Land added to Green River Game Lands

Published 11:36 am Friday, May 3, 2024

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SALUDA—The Green River Game Lands just grew by 175 acres near Saluda, with forests that overlook the famous Narrows rapids and streams that provide clean water to the Green River. This is part of a larger effort by neighbors who are working together to protect hundreds of acres. They first came together to fight a proposed shooting range that would have brought the noise of automatic weapons into their homes and into the forests of the Game Lands. That threat got them thinking about the future of the beautiful, wild landscape around their homes and they started working with Conserving Carolina to protect this area.

The community stopped the gun range and then worked with Conserving Carolina to buy the land. In a dramatic turnaround, 76 acres of that property were added to the Game Lands in 2022. And the neighbors went further. With this 175-acre expansion, 251 acres of new public land have now been added to the Game Lands. In addition, 44 acres of private land will be conserved, expanding the protected natural area.

Conserving Carolina’s Land Protection Director, Tom Fanslow, says “When I look at the acreages conserved in the vicinity of Macedonia Road in the last few years, I am reminded of Margaret Mead’s famous quote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ These neighbors exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of acreage and their generosity. And we aren’t done yet!”

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The latest addition to the Game Lands came from two families—Tom and Susan McHugh and David and Karen Cook.

The McHughs’ land, within walking distance of the Green River, has been a part of Tom McHugh’s life since he was a boy. His father was a professor at Duke and when the school year ended, the family would go to live at their summer home in Saluda. 

“It was like a fantasy land,” McHugh says. “We’d work in the garden in the morning and then we’d have the afternoon to go and play in the woods.” He and his brother, John, would chase squirrels, look for snakes, find salamanders, and play in creeks. There was no electricity on the farm so they used kerosene lamps and cooked on a wood stove. They grew nearly all their food in the large garden. 

Eventually, this land became his home with his wife, Susan. But they don’t have children and they worried about the future of the land: what would become of this special place once they were gone?

The threat of the gun range got them thinking about conservation. After Conserving Carolina bought the gun range property in 2019 and added it to the Game Lands in 2022, the McHughs went on to protect their own land. This April, they transferred nearly 124 acres to Conserving Carolina as a bargain sale, selling the land for less than half of its appraised value. The NC Land and Water Fund and Fred and Alice Stanback provided funding for the bargain sale. 

This forested land includes rare wildflowers and 1.75 miles of mountain streams that flow into the Green River.

Tom McHugh says, “My brother, John, and I were privileged to be born to parents who loved and appreciated this mountain land.  Conserving Carolina is enabling us to set the property aside for preservation of wildlife, and for the enjoyment of generations to come. My father used to tell us, ‘There will be no money for you when your mother and I pass, but we will leave you the land.’ Thank you, Mother and ‘Mac’.”

Their neighbors, the Cooks, also acted generously to protect their land. In 2019, they donated almost 52 acres to Conserving Carolina. The Cooks had turned down multiple offers from real estate companies who wanted to buy the acreage below their home and develop it—which would have disrupted the stunning views that they and their neighbors enjoy. Although the tax benefits of donating the land to Conserving Carolina were far less what they could have gained by selling it, the Cooks decided it was a better choice for them. 

Now that beautiful forest land is protected forever. On April 9, Conserving Carolina donated the two parcels—175 acres in all—to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission as an addition to the Green River Game Lands.

Paul Thompson, a biologist with NC Wildlife Resources, says, “We are always excited at the opportunity to expand the Green River Game Land footprint and add to our base of conservation ownership. This additional acreage will not only create more opportunity for wildlife-related activities, but it will also permanently protect habitats for many unique and rare plant species found within the Green River Gorge area”

In addition to the land added to the Game Lands, Alex Harvey donated a conservation easement on 26 acres of his land in 2023, and the McHughs intend to donate a conservation easement on 18 acres of their remaining land. This private conservation land brings the total area protected by these neighbors working together to nearly 300 acres. 


Submitted by Rose Jenkins Lane