Nearly 2,000 acres ‘saved’ in Surry last year

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

January 16, 2014

Although Surry is but one of nine counties covered by the Piedmont Land Conservancy (PLC), it accounted for the lion’s share of acreage gaining protection through the organization’s efforts in 2013.

In all, 2,525 acres of farmland, forests and other environmentally significant tracts in the Piedmont region were “saved” from future development last year, according to a breakdown from the PLC. Of that, 1,787 acres — or 71 percent of the total — occurred in Surry County as a result of five different projects.

For more than 20 years, the Piedmont Land Conservancy has worked to acquire conservation easements for important sites to provide permanent protection for the region’s rivers and streams, natural and scenic areas, wildlife habitats, farmland and urban greenways and parks.

When a farm owner, for example, agrees to such an easement, it allows the continued use of the property for agricultural purposes. But it also ensures this use will be maintained and spares the landscape from future development activity that would undermine its aesthetic or environmental attributes.

The PLC’s success in Surry in 2013 was mainly due to two long-sought projects, its executive director, Kevin Redding, said Wednesday from Greensboro, where the organization is based. “And they both just happened to work out in the same year,” Redding said.

One was the Fishers Peak IV effort in which 550 acres, including the highest point in the region, gained preservation status.

“We’d been working on that for close to five years,” Redding said of a project that represented the final piece of an 1,800-acre conservation acquisition.

The other major project coming together last year involved what is known as the Arcadia property, amassing nearly 700 acres. This is providing protection to the headwaters of Mill Creek, a major tributary to the Mitchell River.

“That’s a property we’d been pursuing close to 20 years,” Redding added of the PLC.

He said the Arcadia site is helping to fulfill one of the core missions of the non-profit, land trust organization, the protection of scenic waterways.

The Mitchell River is home to one of the few remaining wild populations of native brook trout, and is listed as an outstanding resource water (ORW), and the cleanest river in all of North Carolina. Redding called the Arcadia property “a true jewel for conservation.”

Other Surry conservation-easement projects reaching fruition last year included:

• Fisher River Forest, containing 70 acres of forested bottomland along the Fisher River;

• The Johnson Farm, a 407-acre farmland site in a heavily threatened corridor near Interstate 77, where a family-owned and operated agricultural business has thrived for years;

• The Kidd Farm of 60 acres, which Redding classifies as another important family owned and operated farm with more than 3,100 feet along the Fisher River and one of its tributaries.

“We have had great success in Surry County and great support from the community up there,” he said.

Additional projects were finalized in Stokes, Yadkin, Rockingham, Caswell, Alamance and Randolph counties. The two other counties making up the nine-county PLC are Forsyth and Guilford. The total 2,525 acres put under protection last year almost matched the total by the PLC for the previous four years (2,633).

The 2013 projects also pushed the PLC-protected areas past the 22,000-acre mark.

Redding credited the efforts of local landowners, donors and volunteers for the successes achieved.

Transactional costs for many of the 2013 projects were made possible by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s Money in the Ground program, the Hillsdale Fund and individual donors to the Piedmont Land Conservancy.

Tax Credit A Factor

Redding also said the PLC was able to successfully protect 14 environmentally significant tracts across the region in 2013 before the North Carolina Conservation Tax Credit to landowners vanished at the end of the calendar year.

The absence of the tax credit in 2014 could play a factor in this year’s conservation-easement activity, PLC officials say.

“We think it will slow down some,” Redding said, but won’t bring acquisitions to a halt. While the tax credit provided some financial incentive for property owners, it should not be a deal-breaker for those who truly want to look out for the environment, he said.

“There are still people who love their land and want to protect their land.”

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or