Charlotte Observer May 13, 2004

N.C. to add 1,200 acres to game lands
Purchases in South Mountains will protect area from development

BRUCE HENDERSON, Staff Writer

More than 1,200 acres in the South Mountains will be added to state game lands in Rutherford and McDowell counties, a regional land trust said Wednesday.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission bought 752 acres last month. An option allows the commission to buy another 492 acres by October, said Tom Kenney of the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina. The Morganton-based land trust negotiated the state purchases.

The South Mountains extend from southwestern Burke and northern Cleveland counties into northeastern Rutherford County. The range is visible from Interstate 40 south of Morganton.

The purchases extend protection of the range about another three miles to the southwest, Kenney said. Subdivisions are rising in the rural land surrounding the range.

The forested area also includes the headwaters of the First Broad River, which flows through Rutherford and Cleveland counties.

The acquisitions mean more than 38,700 acres in the South Mountains are protected from development as part of a state park or game lands, where hunting and other public uses are allowed. Foothills, the Nature Conservancy and the wildlife commission raised more than $14 million to purchase an 18,000-acre core area in 1998.

Landowner Rutherford Hills LP and its partners, Robert Head Jr., W.C. Nelson, William Holt, Scotty Fain and Chris Henson, preferred to sell the additional land as game land, Kenney said.

"We are grateful for their willingness to work with us to make the acquisition happen," Kenney said.

Grants from the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund and the N.C. Department of Transportation's Ecosystem Enhancement Program allowed the $1.3 million April purchase. The ecosystem program and possibly the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund are expected to provide $861,000 for the October purchase, Kenney said.

Bruce Henderson: (704) 358-5051; bhenderson@charlotteobserver.com.