With almost 50,000 acres already protected in our region, Conserving Carolina continues to be steadfast in its mission to save, conserve, restore, and share these precious landscapes with any and all who want to disappear into its beautiful, mysterious depths.
“Our mission is to protect special places, restore wildlife habitats, and to inspire people to care about the natural world, to take care of it,” said Rose Jenkins Lane, communications and marketing director for Conserving Carolina.
Based out of Hendersonville (with a regional office also in Columbus), the nonprofit organization came to fruition following the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Pacolet Area Conservancy merger in 2017.
“The primary goal is to protect land from harmful uses like irresponsible development so that we can preserve the natural environment of a property,” Jenkins Lane said. “While we do a ton of work with public lands, we also work on protecting private land with conservation easements, which can lead to the creation of new trails.”
With a keen focus on Buncombe, Henderson, Jackson, Polk, Rutherford, and Transylvania counties, Conserving Carolina is now responsible for more than 23,000 acres of land used for public recreation—from hiking to mountain biking, walking to trail running.
“The trails are a pretty big component for us. We’re going out and restoring these trails, bringing these places that have been degraded back to life as a vibrant, natural habitat,” Jenkins Lane said.
Of its current endeavors, more than a decade of planning and a $6.4-million-dollar grant from the NC Department of Transportation went into putting the Ecusta Trail under contract (with an official purchase aimed for this year). Formerly a railway line for the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, the 19-mile route connects Hendersonville to Brevard. The route will be transformed into a greenway for public use between the two cities.
“The Ecusta Trail will be a major asset to our communities, in terms of economic development and in terms of outdoor recreation. The opportunities to get people outside are numerous with this project,” Jenkins Lane said. “And when you place this greenway alongside the others in our area, it creates this massive connectivity between all of these towns and trails, which is now known as the [150-mile] Hellbender Trail Network.”
Another massive undertaking by Conserving Carolina is the 130-mile Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail network. With just about 40 miles of the trail already completed and opened, the ultimate vision for it will be a loop connecting Bearwallow Mountain, Blue Ridge Pastures, and the Florence Nature Preserve, with another section making its way around Lake Lure and beyond.
“This is something our world needs right now, bringing back some of what we’ve lost as a society,” Jenkins Lane said. “We really try to foster a sense of conservation ethics, so that everybody in the community feels empowered and motivated to care for the natural world.”
And with a constant push of forward momentum, those at Conserving Carolina are only at the beginning of the plethora of ideas and initiatives it’s hoping to see through in the coming years and decades—places and spaces that will remain forever wild for generations to come.
“It’s about finding this deeper understanding and connection with the natural world that we live in, where you’re always learning new things and bringing a lot of aspects of your life full circle,” Jenkins Lane said. “And, for us, we’re getting to know all of these great people in the community—to learn about how they relate to the earth through what they’re doing to protect, educate, and explore the land with others.”