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Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Acquires 1,527 Acres on Weed Patch Mountain

NC - The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) announced its purchase of 1,527 acres on Weed Patch Mountain, north of Lake Lure in Rutherford County.
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Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Acquires 1,527 Acres on Weed Patch Mountain

NC -- The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) announced its purchase of 1,527 acres on Weed Patch Mountain, north of Lake Lure in Rutherford County.  The land, once part of the 4000-acre “Grey Rock at Lake Lure” residential subdivision, was owned by Orlando-based Land Resources, LLC and was intended for development until that company filed for bankruptcy last year.

According to CMLC Executive Director Kieran Roe, acquisition of the tract preserves scenic ridges, distinctive rock outcrops, dense hardwood forests and abundant trout streams for public benefit.  The tract is part of a corridor of existing public and conserved properties near Chimney Rock State Park. CMLC hopes to work with the state park and other conservation partners to add the tract to permanent public ownership in the next two to three years.  “It is relatively rare for tracts of this size and significance to become available for conservation,” says Roe. “CMLC is grateful for the support from lenders and contributors that allowed us to take advantage of this outstanding conservation opportunity.”

CMLC purchased the land for $2.29 million, or $1,500 per acre, one-third the $4,500 per acre value established in a recent property appraisal.  The attractive price was an important factor in enabling CMLC to make the property purchase.  A gift of $620,000 from a North Carolina philanthropist combined with loans from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation provided CMLC with financing needed for acquisition.  The N.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy initially negotiated the purchase but sought the involvement of CMLC in recent months when its financing of the project could not be arranged.

The property, a state-designated Significant Natural Heritage Area, is home to rare species such as the green salamander.  The low elevation cliff and rock outcrops on the property have been identified in the Wildlife Resource Commission’s State Wildlife Action Plan as critical habitats for several rare birds and amphibians.

“If homes were to start popping up on Weed Patch it would not only take away a beautiful vista, but more importantly it would disturb the ground, increase muddy run-off and make it harder for water to penetrate the bedrock that refreshes Lake Lure,” says Lynn Carnes Pitts, CMLC vice president and avid Lake Lure water skier. “Conservation of Weed Patch is about clean water, healthy recreation, and adding another protected emerald to the crown of conserved land near Chimney Rock State Park.”

Starting with the purchase of the 1,568-acre World’s Edge tract in 2005, CMLC has partnered with the State of North Carolina, The Nature Conservancy and the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina in acquiring over 3,000 acres that have become Chimney Rock State Park.  Weed Patch Mountain provides an opportunity to extend this conservation on the north side of the Hickory Nut Gorge. In addition to being a place of rare beauty, the tract provides an essential link for the “Six Summits Trail,” a network of trails envisioned by local hikers that could one-day circumnavigate Lake Lure.

“We simply couldn’t afford to put Weed Patch in the ‘gone forever’ column” says David Efird, Lake Lure resident and CMLC trustee. “The water that comes off Weed Patch…the flow, the falls, the streams are unduplicated in our area. Weed Patch will be huge in terms of recreation and preserved green space in the area. A win for everybody.”

With the national economic downturn and the slowdown in the local real estate market in the past couple of years, several once-planned residential developments in the region are no longer moving forward. After its purchase of 4,000 acres at the site in 2004, Land Resources, LLC subdivided part of the property, sold more than 400 lots and reportedly collected over $90 million before declaring bankruptcy in October 2008.  Unfortunately for those who purchased lots at the development, most subdivision roads were never constructed, leaving property owners unable to access their lots.

Lot owners and Rutherford County are now dealing with the aftermath of the Land Resources bankruptcy.  When Rutherford County approved the Grey Rock subdivision, the developer was required to purchase bonds that could be used to pay for completion of roads and other infrastructure if the developer did not complete the project. According to reports, Land Resources purchased a $26 million bond from Bond Safeguard Insurance and a $15 million bond from AMS Surety Holding Corporation. After the bankruptcy, Rutherford County sought payment of funds from the bond companies. Bond Safeguard refused to pay because it claimed that Land Resources violated the bond agreement it signed. The bond with AMS Surety has been determined to be fraudulent.

While the future of the subdivided part of the former Grey Rock land remains somewhat uncertain, CMLC’s plan for the 1,527 acres it now owns is to transfer the land to a public agency in the next several years.  However state revenue shortfalls have placed a strain on public sources of conservation funding such as the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

CMLC has spoken to staff with the state’s parks and recreation division regarding the potential for adding the tract to the new state park.  “They are very, very supportive of CMLC’s conservation of this property,” Roe said. “There is a possibility the land will be added to Chimney Rock State Park, but with the state revenue situation, the State can’t commit itself right now.  Even if it is never added to park, the Weed Patch Mountain tract will continue to protect views from the park and provide a buffer of conserved green space.”

Therefore, with its purchase Monday, CMLC has just begun the effort required for permanent conservation of the Weed Patch Mountain land.   Over the next several years CMLC will pursue a broad range of public and private sources to raise the dollars needed to pay off $1.95 million in loans.  Roe remains optimistic about the long-term outcome of the project.  “The Weed Patch Mountain project was an opportunity CMLC could not pass up,” he notes. “I believe the community will look back in coming years and feel very gratified that conservationists stepped up and acquired this gem for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) helps landowners protect local land and water resources vital to our natural heritage and quality of life.  As a local nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the places people love, CMLC is helping to create a regional network of over 20,000 acres of protected farm, forest, park and natural lands.  Founded in 1994, CMLC protects land in Henderson, Transylvania, and neighboring counties and offers monthly hikes and a variety of volunteer opportunities for members and the public.  For more information about CMLC or the Weed Patch Mountain project, visit the CMLC website at http://www.carolinamountain.org or call 828-697-5777.

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December 31, 2009

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