Charlotte Observer Jan. 16, 2004

Mountain land passes to public ownership

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Thousands of acres surrounding 13 miles of a mountain river used for hunting, fishing and camping for decades now are owned by the public.

Transfer of the more than 4,400 acres along the Little Tennessee River in Swain and Macon counties was completed Thursday. The Nature Conservancy was the intermediary in the deal in which the state bought the land from Duke Energy for $19 million.

Experts said the river is the only one in the Blue Ridge mountains to still have its historic array of aquatic creatures. Black bears and other wildlife use the forest.

"It's what the biologists call a biological hot spot" for its diversity, said Fred Annand, associate director of the Nature Conservancy's N.C. chapter.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will manage the property as gameland.

Duke acquired the land in its purchase of Nantahala Power and Light, which once intended to build a hydroelectric dam and reservoir.

Crescent Resources, Duke's real estate arm, agreed to the sale in December 2002. More than $2 million in private donations was raised, including a pledge of up to $1 million by Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury.

Other grants included $7.5 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation; $6.6 million from the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund; $2 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; $1.5 million from the state Natural Heritage Trust Fund; $450,000 from the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee; and $200,000 from the Lyndhurst Foundation.

Information from: The Charlotte Observer