Lands Protection @ Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy


Do it for love.
Of a space so green and still it makes your eyes water.
what’s in your wallet, bonus points, two-for-one, gas prices, those don’t exist here. mossy hummocks aren’t on managers special.
Of the life, the lives, stirring so loud under your feet it makes your ears thunder. Is a trumpet sounding? You could snuff it tomorrow and here would stay, live, and green, green and rotting every moment.
Of a space where rotting is a privilege.
Of a nice piece of gneiss, older than your grandmother’s grandmother, older than the river, older than Pangaea, and no, you can’t mine this spot, thank you very much.
Look up up up and squint. Your eyes are thistle slits and still you can’t make out the top of the tallest branch that has fused into sky.
Of the faithful reminder that things (most things) made with human hands are not in the business of staying.
Of a chance to maybe glimpse the rocks blanketed by hellebore heads or peeping foam flowers. Or stinking benjamins. Hearts-a-bustin. A chance to comb the maidens hairs and nodding ladies tresses. Dog hobble. Bastard toadflax.
Of a chance to revel in being in the right place and right time.


I work as the Lands Protection Associate at Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.  SAHC’s mission is to conserve the special places of western NC and eastern TN  — the forests, wildlife, water, scenic beauty, and agricultural communities of the southern Appalachians. My job as part of the Lands Team is to help people who own land, who ache with love for their land and who wake up at night fearing that one day their land will be developed and lost forever.  I help landowners understand what conservation tools are out there and I work with the rest of the staff at SAHC to determine how we could partner with them to permanently protect their land. When SAHC and a landowner decide to move ahead with conserving their land I help the Lands Team coordinate that project to completion.  When we get to go out to beautiful places and think about what it means that they will be beautiful forever … this is a great line of work to be in. It been a fun year here as SAHC celebrates 50,000 acres of land protected since their founding in 1974.  ~Emily Bidgood, Lands Protection Associate~


HICKORY NUT GAP FARM. An innovation farm enterprise in Fairview, NC, that will remain preserved for agriculture and passive recreation forever! SAHC and Hickory Nut Gap’s wonderful dozen (or so) landowners partnered together and made their shared vision a reality in 2010.  I have been working with these same landowners and their families to conserve more forest and working lands surrounding the farm and up the valley.

SANDYMUSH HERB NURSERY. An idyllic spot on the Sandymush Herb Nursery property in Sandymush.  Sandymush valley, in north eastern Buncombe County, has escaped the exurban sprawl of nearby Leicester.  Its fertile productive lowlands are surrounded by peaks of the Newfound mountain range. SAHC is the only land trust working to ensure that Sandymush stays idyllic and productive. Thanks to the leadership of community farmers and landowners, 6,000 acres have been permanently conserved in the Sandymush highlands and lowlands.

SANDYMUSH FARM. The high elevation summer grazing pasture was one of the first conservation easements in Sandymush.  The owner and rancher, picture here, has been such an important conservation community leader.  I have been working with him to protect more of his winter grazing pasture and agricultural land in the valley.

SNOWBALL MOUNTAIN. Fellow AmeriCorps Jamie Ervin is seated at the Snowball Mtn trail overlook surveying the incline we just climbed for 4 hours. Rich cove forest, 90 acres of it, that I haven’t experienced outside the Great Smoky Mtn National Park — I’ll take 8 hours! SAHC purchased the property last year, which adjoins public lands and a public walking trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Craggy Gardens.  The project was near closing when I started my service term, so I only made some maps and learned a lot by sitting in on landowner meetings. This picture below comes from when Margot Wallston, Jamie Ervin, (GO PROJECT CONSERVE!) and I were out doing the field work for the Snowball Mountain Land Mgmt Plan that Margot will write.

ROCKY FORK’S 10,000 ACRES. I drive by this Tennessee vista every time I commute between Asheville and Johnson City. It is the most striking peak on the I-26 highway. Sometimes it feels so close as if I could pull over on the road shoulder and touch its velvet folds.  It is beautiful in any season, any weather, any time of day.  SAHC and its partners worked hard for a decade to strike a deal with the timbering company that owned the property–the largest piece of privately owned land in the southeast.  Now all 10,000 acres will be transferred to the US Forest Service, open for public use—hiking, trout fishing, mountain biking etc.  A very cool thing to happen in our lifetimes! The community leader who stirred up the grassroots support for its protection, David Ramsey, has been honored nationally (and here too) for his tenacity.


Many Hats at RiverLink

Member: Worth McAlister

Service Position: Assistant Volunteer Coordinator

Host Site: RiverLink

Like many of our positions in the non-profit world, my job duties are ever changing to fit the needs of the organization. With limited staff and resources it is very important to be comfortable wearing many hats. This fact makes the job both more interesting and more challenging.

RiverLink was established in 1987, and has been working hard to improve the French Broad River Watershed ever since. More information on RiverLink can be found here.

As you may have guessed, my top priority is recruiting new volunteers and managing groups of volunteers.    I am in charge of communicating with and hosting stream clean-ups with our 43 current Adopt-a-Stream teams. In addition we have a huge number of groups that want to do one-time projects with us during the spring and summer. These groups are usually church groups, social groups, summer camps, etc. I am in charge of speaking to these groups, outfitting them with supplies, and putting them to work.

To recruit volunteers I attend tabling events and other community happenings in order to educate and interact with the public. Getting interested citizens signed up for our monthly newsletter seems to be the best tool for attracting new donors/volunteers.

A lot of my office time is consumed with updating social media and publishing written entries for various outlets. I write for our monthly newsletter, send press releases, publish daily blog entries, update twitter and Facebook, and answer endless emails.  

People also seem very interested in interviewing us on various topics. I have acted as area expert for interviews ranging from the damaging effects of plastics in streams to Earth Day. Click links.

Some other things:

– Assist Nikki with environmental education programs, which is always very fun.

– Lead nature walks/workshops 2 Saturdays each month, with a new topic every month, providing environmental education free to all ages. Click here for info and free online educational tools.

– Spearhead the restoration of native plant communities on RiverLink properties by chemical/mechanical means.

– Plan and host community events and parties sponsored by RiverLink including big sweep, clean streams day, summer RiverMUSIC concert series, RiverFest 2012, etc.


– Write Grants

– Lots and lots of small projects and duties such as smiling at people and kissing babies.

– I will send a thank you here to RiverLink and the full-time staff for making this a very pleasant experience over the past 9 months. Karen, the executive director, and all staff has always treated Nikki and I as equal employees, sharing respect and responsibilities. Freedom to tweak my position to fit my strengths has been encouraged and new ideas backed with positive support.

-This is a great work environment and I have had a lot of fun.

Check out these great pics!



              122 tires and a full dumpster at “Big Sweep” 2011


                                         Kids in the Creek Program


                                     Winter Dendrology for All!


               Knocking out the Knotweed with Project Conserve


                                             Salamander Party

Agricultural Economic Development in the form of Agritourism

Member: Rachel Fussell

Service Position: Agricultural Outreach Coordinator

Host Site: Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development

Agricultural Economic Development comes in various forms, but in Polk County, our main goals are to support farmers by supporting local agriculture and the rural heritage of the county as well as to enhance new and existing farms by ensuring their sustainable operation for future generations. One way we reach these goals is to educate the public on where their food comes from and what is available in their area. An AgriTour is the perfect mix of education, marketing, and entertainment to be a viable tool for any county. 

On Monday, April 2nd the AmeriCorps Project Conserve group visited Polk County for a full day farm tour. They visited three farms including Leap Farm, Fat Dog Farm, and Nelon Knoll Farm. During this full day farm tour, they were able to appreciate Polk’s rural heritage through the lens of a local farmer. The first stop on the tour was Leap Farm where Lee Mink gave an in-depth view of life on his farm. The group was given an overview of how he grows his crops efficiently on a small plot of land and discussed some of the problems facing small farmers. Lee concluded the tour with a walk around his property, where he showcased his philosophy of growing. Right after Leap Farm’s wonderful tour, the group headed to Fat Dog Farm where Aleah Wicks and Andrew Makee are beginning their farming endeavors with a biodynamic approach to caring for their land. Mini-Scottish Highland cows, silky chickens, horses, shiitakes, and an apiary were all part of the tour. Andrew spoke about biodynamic principles in farming and caring for the land and everyone helped make preps for the farm. The final stop on the tour was Nelon Knoll Farm, where the group was able to feed corn to Jerry Nelon’s large bison herd, including the alpha male, Irish Warrior. The array of farm animals, including peacocks, turkeys, ducks, chickens, quails, etc., was also an enjoyable experience for everyone. In all, the group had a wonderful and informative tour thanks to the generosity of all the farmers involved. 


 Leap Farm with farmer Lee Mink.


Andrew and Aleah’s Mini Scottish Highland cows were very curious.


Feeding corn to the bison at Nelon Knoll Farm.

Preserve Management & Stewardship @ TNC

Member: Evan Raskin
Service Position: Preserve Management Stewardship Assistant
Host Site: The Nature Conservancy (Asheville Office)

So what exactly does a “Preserve Management Stewardship Assistant” do? That’s a good question, and  one that’s not easy to answer. Part of what I enjoy most about my position is that it involves all sorts of different projects, both in the office and in the field. With over 7,500 acres to manage across 9 mountain counties, my supervisor & I have plenty to keep us busy.  A few broad categories that I spend a lot of time & energy on are non-native invasive plants, bog restoration, prescribed fire, & visiting our preserves to identify & address stewardship needs.

Hauling English Ivy out of the Bat Cave Preserve

Lighting a prescribed fire at the Bluff Mountain Preserve

Mapping creeks & drainages at one of our bog preserves

Removing a footbridge from the Rumbling Bald Preserve in preparation for transfer to State Parks

Another key task: trying not to get poison ivy

Continue reading

Project Conserve’s First Peer Training

Hello again, everyone! Laura Bochner here to blog about Project Conserve’s first peer training of the season, held in Boone, NC on Thursday, March 22nd! The focus of the peer training was energy, and the topics covered included small-scale renewable energy, mountaintop removal coal mining, and home weatherization audits.


Jamie Trowbridge from Appalachian State's Renewable Energy Initiative (far right, in black) talks to the group about one of the campus's solar arrays.

The training kicked off with a guided tour of the renewable energy projects at Appalachian State University. A graduate student involved with the Renewable Energy Initiative (REI) at App State, Jamie Trowbridge, showed our group the school’s wind turbine and solar panels, talked about how REI works, and discussed wind and solar technology with us.

Next, Brian Sewell, a Project Conserve member at Appalachian Voices in Boone, gave our group a presentation on mountaintop removal mining (MTR) that covered the environmental and human health impacts of MTR.


Natalie shows the group one of the pieces of equipment she uses during energy audits.

Afterwards, we walked to Brian’s house, where Project Conserve member Natalie Rosman, who blogged in February about her work as an Energy Assistant with WAMY Community Action in Boone (check out her post here), did a mock energy audit. Natalie showed us the equipment she uses to gauge a home’s energy efficiency and set up a blower door test to assess the airtightness of Brian’s house. We were very interested to see how Brian’s house would fare in the test—turns out, his house is appropriately air tight for its size!

Peer training attendees reported that the day was informative and fun. It also allowed Project Conserve members who don’t often see each other to catch up.

The goal of the peer trainings is to allow AmeriCorps members to share knowledge they’re acquired at their host sites with their Project Conserve teammates. Four more peer trainings are scheduled, one for each of the months of April, May, June, and July.

Educating Polk County Youth in the Ways of the Natural World


Member: Kristy Burja

Service Position: Education Assistant

Host Site: Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE)

First things first, let me clarify a common misconception of FENCE.  There are two parts to FENCE: the equestrian side and the nature center side.  They work very independently and do not overlap.  Contrary to what you might think, FENCE does not own or permanently house any horses.  FENCE acts as an equestrian facility, hosting a variety of equestrian events throughout the year.  I, of course, do not work on the equestrian side of FENCE; I work on the nature center side.  


Fossil Program at Polk Central Elementary

My job is fairly simple.  I work with kids, Pre-K through 5th grade, doing nature and science based education.   We have an in-school program called “Project FENCE”, where we bring science and nature curriculum (based on the North Carolina science standards) into classrooms across Polk County and the surrounding area.



A 4th grader investigating a fossil

Some of our programs include:  “I Spy the Food Web”, “Insects and Other Creepy Crawlies”, “Planet Earth and Beyond”, “Rocks and Minerals”, “Something Fishy”, “Roots, Shoots, and Leaves”, etc.  Part of my job this year has been to revise all of our education programs and bring them up to date with the changing science standards.  



A 4th grade class is making their own fossils

The second component to ‘”Project FENCE” is our in-nature program.  We bring kids out on field trips to FENCE to experience and study nature.  We have about 380 acres of land for the kids to explore.  We have 9 hiking trails that span a total of 5 miles.  We also have several small streams, a spring, and a large pond home to various creatures big and small.



Another part of my job is to take care of all the animals we house at FENCE.  We have 2 bearded dragons, 3 corn snakes, 1 East African king snake, 3 Madagascar hissing cockroaches, 3 green anoles, about 500 red worms, and a continuous supply of crickets and mealworms for our lizards.  This is definitely one of the favorite parts of my job.

Here’s a few of my favorites:

Merlin - The Bearded Dragon

Green Anole

Christina and Carla - The Lady Corn Snakes

Madagasar Hissing Cockroach

Fresh Food Alternatives: Our Choice, Our Voice

Harvest from the Lord's Acre Garden

Member: Cameron Farlow

Service Position: Project Coordinator

Host Site: The Lord’s Acre Garden

Our mantra at the Lord’s Acre is three simple words: food, community and service. We grow food and give it away. In just the three seasons that the Lord’s Acre has been growing we produced 17 tons of food (8 tons this past year) on less than 1/2 an acre of land. The main recipients of this bounty are clients at the Food for Fairview Food Pantry and community members at the Fairview Welcome Table. Our larger goal is to build community through service and by teaching others how to grow food themselves. So in that way we’re more than just a garden for the hungry.

The Lord's Acre Garden

As we continue to try to figure out how we can best meet these goals, of getting more fresh, local produce into the hands of the community and building community in the process we realized we need to first figure out where we are now – food wise – before we can figure out where we want go and how we can get there. And, that’s where my role at the Lord’s Acre comes in. I am working to coordinate a Community Food Assessment here in Fairview. A Community Food Assessment is basically a way of constructing an accurate map of what our strengths and weaknesses are food-wise as a community so we can then find the best routes to meet those needs with the assets and resources we already have. This process allows us to reach out, really listen, and learn how all Fairview residents view their ability to buy, grow, prepare and enjoy healthful, fresh foods.

      My work centers around engaging the community in an open dialogue about fresh foods through a community-wide food survey, one-on-one interviews, a focus group with food pantry clients, and community forums.  Then, I will compile all of the experiences and input we hear into a free, publicly available report that will serve as a solution-oriented tool to help improve Fairview’s community food resources in the future.
     Currently we are in a big push to encourage Fairview residents to take part in our Food Survey. Just this past weekend we organized a Survey Blitz at several different locations around Fairview. On Friday, we set up a survey station at the Food for Fairview food pantry during their distribution time. The openness and appreciation that we heard from the pantry clients was so encouraging! Saturday we set up survey stations at 7 different businesses around Fairview with lots of help from community volunteers and students from Warren-Wilson College who came out during their Spring Break. Then on Sunday, I spoke to a church congregation and got them to fill out the survey, too. We brought in over 100 completed surveys that weekend bringing our total close to 300, and putting us well on our way to our goal of 400.

Sofie at the survey station at Dickie's Discount Food Store

     Although, we still have a long road ahead of us with the Community Food Assessment process I am excited to see the impact this initiative is having and will have in Fairview! Here is a comment we received from a community member after they took the survey:
This was a very well-written survey.  I was pleasantly surprised that we could have a voice even though we are not indigent and do not qualify for public assistance.  As the working poor, or lower middle class, buying healthy fruits and vegetables is not as affordable to us as we would like.  I appreciate the effort put into this survey, and look forward to hearing about the results and the plans that come from it.  Food for Fairview pantry has wonderful quality produce, but we don’t qualify for the pantry.  Glad we were able to participate.  This is great community-building you are involved in.” 

Its hearing comments like this that remind me why this type of work is so important!