900 acres of new public land

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Nonprofit transfers land to Polk County, Green River Game Lands

COLUMBUS — Polk County residents now officially have 900 more acres of public land, thanks to Conserving Carolina’s donation of most of the former Foster Creek Preserve planned housing development in Columbus.

Of the nearly 1,000 acres of land, Carolina Conservancy donated 600 acres to the state to expand the Green River Game Lands, and other 300 acres to Polk County, which plans to develop the county’s first mountain bike trails as well as walking trails behind Polk County Middle School.

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The 900 acres of Little White Oak Mountain became public land last Friday. Conserving Carolina said it transferred 600 acres to the state and 300 acres to Polk County in a release.

A view of Little White Oak Mountain from Polk County Middle School. Local nonprofit Conserving Carolina recently transferred 900 acres of Little White Oak Mountain land to the state and county for public use. (Submitted photo)

Polk County received a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Fund Grant in the amount of $375,000 recently to provide 7 to 10 miles of hiking and bike trails, which will connect to the county’s recreation park off Wolverine Trail in Mill Spring.

The addition of 600 acres to the game lands will protect approximately 13 miles of streams, which flow into White Oak Creek and to the Green River, as well as protecting rare, natural communities, including an endangered wildflower, the white irisette, according to a release from Conserving Carolina.

Conserving Carolina also has plans at the foot of the mountain next year to work with the nonprofit organization, Housing Assistance Corporation, to build workforce housing.

“There was a time when it looked like Little White Oak Mountain would be heavily developed,” said Conserving Carolina Executive Director Kieran Roe. “We are very pleased that, instead, we were able to provide so many long-term benefits to the community — from protecting scenic views, to expanding land for hunting, to creating trails for the local community, to building workforce housing.”

Foster Creek Preserve was a planned 687 home community that failed during the recession. The property was voluntary annexed into the town of Columbus.

The Pacolet Area Conservancy and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy worked together in 2016 to purchase the property. The two groups merged to form Conserving Carolina in 2017.

“Acquisition of this tract will conserve several rare plants and animals, as well as important natural communities,” said North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s mountain regional supervisor, Kip Hollifield.

Hollifield also said the property will soon be open to the public for hunting, wildlife viewing, hiking, nature study and other outdoor activities. A new public access point will be opening on Houston Road, Hollifield said.

The project was made possible with several partners, including Fred and Alice Stanback, the Open Space Institute, Polk County, the Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, PARTF, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program and local donors, who contributed $130,000.

“The conservation of Little White Oak Mountain demonstrates the importance of protecting land for wildlife facing an uncertain future,” said OSI executive vice president Peter Howell. “OSI is proud to have supported this project through our Southeast Resilient Landscapes Initiative. We applaud Conserving Carolina whose dedication, perseverance, and ingenuity saved this property, which was once slated for development, for the residents of Polk County.”

Polk County Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Stensland said the county is excited to see the park expand outdoor recreation opportunities for local residents and to create the first mountain biking trails in the county.

“This park has the potential to make Polk County more of a destination for outdoor recreation and benefit local businesses,” Stensland said.

Polk County Middle School Principal Todd Murphy said the school is also very excited about the plans for the park at Little White Oak Mountain.

“Our students will benefit through hands-on learning experiences,” Murphy said. “Our classroom teachers will have access to the park for outdoor learning activities. Our clubs and athletic teams will also benefit through the use of the multi-use trail system.”

Polk County is seeking additional grants to establish the trail system, which will be maintained with volunteers through the county’s AmeriCorps trails coordinator.