especially in southern Moore County – is definitely a new venture.

Although much of northern Moore County is very similar to the Uwharries where I already have been working, southern Moore County is definitely Sandhills habitat. For conservation of riparian areas, this in many cases means we are looking at Sandhills swamps. Though there are wetlands in the Uwharries, certainly bogs, there aren’t a lot of what I would call swamps. There are a few in Anson and Stanly Counties, but not quite the same as where I was this past week. I’ve been in some thick places, but the locations I was at this past week were a different kind of thick. My arms and legs show the scratches and scraps of dense underbrush and briers with more thorns than I am accustomed to for sure.

Making it through this brushy area to the swamp in the middle was no easy task. But the beautiful wetland that emerged and seeing the tea-colored black water of the Sandhills was a surprisingly worthwhile experience. Our what must have sounded like thunderous approach solicited a response from a barn owl even in midday, who hooted at us several times to get out of his hideaway.

There are some great water resources in what I would call the Sandhills portion of Montgomery County and in Moore County. Drowning Creek is a fantastic stream with high water quality. Much of this stream still shows you that you are on the dividing line between Uwharries and Sandhills, with longleaf pine mixed among mountain laurel on the same property. Rocky outcrops along the stream can even still be found on the same site that has predominantly sandy soils in the uplands. Mill Creek and McDeeds Creek are also high quality waters and feed into Crystal Lake near Vass, an area you may remember that I paddled last summer. This lake in the upper end has a fantastic swamp forest you can paddle through.

I did spend a couple of days last week in the Uwharries as well, along the Uwharrie and the Little Rivers, where many favorites are in bloom. Tiarella, Catsby’s trillium, dwarf crested iris, spring beauties, atamasco lilies, bluestars and more are showing off their pinks, purples, whites and blue hues right now. I’m still learning some of the species of the Sandhills, as we found a nice little white violet of some sort on our exploration, but I wasn’t familiar with what species it would be. The Sandhills swamps did house another familiar flower we have in the Uwharries in bloom – golden club. It’s a great time of year to be outside, and though I know I will always spend time in the Uwharries, I look forward to exploring more of the Sandhills area as well.

A couple of good weekend hikes

The past two weekends I have hiked starting at the Highway 24/27 trailhead outside of Troy. Both times I started on the old road to Lawrenceville that goes to the east just out from the parking area, and connected to the Wood Run Bike Trail from the location of the old house that used to be there – where there’s a monument that talks about the dedication of the property to The LandTrust for Central NC (now Three Rivers Land Trust), who protected the site and then transferred it to the US Forest Service.

This section of the Wood Run Bike Trail is relatively new. You used to have to walk up Wood Run Road to get to where the trail started, but now you can hike from the parking area. Two Saturdays ago a friend and I met and hiked in from that trail to the Keyawee Trail just past the Wood Run parking area and then hiked north on the Uwharrie Trail for about a mile. We were hoping to meet up with some friends who had started at Yates Place, but our timing was off.

We got to a campsite about a mile from the intersection with Keyawee and sat down and rested for a bit. While there we took pictures of the lovely creek beside the camping area, and I heard a black and white warbler. They sound like a squeaky wheel. I “pshed” at him until he came closer and I was able to get a few pictures. Some boy scouts came along on the trail then and the bird took off. I also spotted a yellow violet in bloom and snapped a couple of shots of it before we headed back down the trail.

We hiked the Uwharrie Trail back all the way to 24/27. We ran into some mountain bikers who clearly did not know that the Uwharrie Trail was not a bike trail, as they were trying to hoist their bikes over the large rocks that lace Wood Run Creek. We directed them back to the Keyawee Trail, but I’m not sure if they found their way to the right bike trail or not, as our other friends saw some mountain bikers who fit their description coming down River Road later that day. That day’s trip was about 7 miles in total for us.

The next Saturday we set out on the same route to begin with, taking Wood Run Bike Trail to Wood Run parking area. We also took Keyawee to the Uwharrie Trail and hiked north a little ways before we came to a campsite and creek. Here we took off on a trail that was a little difficult to see because of some recent tree blow downs, but it soon connected us to Wood Run Road, which we took back to the Wood Run parking area. From here we went back on the Wood Run Bike Trail to Highway 24/27.

The second Saturday’s hike was a much different hike though, as the US Forest Service had just carried out a prescribed burn on a good portion of the land where the trail went through on the way to the Wood Run parking area. There were still a few stumps here and there that were smoking, and you could easily pick out the trail from the burnt area around it. The smell of smoke and ashes was not overpowering but it was there. It is always interesting to walk through a forest after a fire though, and its also surprising to me how quickly new grasses and plants shoot up from the blackened forest floor.

Prescribed burns are good at generating that new growth that is so important for wildlife like deer and turkeys. Removing the duff layer of leaves and pine needles and allowing that new growth to come up is one of the main reasons prescribed fire is such an important land management tool. It’s also good for hazard reduction, as you’re much less likely to have a wildfire once that fuel is already used up.

Our second Saturday’s hike was about 5.5 miles. I look forward to hiking this trail again once the new growth comes back from the prescribed burn and seeing the wildlife that will enjoy this enhanced habitat. It’s great that we have all these trails so close to where we live and we can pick and choose and do different loops and lollipops, so even starting at the same place we can see different things. Spring is my absolute favorite time to be in the woods, so while the weather is still great and the spring wildflowers are blooming and the birds are singing, why not pick a trail and try out a hike yourself?

Reflections on Hiking and Life

A friend of mine recently sent me an image with a great quote on it about hiking. It said, “Hiking is a bit like life. The journey only requires you to put one foot in front of the other…again and again and again. And if you allow yourself opportunity to be present throughout the entirety of the trek, you will witness beauty every step of the way, not just at the summit.”

One of my favorite all-time quotes is by Sir Edmund Hillary, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” You may know him better as the first man to summit Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at just over 29,000 feet. It’s telling indeed that for him it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination.

I remember one friend telling a young person once that someone he knew was a good hiker, and the youth said “isn’t that just walking?” I got a good chuckle out of that, because hiking is walking, but it is also challenging yourself to climb mountains and clamber over rock faces, and pick your way across streams, and to sometimes stretch yourself to the limit both mentally and physically. I’ve done several long section hikes of the Appalachian Trail and I know you can have some really high highs and some really low lows while you are hiking long distances.

I asked a friend of mine once who has thru hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail what the answer was when you have those low points? His answer was that “as far as I can tell, the answer to anything when you’re hiking is food.” It’s true that on long distance hikes food can make a huge difference in your attitude. I always carry along some extra chocolate on a backpacking trip in case either one of my friends or myself needs a little pick-me-up. It’s surprising how something as simple and basic as food can change your attitude and perspective, but it really can make a difference.

I know many people who go by the quote “Hike your own hike.” And I believe that can be a good motto for some people. I do like the idea of not trying to go at any one else’s pace, but finding your own rhythm and enjoying your hike your own way.

But a quote I like better is that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I almost always hike in a group. Not only is there safety in numbers, but also when there are other people around, they are able to encourage you to continue on and do more than you might think you could do on your own. I’d rather slow myself down slightly or pick up the pace a little to stay together with friends, and enjoy what we see and experience along the way.

I guess that’s a little like how I am in life, I prefer to be around other people than be by myself. Don’t get me wrong, we all need time to ourselves sometimes, but generally speaking I’d rather share my time and experiences with friends and family than spend that time by myself. Especially when I’m hiking. And it’s important to have a variety of friends, those who you hike with when you want to go fast and train for an upcoming trip, and those you walk with when you want to stop and take pictures of wildflowers or flip rocks to look for salamanders and crawdads.

No matter whether you prefer to spend your time outside alone or with a group though, it’s great that we have special places where we can go and find time to reflect and enjoy ourselves. Not only for our physical and mental health, but spending time outside can be a spiritual experience as well. Some people find that they are closer to God in a river valley than a church pew, and I can understand that sentiment sometimes, though I also appreciate fellowship with other people. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy experiencing the outdoors with others, as a community of people who all appreciate nature and what it has to offer. Everyone sees something different and sharing those experiences broadens your own horizons as well as bringing you closer together as friends in the process.

North American Orchid Conservation Cooperative

Last week, I was able to go to the North Carolina Rare Plant Discussion Meeting at the North Carolina Zoo. There were many interesting speakers who talked about various plant species including Venus Fly Traps, Cape Fear Spatterdock, Pitcher Plants, Small Whorled Pogonia, Smooth Purple Coneflower, Heller’s blazing star, and Bent Avens.

One of the more interesting presentations was by Dennis Whigham, who helped start the North American Orchid Conservation Cooperative. This is a coalition of organizations with the common goal of ensuring the survival of native orchids for future generations.

From their website, they state that “North America is home to over 200 orchid species, and more than half are endangered or threatened somewhere in their native range. The North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) was established by the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Botanic Garden to assure the survival of all native orchids in the U.S. and Canada.”

Other partners in this effort include the National Zoological Park, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Gardens, and many public and private organizations. Several other botanical gardens, the Nature Conservancy, the Million Orchid Project, and a number of colleges and universities are also partners in this effort.

They go on to say that “NAOCC activities will focus on establishing collections of seeds and orchid mycorrhizal fungi, developing protocols to propagate and restore all native orchid species and developing an interactive website to provide the public with a mechanism to identify and learn everything that is known about our native orchids.”

They make the point that the majority of orchid research has gone on in tropical regions, with no centralized effort to understand and preserve orchids in the United States and Canada. There are very few scientists and institutions working to study and preserve temperate orchids, and the rate of this research and conservation is far to slow to adequately preserve these species.

 You can learn about the orchid life cycle and fungal relationships on their website, northamericanorchidcenter.org. They also have “orchid-gami” which is basically origami of native orchids. You can download orchid-gami pdfs from their website. There are 25 different orchids you can download. You can also purchase punch-out versions of the orchid-gami. They developed this fun activity to raise awareness about the conservation and ecology of our native orchids.

You can donate to the cause on their website, or contact Dennis Whigham to become involved. His email address is whighamd@si.edu. If you spot native orchids in our area, we’d love to see your pictures and you can email those to me at crystal@threeriverslandtrust.org. Together we can work to ensure that native orchids will be around for many more years to come.

Little Long Mountain and Poison Fork Hike

Last week, myself and a few friends went for a 4-mile hike at Little Long Mountain. We started at the Joe Moffitt Trailhead on Thayer Road and climbed up Little Long Mountain. It’s about a mile to the top, and even though rain was forecasted we were determined to get out. Rain has stopped us several times in recent weeks. We did not get rained on, though we were sort of in a misty cloud most of the morning.

The hike up Little Long Mountain is on a section of trail that I helped build. The Uwharrie Trailblazers started when Three Rivers Land Trust (then The LandTrust for Central North Carolina) purchased the Little Long Mountain Property and decided to build a mile of trail on the site, to reclaim this section of the Uwharrie Trail. In sections south and north of here, you could find old blazes on trees and just reblaze the trail, but here the timber had been cut so it was a lot of young thick forest.

We hired a group out of Asheville to come down and lay the trail out, and you can certainly tell it was professionally laid out. We got an Adopt-a-trail grant from the state to help pay for the trail’s planning and construction. Most of the trail construction was done by volunteers though with tools we borrowed from the Uwharrie National Forest. The trailblazers started having workdays every second Saturday of the month, and that continues to this day on various sections of trail in the Uwharries.

But back to our hike. We climbed Little Long Mountain and because of the cloud/mist, there were no views to be seen. Usually there’s a panoramic view from the top of the surrounding Uwharrie Mountains. But we didn’t mind, it was pretty neat being in a cloud. We stopped for a few minutes to catch our breath in the trail shelter located on top of the mountain. This was an eagle scout project also while Three Rivers Land Trust still owned the property. We then hiked down the back side of Little Long Mountain.

The trail was not too muddy, but there were a few wet spots so you had to watch your footing here and there. The trail pretty quickly descends down to Poison Fork Creek. Poison Fork is an absolutely gorgeous stream and has pretty little cascades and rock outcrops on its banks. It is an outstanding resource water, which is the highest water quality designation the State of North Carolina provides for streams. Much of it located is on USFS land. I’ve heard that the “Poisson” is French for fish, but I don’t know if that’s accurate or why the stream is named that.

We walked along Poison Fork for a ways until we got to the spot where the trail has to cross the stream – this is where we turned around. It’s hard to get across here without getting your feet wet. It might be a good place for a future bridge to be constructed, but it’s not a short hike from either direction to get there. There is an old road that parallels the stream though so it might be possible to get materials in that way, but all of that would require USFS approval. It would make a good Eagle Scout project though if someone were interested.

We then hiked back the way we came, up over Little Long Mountain again and then back down it to our cars. It was a nice hike and so nice to get out after the rain had prevented us from hiking several times. I enjoy hiking that stretch of trail since I helped protect it and build it, it will always be a special spot to me. I also appreciate knowing that know everyone else gets to enjoy it too.

Joe Moffitt’s Camps

If you’ve ever walked the Uwharrie Trail, especially in the Birkhead Wilderness Area, you’ve likely encountered an old “camp.” Joe’s boy scouts built these camps largely as Eagle Scout projects, and at one point in time they could be found all along the trail, from Tot Hill Trailhead to Highway 24/27. Now the ones that had actual structures, such as fire pits, were mostly in the Birkheads. A few still remain, but you have to know where some of them are to find them.

Camp 1, 1B, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 can all be located in the Wilderness Area. Camp 1 and Camp 1B are located on a side trail off of the Camp Three Trail. Camp 1 has a stone fireplace and the plaque indicating the location of the camp is still there. It says that camp was built July 22, 1976. Camp 5 is also located off the Camp Three Trail. There is no water at this camp location. There is a stone fireplace. There used to be a plaque here as well but it was stolen. If anyone has a picture of that plaque, I’d love to see it (contact me at crystal@landtrustcnc.org).

Camp 4 is off another side trail further down the south end of Birkhead Mountain. There are some yellow blazes indicating the path to this camp. There’s a plaque here signifying that this was an Eagle Project for Butch Newberry. This camp was completed March 3, 1979. Camp 6 is located at the far south end of the Birkheads off another yellow blazed side trail. There is another stone fireplace at this camp. There’s a plaque here that says the camp was built on April 3, 1976, and lists the scouts who worked on the camp, and that it was an Eagle Project for Mark Gordon.

Camp 7 is located near King Mountain in a valley. It is known as Twin Springs. It was built on June 26, 1977. The plaque here dedicates the camp to “one of our finest trail companions – Jim Green.” It also says, “Beware the doom that came to Eden – snake country.” There’s a sign for Camp 7 on the Uwharrie Trail and a yellow blazed trail down to the camp. There’s a double fireplace found here.

I found this old camp when Three Rivers Land Trust purchased the King Mountain Property, as we were trying to decide where to put the line for the half of the tract that USFS would buy. This camp was just over the property line and already on USFS land, but we moved the line a little to the east to make sure USFS land where the camp was connected to the part of the King Mountain Property USFS would be acquiring from the Land Trust.

If you continue on over Little Long Mountain you’ll come back down in elevation and cross Poison Fork Creek. Then you head on up the southern end of Long Mountain, and a yellow blazed side trail on the west leads to Camp 8B. This was built in August of 1981 and was Glenn Imbler’s Eagle Scout Project. This plaque also states “The last recorded people to live here was Dory Luther in the early 1900s. But just who settled here first remains a mistery. Only the old oak standing nearby is old enough to remember the happenings around this mistery homestead.” There’s a fireplace here too.

The only other campsite area I’ve seen is what is believed to be Camp 9, on the old road that parallels the Uwharrie Trail near Dark Mountain. There’s no marker or fireplace here, just a flat spot, but Don Childrey (author of the Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide) researched some of the old guides and believes that is the spot. You can read more about these camps in Don’s book, available at donchildrey.com.

I met with Joe Moffitt a couple of times before he passed away, and he shared with me a map that showed several more campsites on further south from Camp 9. However I do not think any of those had any structures associated with them. Seeing these camps you might wonder how boy scouts lugged in all those rocks and bags of mortar to put the fireplaces together.  Joe told me that they drove in to most of the sites in an old Jeep with the materials. He used to work at a place that made flat pans and he said he made those plaques by cutting the bottoms out of the pans. It’s great that some of those old plaques still survive.

I find it ironic that most of the camps with structures like fireplaces are found in the wilderness area, which is not really supposed to have signs of man’s influence on the landscape, but at this point they have historic value and hopefully can remain. It’s a neat reminder of the dedicated individuals that made this trail possible. Next time you hike by a camp, stop and think about those folks, and appreciate their efforts that created this great resource known as the Uwharrie Trail for our continual use and enjoyment.

Three Rivers Land Trust and Sandhills Area Land Trust Plan to Merge

Three Rivers Land Trust (TRLT) and Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT) are pleased to announce that the two organizations plan to complete a formal merger by June 2019. The resulting conservation organization will remain Three Rivers Land Trust and be headquartered in Salisbury, NC.

A group of dedicated Moore County residents founded SALT in 1991. Since that time, SALT has protected an estimated 15,000 acres in the Sandhills and surrounding counties, including 90 miles of stream and river buffers. Its staff has worked diligently to transfer over 4,000 acres to public access. SALT encompasses Moore, Cumberland, Hoke, Scotland, Richmond and Harnett Counties, as well as longleaf pine ecosystem areas in Lee and Robeson counties.

TRLT was founded in 1995 and operates in a ten – county region – Anson, Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Iredell, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rowan and Stanly. Since its beginning, TRLT has protected over 26,000 acres and remains committed to conserving the natural areas, rural landscapes, family farms, and historic places within North Carolina’s central Piedmont.

Both land trusts are private non-profit organizations that depend upon the generosity of those who care deeply about the central Piedmont and Sandhills areas. TRLT and SALT have worked tirelessly to ensure the conservation of those natural resources. Joining TRLT and SALT became an obvious next step for the expansion of local conservation.

“We are convinced that our continued success demands a larger staff, enhanced technology, increased efficiency and a broader funding base.  By combining our operations with those of Three Rivers we can move toward meeting those demands. We expect to gain effectiveness and expand our membership and financial support. The result, we believe, will be an increased capacity to pursue our conservation mission,” states Kyle Sonnenberg, SALT Board President.

Once the merger is complete, the Sandhills Area Land Trust will cease to be a separate entity and their current region will fall under the purview of Three Rivers Land Trust.

“We are thankful that both the SALT and TRLT Board of Directors understood the importance of looking to the future of conservation,” states Travis Morehead, TRLT Executive Director. “By uniting our organizations, we will increase our ability to conserve our natural resources. This merger will allow us to reach more constituents and grow the base of support for local conservation.”

Please follow both organizational websites for updates as the merger progresses.

www.sandhillslandtrust.org

www.threeriverslandtrust.org

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to meet with a friend down in the Sandhills and have lunch and go for a walk at a great place – Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve. It is located at 1024 Fort Bragg Road, Southern Pines NC 28387.  Although the park started with just 403 acres in 1963, it is now a 930-acre nature preserve, and is largely comprised of gorgeous longleaf forest habitat. Some of the trees here are hundreds of years old, and they have been using prescribed fire to enhance the habitat for a number of years.

Weymouth Woods is also home to the oldest known living longleaf pine, which dates all the way back to 1548. The history of the park is also found on their website. It describes how longleaf were once used to produce turpentine, rosin, pitch and tar, but with the arrival of the railroad, by the 1900s most of the pine trees in the area had been cut down.

In the early 20th century, the grandfather of James Boyd, a well-known North Carolina author, purchased a tract east of Southern Pines to save the longleaf trees from logging. This first property that became a part of Weymouth Woods was purchased and named “Weymouth” because the trees reminded the owner of ones he had seen in Weymouth, England. In April 1963, his widow, Katherine, donated 403 acres – which established Weymouth Woods as the first natural area in our state.

There are over 4.5 miles of trails that can be found here, with some for hiking and some for both hiking and equestrian usage. My friend and I hiked the Bowers Bog Trail to the Lighter Stump Trail, to the Pine Island Trail, then on to the Holly Road Trail. From there we hiked a short connector trail called Moccasin Creek onto the Gum Swamp Trail. Lastly, we turned right onto the Pine Barrens Trail which brought us back to the parking area and park office. We went through a variety of habitats, from longleaf pine uplands with carpets of wiregrass, to hardwood lowlands with boardwalks through swampy areas.

The website for the nature preserve states, “with limited understory, the forest is a natural theatre for birding and wildlife viewing.” My friend who was with me is a great birder, and she helped me identify a number of great species while we were walking. We probably walked for an hour or so, and here are all the species we saw: golden-crowned kinglet, brown creeper, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, American robin, Carolina chickadee, red-headed woodpecker, ruby-crowned kinglet, pileated woodpecker, red-cockaded woodpecker, and eastern towhee. According to the Weymouth Woods website, over 160 species of bird inhabit the area.

 

The Sandhills and Weymouth in particular are home to a variety of unique species, and their website boasts that more than 500 unique species can be found on site. On Sunday, February 24th, the staff is hosting a 1.5 mile guided hike on the Paint Hill tract to find a rare plant, the Sandhills Pyxie-moss. This species exists in only a handful of counties in the Carolinas. This species is one of the first spring plants to bloom at Weymouth. They are meeting at the visitor center and caravanning to the other site, a mile and a half down the road. This event starts at 3:00pm.

Three Rivers Land Trust Associate Director Joins Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council

Three Rivers Land Trust is excited to announce that their Associate Director, Michael “Mikey” Nye Fulk, has been appointed by Governor Roy Cooper to serve as an at-large member of the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council. The mission of the Council is to “provide statewide leadership, guidance, and funding to measurably expand opportunities for current and future generations to experience quality outdoor activities.”

Fulk has been with The Land Trust since June of 2016, and was the Membership and Outreach Director before becoming the Associate Director in January of 2018. Prior to that, Mikey worked for nearly 12 years in Wyoming as a wildlife biologist and in Montana as the Access Coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Michael was born and raised in Orrum, NC (Robeson County) and attended North Carolina State University, where she earned a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science and a minor in Environmental Science. While in Montana, Mikey received both the Montana Hunting Heritage Award and the Montana Wildlife Federation Special Achievement Award.

Mikey has started several new programs while at the Land Trust, including our Leopold Society that reaches out to youth in grades 6th through 12th to get them involved in conservation and the outdoors, as well as our Sportsman Access Program, which connects local sportsman members to Land Trust properties so that they can see their conservation dollars at work. Mikey was nominated to the Council by Land Trust Executive Director, Travis Morehead who said: “I could think of no one more committed to conservation and to promoting hunting and fishing than Mikey.”

According to their website, “on July 8, 2015 the Outdoor Heritage Act was signed into law, which created an Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council and established a trust fund. The North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Trust Fund provides for the expansion of opportunities for youth, ages 16 and younger, of outdoor recreational activities, including but not limited to fishing, horseback riding, camping, hiking and bird watching in order to preserve North Carolina’s outdoor heritage for future generations.”

Mikey states “I am humbled to be appointed to the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council by Governor Roy Cooper. For the last 17 years, I have spent my career advocating for the conservation of our natural resources both across the west and here in my home state. The Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council provides opportunities for current and future generations to explore and enjoy North Carolina’s rich outdoors, in hopes that one day, they too will be advocates for our natural resources. I am honored to be chosen to assist in leading this effort.”

To learn more about this Council or how you can support Three Rivers Land Trust in our conservation mission, please contact Michael Nye Fulk, Associate Director of the Land Trust at 704-647-0302 or michael@threeriverslandtrust.org.

A History of Biltmore Estate

I was able to take a “Legacy of the Land” tour at Biltmore on New Year’s Eve (I would say earlier this year, but since it was technically 2018, it was last year when I went). This was a fascinating tour of the land that is part of the Biltmore Estate. I had only previously been in the house, which is mesmerizing on its own, but a guided tour of the grounds proved to be even more captivating – especially with my interest in land and forests and all things outdoors.

The tour guide gave a brief history of the estate. He said that George Vanderbilt owned 125,000 acres when he died. He had 13 children and almost his entire inheritance went to his first-born son. George’s father, William, had 8 children and was worth $220 million when he died. They said that at that time, one out of every $10 was a Vanderbilt dollar. William divided the money and gave the most to his two oldest sons. George is the youngest son and he got $10 million and an extra $2 million to take care of his mother, who at the time was suffering from malaria.

George was an equestrian and was riding around these North Carolina Mountains and fell in love with the view here at what would be become the Biltmore Estate. All the trees had been cut down by that time and he did not buy pristine land, but worn out sterile land. He hired Richard Morris Hunt as his building architect and Frederick Law Olmsted as his landscape architect to help him turn this property into something special. There were 2.9 million trees and shrubs planted. Currently, about 9% of the forestry budget goes into treating invasive plants – including bamboo. There are 20 types of bamboo at the Biltmore estate, and we saw some of the “pygmy bamboo” on our tour.

Charles McNamee, an attorney, was hired by Vanderbilt to buy land for his new home. Our tour guide reported that to buy the entire estate took over 1200 land transactions in 4 counties. We took one stop along the way to look at what was once a small African-American community made up of freedmen called Shiloh, of approximately 28 families and 200 acres. The approach road to Biltmore went through this community. Land in this area was going for $7 an acre, and McNamee offered the landowners $35 an acre. Some of them took the offer and some did not. McNamee offered those who did not take it better land 2 and ½ miles away as a trade. They moved the church and the graves of the people buried there and called it the New Shiloh Community. We got out of the bus here, and you can still see impressions in the ground where the graves were.

Biltmore wanted the estate to be self-sustaining. It had its own herds of sheep, swine, poultry and nurseries. There was a dairy farm there with 200 cows brought down from the family farm in New York. The first managed forests in the country were located here at the Biltmore estate. The Biltmore Forest School was the first school of forestry in North America. The forests were designed by Olmsted, but managed by Gifford Pinchot. Carl Schenck eventually replaced Pinchot, and Schenck founded the Biltmore Forest School in 1898. Graduates of this school were the country’s first professional foresters. This former school forms the basis for the “Cradle of Forestry,” a 6500-acre historic site that houses exhibits about forestry and forestry conservation.

The property taxes were a lot for this land, and the family eventually had to sell some of the land to the government – what would become part of Pisgah National Forest. Edith, George’s wife, sold 80,000 acres for $5 an acre, or $400,000 to the US government. Because this was such a large sum at that time, the government had to pay her over time.

I am glad that the Vanderbilts chose to purchase land in our North Carolina mountains and create a legacy here of forestry and forest conservation, and that they chose to sell some of their precious property to become part of the national forest. I’m also glad I had the opportunity to see the land associated with the house, which is still owned by Vanderbilt heirs. If you have an interest in land and history and ever get the chance to take this tour, I’d encourage you to do so. I have shared some of the information provided with you in this article, but there is a lot more history to the site than I have time to provide you with. Consider taking this tour the next time you’re in the area – it is worth checking out.

Contact

Phone

(704) 647-0302

Address

204 East Innes Street, Suite 280
Salisbury, NC 28144

Email

threerivers@threeriverslandtrust.org