HCLT rescues plants on Rock Mountain

This may sound like the beginning of an awesome children’s story, but it’s something the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust does on a regular basis, collaborate with developers to achieve conservation goals.

The Divided-leaf ragwort, or Packera millefolium, is a federal species of concern and is considered threatened in North Carolina.

Pictured below is an aerial view of Rock Mountain with appearances from the adjacent mountain, Chimney Top.

This means it is protected on government land, but has no real protections on private lands outside of conservation areas, said Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator Kyle Pursel.

Divided-leaf ragwort, or Packera millefolium, was relocated to other areas of Rock Mountain to avoid threat of development.

This at-risk ragwort grows throughout the Plateau, including Rock Mountain, which is located on High Hampton Inn property in Cashiers.

Kyle Pursel loads ragwort into garbage bags to trans[port the plants to areas free of development.

High Hampton has a conservation easement with the HCLT for several slopes and the summit of Rock Mountain, and the adjacent mountain also on High Hampton property, Chimney Top.

Those who have never visited Rock Mountain have likely seen it. When looking from the Big Overlook on Highway 64, on the far right is Whiteside Mountain, the middle mountain is Chimney Top, and Rock Mountain is on the left.

Areas under a conservation easement cannot be developed or clearcut, but can have trails and limited recreational infrastructure on them.

High Hampton Inn is located at the base of Rock Mountain and Chimney Top is in the background.

Pursel discovered patches of ragwort growing in an area of High Hampton slated for development and took action.

“High Hampton has been very good about allowing HCLT and others to rescue and move any plants that are within their new development areas,” said Pursel. “This site is within an area where a road to access some lots is slated to go in. The exact site is close enough to the proposed road that it could be impacted, or it could be impacted later when the lot it is on is sold and developed, so the rescue was a precaution before any construction began and while it is still owned by High Hampton, since they welcome these kinds of rescues and a subsequent owner may not, just to be safe.”

View from Whiteside Mountain of Rock Mountain (left) and Chimney Top (right) with Devil’s Courthouse at the bottom left.

Most of the ragwort was moved to suitable locations throughout Rock Mountain where they would not be under threat of development.

A panoramic view of Rock Mountain (left) and Chimney Top (right).

One clump of ragwort went to the Highlands Biological Station for use in their Rock Outcrop Garden in part to educate the public about this species.

This is the second major plant rescue at High Hampton in the past few years. HCLT and other organizations completed a rescue north of Hampton Lake a few years ago, targeting pink-shell azaleas, swamp azalea, fairy wand, and other plants. Many of those azaleas found new homes at McKinney Meadow in Cashiers.

HCLT has also released predatory beetles on the Carolina hemlocks found on Rock Mountain to help protect them better against hemlock wooly adelgid.

Much of Rock Mountain is made up of sheer granite cliff-face.

Pursel said conservation easements are a way land can be conserved while it remains privately held and be managed for habitat and species health.

The original conservation easement between the HCLT and High Hampton was in 2004 and covered Chimney Top and the slopes of Rock Mountain. Pursel said this easement was the driving force to change their name from the Highlands Land Trust to the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust. HCLT formed an additional conservation easement on the summit of Rock Mountain a few years later.

Pursel said reasons for entering into a conservation easement range from protecting rare species and habitats, protecting open space and wildlife habitats, scenic views and important viewsheds, steep slopes to reduce landslide risks, and streams and wetlands for preserving water quality. Other reasons can include conserving small farms, buffering other protected/conserved lands, or to provide public recreation opportunities.

Rock Mountain is not only home to a diverse variety of plants, but wildlife as well. Pictured above is Pursel holding a red-bellied snake.

HCLT is responsible for monitoring all conservation easements they hold and must do so at least once a year.

“We look to make sure the terms of the easement are being upheld and that the conservation values (the reasons we did the easement) remain intact and healthy,” said Pursel. “If the terms are violated, we are also responsible for holding the violators to task and making sure the issues are appropriately resolved. While not obligated, we also can help with habitat management, invasive species control, species monitoring, scientific research, educational events, and give advice to the landowners.”

After relocating the Ragwort, HCLT AmeriCorps Member Logan Kallum checks on some other plants in the area.

He added that maintaining the trails providing access is up to the landowners, as most conservation easement are on private land.

A panoramic view of Rock Mountain with Chimney Top in the background.

To learn more about HCLT’s conservation efforts, click HERE.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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