Donations welcome to help preserve former Foster Creek development

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Foster Creek Preserve

COLUMBUS – Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), which recently purchased the former Foster Creek Preserve property in Columbus, is asking for donations to preserve the property for the public.

CMLC sent a press release last week detailing plans as well as how the property was purchased.

“The scenic ridgeline and south facing slopes of Little White Oak Mountain, slated in the mid-2000s as the site for a 687-unit residential development north of the Town of Columbus, known as the Foster Creek Preserve, will now be permanently protected thanks to the cooperative action of local organizations,” states the release. “Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, working closely with the Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC), purchased the 1,068-acre property in December 2016 to conserve its dramatic views, rare species, wildlife habitats and opportunities for outdoor recreation.” 

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The land was purchased through a major gift from Fred and Alice Stanback, of Salisbury and a $1.86 million loan from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

“In order to pay back the loan,” CMLC’s release said, “the conservation organizations are now pursuing several fundraising strategies to encourage public engagement and buy in. Donations are welcomed and can be made to either PAC or CMLC and earmarked for the Foster Creek Preserve project.”

CMLC says over coming years, CMLC and PAC hope to transfer portions of the property to capable management of state and local partner organizations, including the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the Polk County Recreation Department and the Housing Assistance Corporation, which is a nonprofit Hendersonville-based developer of affordable housing.

PAC targeted the tract as a conservation priority over the last decade and at one point worked with the previous owner on a plan to protect the high-elevation part of the property with a conservation easement, although the easement never came to fruition, according to CMLC. PAC, however, maintained contact with the owners and working with CMLC, approached the American Land Fund in 2015 and the dialogue led to the offer to sell for a price below market value.

“PAC is excited to be working with CMLC to create an outcome on the Little White Oak tract that conserves its outstanding natural features while also addressing other community needs,” said PAC President Rebecca Kemp. 

Part of the project is to donate approximately 300 acres of the property that abuts Polk County’s recreation complex in Mill Spring. The additional property could provide local residents and visitors with greater recreational opportunities, including more extensive hiking and mountain biking trails.

Property adjoining Hwy. 108 that is not on steep mountain slopes is planned to be developed as workforce housing development intended to help younger families and middle-income workers, including police officers and teachers build a home. The planned residential area is 30-60 acres, according to the release. The homeowners would help build the homes to keep the costs more affordable, with each home anticipated to be valued at $180,000-$200,000.

Up to 600 acres of the property are planned to be added to the adjoining Green River Game Lands. There is currently 14,000 acres of game land located in and around the Green River Gorge in southeast Henderson and western Polk counties, which is managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. The land is used primarily by anglers, hunters and hikers. CMLC says though the game land has expanded many times since its creation in 1950, this addition would be the first since 2008 and will provide a public access point from Houston Road in Columbus.

“The conservation partners hope to initiate a master planning process involving public input to determine how the long-term uses of the property can best benefit the community,” states the release. “For instance, Polk County Middle School adjoins the County Recreation Complex and the Little White Oak property. Planners will look for opportunities to create trails that might link the school to conserved land, and provide teachers and students with educational and recreational access.”

According to CMLC executive director Kieran Roe, “Due to the substantial change in the local real estate market that occurred after the 2008-09 recession, the extensive residential development once envisioned for the site will never come to pass. CMLC looks forward to working with PAC and numerous other collaborators on a different, and perhaps better, long-term outcome there for the community.”

Both Columbus Town Council and the Polk County Board of Commissioners have discussed the project since it was unveiled late last year. Some Columbus council members have expressed interest in de-annexing the Foster Creek property from  Columbus town limits. Polk County commissioners expressed interest in how the town could de-annex the property and if there is a possibility the property will be located in Polk County rather than Columbus. Neither local government has brought up the development in recent months.