Forest near Pearson’s Falls protected

Published 1:29 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

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When Bob Tobey and Donna Martin were looking for land, their vision was not only to create a home for themselves, but also to protect some land that they felt was special. If there’s a beautiful place in the mountains, they reasoned that eventually, someone will want to develop it. And, they could make a difference by buying the land for conservation instead.

At the time, they were living on a farm near Landrum, S.C. with their cattle and a donkey. From their home in the rolling countryside at the foot of the Blue Ridge Escarpment they would look out and see Hogback Mountain. Bob says, “We would look up at Hogback Mountain and think that it would be a nice place to live.” 

They had been searching for property all around, 50 miles out or more. One day their realtor took Bob to see a property that was new to them, next to Hogback Mountain. Donna says, “Bob called me and said, ‘This is the place’ – and we ended up right in our backyard.”

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To reach this property you drive up a winding road that turns to gravel and navigates steep slopes alongside plunging creeks and slender waterfalls. The land is located above Pearson’s Falls, near Saluda on the North Carolina / South Carolina border. On one side, it adjoins a vast tract of the protected Greenville Watershed. The land is covered in forests and its clear headwater streams flow down into Fork Creek and Melrose Falls – feeding these gorgeous waterfalls and from there the rushing Pacolet River.

Bob and Donna were right that this property was a target for development. In fact, it had previously been slated for a subdivision, with house lots, roads, and a lake all planned out. But those plans fell through during a market downturn, so when they were looking, the forested land was still intact.

It was perfect. Bob and Donna bought the large parcel in 2000 and moved there a few years later. Before they retired, they found their new home convenient to their jobs as stockbrokers in downtown Tryon. They built their house high on the mountain, with stunning views, including Mt. Pisgah, Mt. Mitchell, and Bearwallow Mountain. Near their home, they also cleared six acres of pasture and built barns for Donna’s unique menagerie.

Donna raises three horses, a mule, two donkeys, a miniature horse, two hair sheep, chickens, two dogs, and two cats, as well as a zebra and a zonkey!  The zonkey is the offspring of her zebra and a donkey. He looks like a soft-furred pony with black-and-white striped legs and large blue eyes.

Donna’s passion for animals started in childhood, growing up on a 35-acre cattle farm in South Carolina. “Dad really got me interested in cattle,” Donna says. “Of course, I always was interested in horses. Mom said that the first word I said was ‘horse.’” Later, on their farm near Landrum, she raised Irish Dexter cattle and took them to shows. Then, on a safari in Africa, she was captivated by the zebras. “I just got obsessed with them.” She wound up purchasing a zebra from a private zoo in Florida and she dotes on her, along with her other farm animals.

Bob, who grew up in Upstate New York, is an active member of the Tryon Garden Club and has completed the Blue Ridge Naturalist course at the North Carolina Arboretum. Along the roads and trails of their property, he can tell you about the many growing things in the woods – like the evergreen carpet of running cedar, the silverbell trees that bloom in spring, the many trout lilies, and the sourwoods, rhododendrons, and oaks growing in the forest.

Bob and Donna named the trails, which follow old logging roads, after each of their six grandchildren with neat signs displaying names such as “Jessica Dr.” and “Caroline Circle.”  Donna says, “When the kids were young, Bob would walk with them on their designated trail and explore what’s there. It was very special.”

On their land, which they named Greenhaven Farm, they see an abundance of wildlife, including bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, wild pigs, and bears. Last fall, they saw four bear cubs–an unusually large bear family–in the outermost branches and up to the very top of an oak tree right next to their home. They were feasting on the acorns. “I kept thinking somebody was going to fall,” Donna says.

Bob and Donna first protected a portion of their land through a bargain sale of 300+ acres to the North Carolina Plant Conservation program. Protected in 2005, this nature preserve harbors exceptional biodiversity including an endangered plant species–the white irisette. 

Now, they have protected more of their land by donating a conservation easement on 79 forested acres to Conserving Carolina. This land is still their private property, but the easement ensures that it will never be developed. The easement does allow foresty, in accordance with a forest management plan developed by Ecoforesters. In addition, the easement ensures wide forested buffers along nearly a mile of headwater streams–vital habitat for wildlife.

“I really am into wildlife corridors,” Bob says. “We need to have a place where the bear can safely go from A to B.” Their newly protected land adjoins the North Carolina Plant Conservation Preserve and is located near the Greenville Watershed, Pearson’s Falls, and several nature preserves owned by Conserving Carolina, including Melrose Falls and Norman Wilder Forest.

Conserving Carolina’s Land Protection Director, Tom Fanslow, says, “Bob and Donna are founding a conservation corridor connecting important natural lands in North Carolina to tens of thousands of acres of conserved land in South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness. If this weren’t enough, we were delighted to learn that the Hogback Mountain easement also protects the backup public water supply for Tryon.”

This newly protected land is part of more than 48,000 acres that Conserving Carolina has helped to protect in Polk, Henderson, Transylvania, Rutherford, and surrounding counties.