Blue Ridge Conservancy continues pursuit of land protection on Paddy Mountain with 75 acre purchase

The High Country is under ever-increasing pressure: Housing and commercial development is rapidly consuming land, and the effects of a changing climate threaten our landscape and our economy.

Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) is a nonprofit land trust that partners with landowners and the local community to protect land and natural resources in northwestern North Carolina.

Paddy Mountain is a familiar and recognizable mountain northwest of West Jefferson in Ashe County. The eastern slope is known to many as the “backdrop of downtown.” Recently, BRC purchased 75 acres on the western slope of Paddy Mountain and transferred its ownership to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Plant Conservation Program. The land will be managed by the Plant Conservation Program as part of the greater Paddy Mountain Preserve, which includes 355 acres of conserved lands.

The 75 acre tract is comprised of 3 parcels which adjoin the Paddy Mountain Preserve. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program ranks this property as “outstanding” for biodiversity, and it qualifies as nationally significant. The land’s proximity to the Preserve is important for habitat connectivity, and improves the Preserve’s integrity by widening the buffer for rare natural communities.

“Protecting ecologically sensitive areas is a key component of our mission,” said Blue Ridge Conservancy Executive Director, Charlie Brady. “The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to an incredible abundance of biodiversity. Many species of plants and animals living here cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. We feel that it is our duty to protect these lands to keep ecosystems and their inhabitants healthy and intact.”

Paddy Mountain holds unique geological characteristics that create opportunities for rare, sensitive plants to thrive. Its composition includes amphibolite rock, which is rich in calcium and very nutritious for plants.

Recently, conservationists from several agencies accompanied an Appalachian State University class of budding botanists to survey for Heller’s Blazing Star along the ridgeline of Paddy Mountain. The outcroppings toward the summit are home to one of the largest and healthiest populations of the Heller’s blazing star, Liatris helleri, in the state

There are no trails or public access to the Preserve to protect these sensitive areas. The biggest threats to these rare populations of plants is poaching and trampling.

Conserving the uplands of Paddy Mountain will also protect the integrity of the headwater streams feeding into the North Fork of the New River. Large tracts of forest also sequester carbon, which helps to maintain air quality.

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of Paddy Mountain, Randall Eller, owner of Independence Lumber Company, purchased 154 acres of forested land adjacent to the preserve after winning a bidding war against BRC when the property went up for auction in May of 2019. The future of this side of the mountain remains unknown, and the land unprotected.

Blue Ridge Conservancy will continue to seek out high priority land protection opportunities that will preserve the natural and cultural heritage that make our mountains such a special place to call home.

The Conservancy relies on the support of the community and its members to make these land protection projects possible. If you are interested in learning more or becoming more involved, please visit our website www.blueridgeconservancy.org.

Nikki Robinson