By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
Local residents and conservation advocates John and Faye Cooper recently donated to the Blue Ridge Conservancy more than 20 acres of pristine Valle Crucis farmland, ensuring the property’s future as a valuable part of the community and an educational resource.
The Coopers, owners of The Mast General Store, purchased the property in two parcels — the first in the early 1990s and the second almost 10 years later — and knew from the beginning that they needed to protect the land.
A conservation easement held by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina ensures that the land can only be used for agricultural and recreational purposes.
“We were very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and were able to buy it when we did. We knew we wanted to protect it,” John said. “At the time, we weren’t aware of conservation easements. But, as we became aware of it, we knew it was the right thing to do with that property.”
PRIME VALLE CRUCIS FARMLAND
Since the purchase, the Coopers have leased the 21.7 acres to several tenant farmers over the years. By early last year, they were ready to take the appropriate measures to ensure the land would be protected for generations to come.
“We talked about doing this at the beginning of 2015, so it’s really been a year in the making,” said John. “We just feel very fortunate that we were in a position to be able to do this and protect the rural nature of Valle Crucis.”
The property’s open bottomland soils make it some of the most valuable in the High Country, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed it as “Prime Farmland.” Divided by Dutch Creek, the property is connected to the adjoined Valle Crucis Community Park.
Its northern boundary, which fronts along the Watauga River for approximately 500 feet, is a designated aquatic habitat for species like hellbenders, green floaters and Smoky Willowfly nymphs. It’s also designated as high quality waters and delayed harvest trout waters.
“The front of the property is up on Broadstone Road,” John said. “Then it goes back to the Watauga River with Dutch Creek coming right through the middle of the property.”
Although the conservation easement prevented the Coopers from donating the two parcels separately, they’re hoping the Blue Ridge Conservancy will find a way to make some of the property work for the adjacent community park.
“Ultimately, we would like the Blue Ridge Conservancy to be able to use the property as they see fit with their mission,” said John. “Also, we’re hoping that the adjoining Valle Crucis park, since they just acquired the land adjacent to this land, might be able to extend the park and its trails.”
“I think the Blue Ridge Conservancy and the Valle Crucis park have worked together in the past, and I would imagine they’ll be able to work together in the future in that regard.”
The private, nonprofit conservancy hopes to use the property as “a showpiece of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship,” according to a statement from the organization, therefore generating new opportunities to connect people to the land.
The Coopers agree wholeheartedly with the conservancy’s mission to “permanently protect land and water resources with agricultural, ecological, cultural, recreational and scenic value.”
“They have done so much to preserve land in the High Country, both to protect the natural surroundings, including waterways, and to give recreational opportunities,” John said. “It provides the protection of beautiful natural resources, and that’s really why our beliefs align with the Blue Ridge Conservancy.”
They hope the two existing barns on the property will be used to help the conservancy expand its presence in the Valle Crucis community.
“They could do something with the inside of the two barns to create an outpost or an office or something, which would help further the education of conservation,” said John. “My hope is that they’re able to utilize them to make people more aware. There’s a lot of visitors that come through Valle Crucis and it’s a very scenic spot, so it would give them an opportunity to be right in the midst of visitors, both local and out-of-town.”
The Coopers said the protection of this Valle Crucis farmland will perpetuate the charm and beauty of the area and its nostalgic landmarks, like the Mast General Store.
“People from all over the state, the region and the country come in to the Mast Store, so the setting in Valle Crucis is very important. This protects the setting,” John said. “It’s a different world when you drive out to Valle Crucis and see that store. For years and years, it has been sitting in the middle of this agricultural area and it has been selling things since the beginning to farmers in the area.
“The setting is an important part of the area’s history.”
About Blue Ridge Conservancy
BRC is a private, non-profit, non-governmental organization incorporated in North Carolina. BRC has protected over 18,500 acres in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey Counties. In addition to protecting working farmland, BRC’s efforts have resulted in the creation of state natural areas like Beech Creek Bog, Bear Paw State Natural Area and Bullhead Mountain. We continue to help Elk Knob State park expand its borders and established Pond Mountain Game Land in Ashe County. More information about Blue Ridge Conservancy is available at www.blueridgeconservancy.org.