Conserving Carolina raising funds for Cedar Cliffs Preserve

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, January 9, 2024

A property that is a top priority for conservation in Polk County could become a gorgeous new nature preserve.

Conserving Carolina has a window of opportunity to purchase 192 acres in the North Pacolet River Gorge that would connect the Melrose Falls preserve with Norman Wilder Forest. The property borders the proposed Saluda Grade Trail. Conserving Carolina has until February to raise the funds needed to buy this exceptional property, called Cedar Cliffs at Twin Bridges.

“For many years, Cedar Cliffs has been one of our highest priorities because it has so much potential to link protected lands, provide clean water for the North Pacolet River, and preserve this area’s rich biodiversity,” says Executive Director Kieran Roe. “In the past, Pacolet Area Conservancy—one of two groups that merged to form Conserving Carolina—tried to buy the land without success. Now, we have another chance, but only for a short time.” 

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Conserving Carolina is under contract on the property and is working quickly to raise funds in time to buy it in February. The local nonprofit has identified funding sources for about 90% of the project. This leaves $100,000 needed from local donors, which Conserving Carolina has a goal of raising by Feb. 1.

The proposed Cedar Cliffs preserve includes two separate sections, one on either side of Conserving Carolina’s Melrose Falls preserve (also called Twin Bridges), which is known for its extraordinary spring wildflowers. The north section of Cedar Cliffs includes 162 forested acres on Buck Mountain. Here, unique communities of plants and animals thrive among steep forests, rocky cliffs, and mountain streams. This section of the property includes eight headwater streams, all flowing into the North Pacolet River. 

About half of this northern section lies within a state-designated Significant Natural Area that is ranked “very high” in conservation value due to its rich diversity of plants and animals. This natural area harbors rare species that include French Broad Heartleaf and the Mottled Duskywing butterfly. The northern section of the proposed Cedar Cliffs preserve touches Conserving Carolina’s Norman Wilder Forest, home to popular hiking trails.  

The southern section of Cedar Cliffs includes 30 acres with a long boundary along the proposed Saluda Grade Trail. This means that a section of the rail trail could have nature preserves on both sides—Melrose Falls and Cedar Cliffs. The southern section of Cedar Cliffs would offer a potential access point for the Saluda Grade Trail. 

On a landscape scale, Cedar Cliffs would add to two growing conservation corridors. One corridor runs east-west, following the stunning North Pacolet River. The other corridor runs north-south across mountains to link two vast protected areas, the Green River Game Lands and Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Conservation corridors like these provide unbroken migration routes for wildlife. They also help plants and animals adapt to climate change by shifting their range when necessary. 

Cedar Cliffs is also a strategic location in the fight against kudzu, which is choking out biodiversity and scenic beauty along so much of Highway 176—a designated NC Scenic Byway. Kudzu has taken over steep banks along the road on the edge of the Cedar Cliffs property. If Conserving Carolina is able to purchase the land, it will work to control kudzu as it has done at other nature preserves. The project budget includes funding to control invasive plants and restore native habitat.

The total project cost is $980,000. So far, Conserving Carolina has identified funding from generous contributors including the Stanback family, the Polk County Community Foundation Bradley Fund, and a potential grant from the NC Land and Water Fund. These sources may provide nearly 90% of the project cost, leaving $100,000 to raise from local private donors. Of that amount, community members have already donated $60,000, leaving only $40,000 still needed to protect the land. 

To make a donation, go to conservingcarolina.org/cedar-cliffs or reach out to Planned Giving Officer Sierra Hoisington at sierra@conservingcarolina.org or 828-697-5777 ext. 220. 

Submitted by Sierra Hoisington