Conservancy protects 93 more acres along Wilson Creek

Nov. 18—MORGANTON — A section of Wilson Creek has been permanently preserved courtesy of the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.

On Nov. 4, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina acquired 93 acres along one-and-a-half miles of Wilson Creek, a nationally-designated Wild and Scenic River in Caldwell County, from Duke Energy, and subsequently recorded a conservation easement held by the North Carolina Land and Water Fund to permanently protect the land and water resources.

"Foothills Conservancy is proud to permanently protect another large segment of Wilson Creek," said Executive Director Andrew Kota.

"As a National Wild and Scenic River, Wilson Creek is an important outdoor recreation area for Caldwell County and our region, and a significant watershed conservation area for our land trust as we and our partners continue to protect water quality in the Catawba River's headwaters."

From 2007 to 2009, Foothills Conservancy led the permanent protection of more than 850 acres of land along six miles of Wilson Creek. These lands are now under the ownership and management of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission or held under permanent conservation easement by the State of North Carolina.

In 2021, a 333-acre parcel containing two miles of Wilson Creek, adjoining the popular Pisgah National Forest Day Use Area, was donated to Foothills Conservancy.

"With these conservation achievements, 87% of the land in the Wilson Creek watershed and 80% of the National Wild and Scenic River is formally protected," said Land Protection Director Tom Kenney. "We're proud to have helped permanently protect this beautiful resource."

Foothills Conservancy, and its partners and stakeholders, such as Duke Energy, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and other local groups, will collaborate on planning efforts for future public recreation, such as river access and fishing on the newly-acquired property.

"Sixteen years ago, Duke Energy, Foothills Conservancy and 68 other stakeholders signed the Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement (CRA) — a landmark document providing the region's vision for conservation initiatives needed to protect the Catawba River and lake system for a 50-year planning horizon," said Tami Styer, Duke Energy's hydro licensing manager for the Catawba-Wateree Hydro Project. "This special 93-acre tract on Wilson Creek was set aside by the CRA for potential conservation and public recreation, but a partner was needed to make it happen. We are so very fortunate and grateful to have a dedicated partner like Foothills Conservancy to continue delivering on that regional vision."

The acquisition and conservation easement were funded by a state grant from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, a grant from the Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group and private funds from conservationists Brad and Shelli Stanback.

"From its headwaters on Grandfather Mountain through land stewarded by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, N.C. State Parks, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and Foothills Conservancy, Wilson Creek provides countless public access opportunities" said Will Summer, executive director of the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. "These pristine waters, rated as exceptional aquatic habitat, support a collection of sensitive aquatic species indicative of very high water quality, including the best known population of Carolina Foothills Crayfish. We are thrilled to join these partners in adding more permanent protection of Wilson Creek."

This project is the latest in a series of conservation efforts in Caldwell County by Foothills Conservancy. Earlier this month, the Conservancy announced the donation and protection of a viewshed corridor property along U.S. Highway 321 in the town of Blowing Rock, and the land trust is currently raising funds to permanently protect a larger parcel of land next the the donated property, which contains the headwaters of the Johns River.