Winston-Salem Journal, Nov. 29, 2004


Saving the Woods


Hunters won't be the only ones to benefit from Surry County's first state game land.

Hunters, always scrambling to find land to hunt on, will relish the large tract of land on Little Mountain that's already open. But most important is the fact that this 1,716-acre tract is now preserved and protected. That's good for both flora and fauna, including all the migratory birds that stop on the mountain. And it's good for the several miles of creeks and the creatures therein. The Mitchell River Game Land contains several miles of streams that feed Mill Creek, an important tributary of the Mitchell River, which in turn feeds the Yadkin River.

"It's important wildlife habitat," said Wib Owen, who oversees game-land acquisition for the Wildlife Resources Commission. "And from a game-land perspective, it provides a public hunting opportunity in an area where we don't have that much."

The tract has been regaining its natural splendor after being cut over several years ago. The land is one more reason why folks - whether hunters or hikers - should visit Surry County and the surrounding area.

The creation of the tract was a model in cooperation. The Piedmont Land Conservancy bought the land last winter from the G and G Lumber Co. in Harmony - just as the land was under threat of being sold at public auction. Because the land trust bought the property with public money, and because a state agency would have more of the resources needed to manage such a large tract, trust officials realized that they needed to turn the property over to the state.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources' ecosystem-enhancement program studied the deal with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and bought the land, using $3.2 million from the state Department of Transportation. The DOT provides money for land preservation to offset the loss of land it uses in road-building projects. The Wildlife Resources Commission will manage the tract.

With the permanent protection of the Mitchell River Game Land, the Piedmont Land Conservancy has helped protect almost 6,200 acres within the Mitchell River watershed - or about 10 percent of the watershed.

The conservancy is a land trust that works to protect natural and scenic lands, farms and green space in the state's north central Piedmont. Its work on the Mitchell River Game Land tract is but its latest effort to preserve a chunk of this state's rapidly vanishing natural beauty.

Thanks to the conservancy, plants and animals have been preserved and protected - and the public has a place to enjoy them.