RALEIGH -- Two new state natural areas in western North Carolina have been authorized by the N.C. General Assembly to be developed as units of the state parks system by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. The authorization bill was signed by Gov. Mike Easley today.
The authorization of the Yellow Mountain and Bear Paw state natural areas, both centered in Avery County, allows the state parks system to begin a land acquisition process that will involve nonprofit conservation organizations and the Parks and Recreation, Natural Heritage and Clean Water Management trust funds.
A state natural area differs from a state park, in that while both protect important natural resources, a state natural area?s focus is on conservation of sites of special scientific and ecological value. State natural areas often do not have public facilities, but sometimes support limited recreation activities such as hiking and educational programs.
?An important part of our mission is to protect representative examples of North Carolina?s rich diversity of natural resources,? said Lewis Ledford, director of the state parks system. ?Establishing state natural areas is a practical way to do this. Land conservancies and trust funds are invaluable partners in this important conservation effort.?
The Yellow Mountain State Natural Area will be established with an initial land acquisition of about 850 acres through the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. It will be located in two tracts along the Avery-Mitchell county line just west of U.S. 19 and south of Pisgah National Forest.
Yellow Mountain is part of the Roan Highlands region, which boasts at least 76 rare species and an array of natural communities including grassy balds, cliffs, high elevation ridges and streams.
The Bear Paw State Natural Area will be established with an initial land acquisition of about 350 acres through the High Country Conservancy. It will be located just north of Grandfather Mountain and the town of Seven Devils. The area?s name comes from the Cherokee yonah-wayah, or bear?s paw.
The site is of national ecological importance and includes Hanging Rock Ridge, Four Diamond Ridge and the headwaters of Dutch Creek. Also, the site contains an outstanding example of a rare high-elevation, rocky summit supporting nine rare species, including the federally endangered Virginia big-eared bat.
Future expansion of both state natural areas will be dependent on negotiations with willing sellers. The extent of public access and recreation will depend on the availability of suitable tracts of land.
Partners in the creation of the state natural areas include the High Country Conservancy, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land.
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