Fayetteville Observer March 3, 2005

Trust secures stream buffer

By Nomee Landis
Fayetteville Observer staff writer

HOFFMAN - State money has helped the Sandhills Area Land Trust permanently protect seven miles of streamside land along Drowning and Horse creeks in Moore and Richmond counties.

The protected area lies about 10 miles upstream of the public water intake for the town of Southern Pines. Much of the drinking water for Moore County residents comes from Drowning Creek.

Protecting the vegetative buffer along the creek will help ensure the good quality of that water, said Richard Perritt, the land trust's director. The easement protects the creek's floodplain.

The easement follows Drowning Creek just to the west and north of U.S. 1 north of Hoffman. The creek forms the boundary between Richmond and Moore counties, and it becomes the Lumber River once it crosses into Hoke and Scotland counties.

The land trust has been working for several years to secure an easement on the property, which is owned by Pressley and Paula Rankin of Ellerbe, a small community in Richmond County. The Rankins own about 4,000 acres of land in Richmond and Moore counties, and the creek bisects their property.

Perritt said the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program paid the Rankin family more than $1 million for the easement. That program is a partnership of the N.C. Department of Transportation, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its purpose is to protect watershed areas and open space to compensate for the destruction of land during road construction.

The land being preserved is part of a tract that the state's Natural Heritage Program has identified as regionally significant because of its biological diversity. Perritt calls the parcel the most significant ecological area along the creek.

On Wednesday, Perritt joined the Rankins on a quick tour of their land and the easement.

Hunting retreat

For many years, the family has used the property as a weekend hideaway and hunting retreat. Paula Rankin is an avid deer hunter, and the couple spends nearly every weekend at the farm during deer season. They fish, ride all-terrain vehicles - and nap.

Pressley Rankin, a retired country doctor who practiced medicine for 53 years, has hunted on several continents.

''He's been all over the world hunting," she said. ''A little white-tailed deer doesn't excite him."

The property was once a playground for a New Jersey man named Eldridge Johnson. Johnson, an officer with the Victor Recording Co., purchased several tracts of land and combined them into a hunting retreat in 1928. He established a working farm, with more than 500 acres in cultivation, and entertained Northern friends at the property.

Pressley Rankin bought the property in 1961.

The old red brick buildings, including a clubhouse, tenant houses, a blacksmith house and a mule barn, still stand on the property. The Rankins use the clubhouse as a hunting cabin, complete with trophy antlers mounted around the room and a large moose rack above the fireplace.

The Rankins run the Rankin Museum of American and Natural History in Ellerbe and share an interest in local history and archaeology. That interest, Paula Rankin said, brought them together 14 years ago.

Pressley Rankin knows a lot of the history of the land and its natural features, Perritt said.

''He takes a lot of pride in the property and that it is going to be protected," Perritt said.

Natural beauty

Much of the upland forests are planted in loblolly and longleaf pines. On Wednesday, a forester worked at the property. A parcel of longleaf forest was charred, evidence that it was recently burned. Loggers were busy in another forest, cutting some diseased timber.

Drowning Creek passes silently through cypress and sweetgum trees. Ripples indicate the main path of the creek through its swampy floodplain. In some places, the creek's black waters seep out for nearly half a mile in either direction.

Pressley Rankin pointed out cypress trees among the dense vegetation along the creek and native junipers growing among the pines farther upland.

Goldfinches, their plumage a dull gold with winter, flitted about the pine trees. The mild winter has kept them at the farm this year, Paula Rankin said.

 

The family has trekked many miles on the farm, she said.

With the protection of the Rankin land, the land trust has preserved about 3,800 acres in six counties in the Sandhills, Perritt said. The Rankin easement is one of the largest easements to be protected.

The Rankin property is bounded on two sides by the Sandhills Game Land, an area of more than 60,000 acres that is managed by the state.

''Outside the game lands, this is about as good as it gets on private land," Perritt said.

Staff writer Nomee Landis can be reached at landisn@fayettevillenc.com or 486-3595.