Among the best news we heard in 2021 was the success of conservation projects across the state. These projects preserve North Carolina’s natural areas to help maintain a healthy environment, which contributes to our own health.
Earlier this week, a major land acquisition was announced in Ashe County, where more than 100 acres of private property on Paddy Mountain have been purchased to set aside for protection. This is the result of local government officials, business owners, private donors and the Blue Ridge Conservancy, all working together, WFDD’s Keri Brown reported Thursday.
“The acquisition of the 152 acres on Paddy Mountain will ensure that mountain will forever remain in a forested natural state,” Charlie Brady, executive director of the Blue Ridge Conservancy, said. “And just as important, it will now be available for public access and recreation.” Hiking trails and recreational activities to highlight the mountain’s natural setting are in the works. Future plans could include a potential trailhead for a new state project known as the Northern Peaks Trail, Brady said.
A similar acquisition of a 115-acre tract to be called Bandera Farms Park, a 5-mile network of riding trails that will also be open to hikers, was reported earlier this month. The park will likely also provide a mile-long section of the planned Piedmont Greenway, a 19-mile path that will stretch from the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway near U.S. 220, through Triad Park in Kernersville, to the Salem Lake Trail in Winston-Salem.
This acquisition is thanks to the efforts of local officials working with the nonprofit Piedmont Land Conservancy.
These projects and others are the result of cooperation between enlightened land owners, public officials and nonprofits that realize the need for stewardship rather than commercial exploitation. We need that approach now more than ever.
The recently deceased, Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson spent much of his later career reminding us of the importance of preserving diverse species and ecosystems, which are all interwoven. “The diversity of life on Earth is far greater than even most biologists recognize,” he said in 1993.
Some tend to see nature as separate from humanity. We find comfort in our temperature-controlled shelters.
But we’re actually part of nature, from which comes all the resources that we manipulate to create food, clothing and everything else we use.
And from which we can find health, solace, recreation and inspiration, if we protect its finite resources properly.
Some of our manipulation has proved threatening to our future — all the more reason to encourage preservation projects. Even with the best of intentions, our management systems sometimes fail to take into account all the intricate moving parts that keep the web of life connected. Sometimes it seems the best we can do — the best we should do — is to set large tracts aside and leave them alone.
It sure beats laying more pavement.
Our state government also deserves praise for setting aside $91 million in additional funding in this year’s budget for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, as well as $100 million allocated to the N.C. Land and Water Fund over the next two years. This will fund a new state park in western North Carolina, a rail trail and miles of back country paths, as well as other projects, including further development of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.
“I think we’re going to see significantly more parks and trails and greenways both in state parks but also local parks, local communities all across the state,” Reid Wilson, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, told The Smoky Mountain News in November. “What’s exciting about that is that the budget shows that the state’s leaders recognize the high value that North Carolinians put on having plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities. I think that bodes well for continued expanded funding in the future to continue to provide outdoor recreation to people in North Carolina.”
Much of the money for these projects will come from pandemic-related federal aid.
Speaking of the Great Outdoors, many state parks sponsor New Year’s Day hikes for those who like to start the year off on the right foot (or the left). For more information, go to www.ncparks.gov/first-day-hikes.