Asheville Citizen-Times Jan. 15, 2004

Closing of Needmore preservation celebrated

By: Ball, Julie

WHITTIER - Hilda Lindsay Stanberry wasn't sure they could pull it off.

The state and private groups had about a year to come up with a total of nearly $20 million needed to buy and preserve nearly 4,500 acres near Stanberry's Western North Carolina home.

"I really didn't think they would get enough money," Stanberry said.

But Stanberry and her sister, Verna Fore, celebrated the end of a unique conservation effort Thursday that brought together everyone from turkey hunters to private foundations, as well as a slew of state and federal agencies.

"I think this is the future of conservation," said Bunny Johns, who serves on the board of the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. "You have got to have this kind of coalition."

Although they may have come together for different reasons, the groups had one goal - preserving what is known as the Needmore land, multiple tracts along the Little Tennessee River in Macon and Swain counties. On Thursday, the groups and local residents gathered to mark the closing of the deal.

Crescent Resources, the development arm of Duke Energy, sold the land for more than $19.5 million as part of an agreement worked out with the state and The Nature Conservancy. The property, used for generations by Macon and Swain residents, will now be in public hands, managed as gamelands by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

The conservancy raised about $2 million, with the rest of the money coming from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, state Ecosystem Enhancement Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Natural Heritage Trust Fund.

Fred and Alice Stanback put up $1 million in private funds, and the conservancy also got money from private foundations. Four local chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation also chipped in.

"I think what's unique about it is there are so many different agencies with a hand in it," said Cheryl Taylor, a Needmore resident who was vocal in her support of the preservation.

Stanberry and Fore say the land is part of their heritage.

"To see that go to commercial, that would have been terrible," Fore said.

But when talk surfaced in 1999 of trying to preserve the land, Bill Gibson gave it a one in 10 chance of success.

Gibson, of the Swain-based Southwestern Regional Council, thought the cost of buying the land, fierce competition for that money and the fact that so much of Swain County was already in public hands would make the project a long shot.

What Gibson didn't count on was what he calls the "perseverance and single-mindedness" of the families with ties to that land.

Locals like Taylor pushed for preservation.

"We swam the river. I've walked those roads. We rode bikes on those roads. It was just a back yard to us," Taylor said. "This was important to me because our county is changing. To develop it, it seems like we are giving away our heritage."

But some did question the wisdom of removing more land from the tax rolls, especially in Swain County where well over 80 percent of the county is already public land.

The turning point, according to Taylor, was when local leaders voiced support for the project despite potential lost tax revenue.

"I think they weighed the pros and the cons, and it wasn't worth losing that parcel of land to development," Taylor said.

Contact Ball at 232-5851 or JBall@CITIZEN-TIMES.com.