By Peter Barr

Towering cliffs, spectacular waterfalls, verdant forests, and picturesque mountain views—the natural splendor of Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge is abundant. Around each bend of the road, alcove of the lake, and twist in the trail, the stunning beauty of this paradise that we cherish calling home or revel in visiting is all around us.

But such natural grandeur cannot be taken for granted, which is why Conserving Carolina—the local land conservancy servicing Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge—partners with private land owners as well as government agencies to safeguard the natural resources of the region so that they forever remain as awe-inspiring as they are today.

Formerly known as Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) and Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC), the two land trusts completed a merger in late 2017 to more effectively advance their common mission to conserve natural resources in western North Carolina for generations to come. So while Conserving Carolina’s name is new, their impact and service to this region is not.

CMLC, founded in 1994, had previously protected 32,000 acres in Henderson, Transylvania, and western Rutherford County (including the Hickory Nut Gorge) as well as some areas of Buncombe, Jackson, and Polk counties. PAC has previously conserved 10,000 acres in Polk County as well as areas of upstate South Carolina.

Together they now protect more than 42,000 acres of natural lands that you love—and need—among the Hickory Nut Gorge, Blue Ridge Escarpment and its foothills, and watersheds of the French Broad, Broad, Green, and Pacolet Rivers.

Conserving Carolina is dedicated to protecting and stewarding land and water resources as well as to fostering appreciation and understanding of the natural world through the creation of trails, parks, and greenways. The merged organization combines expertise and resources for a strengthened ability to safeguard the region’s unique natural heritage, rural character, and quality of life.

Conserving Carolina’s impact in the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure runs deep. In 2005, the land conservancy purchased the 1,568-acre Worlds Edge tract south of Lake Lure, which helped facilitate the creation of Chimney Rock State Park itself in 2006.

Since then, Conversing Carolina has protected an additional 3,500 acres of natural lands in the Hickory Nut Gorge and surrounding Lake Lure. This includes 1,300 acres in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge among Bearwallow Mountain, Florence Nature Preserve and Wildcat Rock.

Committed to facilitating a human connection to the natural world, the conservancy has also driven development of public outdoor recreation trails among the lands that it conserved. Since 2009, the land trust and partners have designed & constructed 12 new miles of hiking paths connecting those protected lands surrounding the community of Gerton. When complete in the next few years, the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail loop will extend 20 continuous miles.

Conserving Carolina seeks to develop a network of more than 100 miles of public trails that traverse the Hickory Nut Gorge and circumnavigate Lake Lure in the coming years while protecting even more natural lands.

Most recently, Conserving Carolina partnered with the Town of Lake Lure to preserve natural greenspaces, create parkland, and build public hiking and mountain biking trails at Buffalo Creek Park on Weed Patch Mountain—a project that began in 2009 which is still ongoing. Stay tuned this spring for an exciting announcement by these partners regarding the newest protected natural lands and trails to enjoy right here in your own backyard.

For more information on Conserving Carolina, and to support local land conservation and trails, visit conservingcarolina.org.

Peter Barr is the Trails Coordinator for Conserving Carolina.