Conservation and Affordable Housing Fit Together at Little White Oak Mountain

What’s the opposite of saving land? For some people, what comes to mind is a housing development: the felled forests, bulldozers scraping over raw dirt, roads and buildings replacing trees.

That seemed likely to happen at Little White Oak Mountain, in Polk County, near Columbus, NC. Not long ago, the mountain was slated for an upscale development of over 700 houses. Then, the recession hit, the housing market collapsed, and conservationists got another chance to protect the land.

Two land trusts that later merged to form Conserving Carolina bought 1,068 acres at Little White Oak Mountain in 2016. This spring, 900 acres of that property became public land—with 600 acres added to the Green River Game Lands and 300 acres added to a Polk County park.

These conservation lands protect mountain streams that flow into the Green River. They protect rural scenery. They expand areas for hunting, fishing, and hiking. Multi-use trails will be open for mountain biking. All of this could make Polk County more of a destination for outdoor recreation, boosting the local economy.

Kieran Roe, the executive director of Conserving Carolina, saw potential for the land to provide another community benefit, as well: affordable housing. The 1,068-acre purchase at Little White Oak Mountain included some land that wasn’t especially valuable for conservation. It’s at the foot of the mountain, along Rt. 108. Kieran reached out to another nonprofit—the Housing Assistance Corporation, based in Hendersonville—to ask if they would be interested in building affordable housing there. And they were.

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