Mount Mitchell: North Carolina’s first park growing, poised for future

The Black Mountains’ Crest Trail scales the spine of the Black Mountains’ most prominent peaks in Yancey County – Mount Craig (6,645 feet), Big Tom Wilson (6,552 feet), Balsam Cone (6,611 feet), and Cattail Peak (6,583 feet), until now, the highest elevation, privately owned peak in the Eastern United States.

Thanks to recent events, the maps will change, with a piece of the jigsaw puzzle soon to be colored purple – indicating state-owned land for public enjoyment.

The Conservation Fund, a Raleigh-based land trust, has purchased 2,744 acres in the Black Mountains – 783 acres in the Laurel Branch Area and 1,961 acres in the Cattail Peak area, including Cattail Peak – adjoining Mount Mitchell State Park. The fund will convey the land to the state this year, timed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the N.C. State Park System and Mount Mitchell, the state’s first park.

The land acquisition will more than double the size of Mount Mitchell State Park, which was 1,996 acres. The land acquisition has greater, more far-reaching importance, said Mike Leonard, Conservation Fund board chairman.

“By doing this, we are going to the highest, privately owned peak in the Eastern United States and close that privately held gap between the U.S. Forest Service and state parks,” Leonard said.

“We also got the opportunity to acquire lands from Cattail Peak going down 3,500 feet in elevation to the Cane River itself. This will make the park boundary for the first time from the base of the mountain all the way to the top. That much elevation is really important for climate resiliency.”

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