High in the N.C. mountains, prominent hikers bridge political differences

The politically odd couple striding up a rocky trail in the Roan highlands came to celebrate a conservation landmark, and to plot its rebirth.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Sen. Richard Burr, the conservative North Carolina Republican, are unlikely partners in promoting the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund turns 50 in September and, to survive, must be reauthorized by a skeptical Congress by next year.

Jewell hiked with Burr and a handful of conservation leaders as part of her four-state tour this week to rally support for the fund. Burr is co-sponsor of the bill that would reauthorize the fund and allocate money to it.

On a segment of the Appalachian Trail that leads to 6,000-foot Grassy Ridge, one of the sweeping, treeless balds the Roan Highlands on the N.C.-Tennessee line are known for, the group was surrounded by a patchwork of parcels the fund has helped protect.

“You can’t get it in a picture. You can’t get it from a map, so you have to come out and see,” said the Interior Secretary. “We’re surrounded by rhododendron, the blueberries are ripening, and there are multiple endangered plants here. These are stories we will lose if we don’t help protect places like this.”

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