Final conservation easement on treasured land atop Bearwallow Mountain

Standing here more than 2,200 feet above the valley and twice that distance above sea level, it feels like you could reach out and touch the toy-like houses scattered over the orchards miles below. In one of those homes, Nancy Lyda may be gazing up this way, enjoying the view of the mountaintop she and her family have worked to protect for all time.

Nancy’s mother, Pearl Barnwell, had been talking with what was then the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (now Conserving Carolina) about preserving some of the 700 acres the family owns atop Bearwallow Mountain in Henderson County, North Carolina.

In 2009, the organization completed a conservation easement, for which the family voluntarily agreed to give up development rights, on 81 acres of the peak. In 2012, the family and the conservancy completed a second easement on 89 acres west to Bearwallow Gap. Then, in May of 2017, the family worked with the conservancy to finalize a third easement on 306 acres east of the peak to Little Bearwallow Mountain.

Now, a total of 476 acres is protected atop Bearwallow, preserving in an undeveloped state the mountain’s familiar humpbacked profile that defines the northeast horizon in Henderson County.

Not all conservation easements allow for public access. But the one the Lyda family has completed on their land will allow Conserving Carolina to complete an important link in its Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail and Network. The future 20-mile loop of trails will connect the top of Bearwallow with protected lands such as Conserving Carolina’s 600-acre Florence Nature Preserve east of Gerton, and hundreds more acres protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy around Hickory Nut Gap.

The ring of protected acreage straddles the Eastern Continental Divide and the high elevation lands where northeast Henderson County abuts Buncombe County.

Seven rare natural communities have been documented, including High Elevation Rocky Summit (two subtypes), Montane Cliff, Rich Montane Seep, pasture, and Southern Appalachian Bog. Specifically, the mountain is home to a small bog, between one quarter and one half acre, in the gap between Bearwallow and Little Bearwallow. This appears to be the bearwallow for which the mountain is named.

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