May 27, 2012. The Mast General Store celebrates Land Trust Day in the High Country with the Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) and the National Committee for the New River (NCNR) on Saturday, June 2. Recognized for the tenth year at Mast Store, Land Trust Day is a friend-raising event encouraging new memberships in local land trusts as well as an educational opportunity to learn how these groups are preserving our land heritage.
According to the Land Trust Alliance, “Saving land has given America the chance to know itself again. When we look into the mirror of our national identity, we can now see farms, urban gardens, historic sites, mountains and rivers—not just strip malls, bulldozers and traffic jams. Through land conservation, we give people the opportunity to taste something of what it is like to be authentically human: children rolling in the grass of an urban park; a grandfather teaching his granddaughter the quiet art of fishing; a fifth-generation farmer growing vegetables on his family’s homestead—nourishing his community with both fresh food and a farm stand where neighbors gather. We set out to save land, but, in the end, we build community, preserve beauty and instill hope.”
The land trust movement is not new. Some land trusts have been in place for over a century. In the past five years, the amount of land protected by local and regional land trusts has doubled nationwide. Since its inception in 1974, the NCNR has worked to protect the land critical for preserving important wildlife habitat, rare and endangered species, cornerstones of biodiversity, and working farmland along the New River and its tributaries. The NCNR works in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia’s New River watershed and has protected over 7,500 acres of land important to the New River’s water quality, scenic and natural values, and has stabilized over 81 miles of river and stream bank.
In 2011, NCNR completed five conservation easements totaling 688 acres. Notably, in Ashe County, the Silas Branch Farm, located along an important New River feeder stream, was protected by a donated conservation easement. The 112 acres remain in a 5-generation family operation. With this conservation easement, the farm is protected forever from development. Currently, the farm is an organic vineyard that produces a variety of wine grapes used chiefly by a local winery.
In May 2010, the Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust (BRRLT), based in West Jefferson, and the High Country Conservancy, based in Boone, merged to create Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC). These two twenty-year-old organizations became the unified BRC in order to protect the natural resources of Appalachia by conserving land with significant ecological, cultural, recreational, or scenic value in the North Carolina High Country.
The BRC has permanently protected 16,300 acres of land in 177 places throughout northwestern North Carolina. BRC partners with private farmland owners to voluntarily protect working and productive farms. Conservation easements allow farmers to continue working their land while ensuring it remains farmland forever. These farms remain in private ownership, can be sold, passed to heirs and remain on county tax rolls.
“Maintaining a good balance of open space is important to the vitality of any community and to its residents’ quality of life,” said Fred Martin, president of Mast General Store. “These open spaces provide opportunities for recreation, food production, safe water supplies, and leisure enjoyment…all of which contribute not only to the physical wellbeing of a community, but also its economic vitality.”
Representatives from the NCNR will be on hand at the Mast Store in Boone and BRC members will visit the Original Store and Annex in Valle Crucis on Saturday, June 2nd, to share with guests the activities they are undertaking to conserve the open spaces in the region. The Mast General Store will donate 20 percent of sales on that Saturday to the NCNR and the BRC. Visit the websites – www.ncnr.org and www.blueridgeconservancy.org – for more information on current projects and how to become a member of these organizations. To learn more about land trust activities in general, visit the Land Trust Alliance online at www.lta.org.