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Council of State Approves Grandfather Mountain Purchase

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Michael F. Easley, Governor
William G. Ross, Jr., Secretary

Release Note: 
Charlie Peek
Release Date: 
Monday, January 5, 2009

Council of State Approves Grandfather Mountain Purchase

RALEIGH -- The North Carolina Council of State on Tuesday approved the state's pending purchase of Grandfather Mountain to become the newest state park, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

An agreement announced by Gov. Mike Easley in September calls for the state to acquire 2,456 acres on the landmark mountain for $12 million from the Morton family and Grandfather Mountain Inc. The acquisition will also include a conservation easement on 749 acres that will be retained by the heirs of Hugh Morton.

The Council of State, comprised of the governor, lieutenant governor and eight other statewide elected officials, must approve all state land transactions.

Late in 2008, trustees of both the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, set aside funding for the purchase, with $6 million to be contributed from each conservation fund. Later this year, the N.C. General Assembly will be asked to formally authorize Grandfather Mountain State Park as a unit of the state parks system.

'The elected leaders on the Council of State should be commended for their foresight and wisdom in approving the acquisition of this natural treasure in this difficult economic climate,' said Lewis Ledford, director of state parks. 'The Morton family also deserves our thanks for so many years of responsible stewardship and commitment to making sure these outstanding lands are preserved and accessible to all in perpetuity.'

The acquisition was arranged with the help of The Conservation Fund and one of its directors, Mike Leonard, and The Nature Conservancy, which holds conservation easements on Grandfather Mountain and surrounding properties totaling close to 4,000. The Conservation Fund, acting as broker for the acquisition, holds a purchase option on the property through March, and the state expects to close the deal by that deadline.

The property to be acquired as a state park lies in Avery, Watauga and Caldwell counties and includes the higher elevation, backcountry area of the popular tourist destination with its network of hiking trails. The Morton family will continue to operate the Grandfather Mountain travel attraction, which includes a nature center, wildlife habitats and the signature swinging bridge, through a nonprofit organization supported by funding from the sale.

Grandfather Mountain, with its 5,946-foot Calloway Peak, has been a wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve for decades, boasting 16 distinct habitats and 73 rare species. The mountain contains the headwaters of both the Linville and Watauga rivers.