WEST JEFFERSON — The Blue Ridge Conservancy recently purchased 71 acres on the western slope of Paddy Mountain and transferred its ownership to the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Conservation Program.
The purchase and transfer, which were recorded in the Register of Deeds for Ashe County on Aug. 23, comprised of three parcels which adjoin the Paddy Mountain Preserve. The land will be managed by the Plant Conservation Program as part of the greater Paddy Mountain Preserve, which includes 355 acres of conserved lands, according to a release from the BRC.
Many residents can recognize Paddy Mountain as the familiar backdrop of downtown West Jefferson, as its eastern slope towers above the northwest corner of the town.
The N.C. Natural Heritage Program ranks this property as “outstanding” for biodiversity, and it qualifies as nationally significant, according to the BRC.
“The land’s proximity to the preserve is important for habitat connectivity, and improves the preserve’s integrity by widening the buffer for rare natural communities,” the release said.
“Protecting ecologically sensitive areas is a key component of our mission,” BRC Executive Director Charlie Brady said. “The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to an incredible abundance of biodiversity. Many species of plants and animals living here cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. We feel that it is our duty to protect these lands to keep ecosystems and their inhabitants healthy and intact.”
Paddy Mountain holds unique geological characteristics that create opportunities for rare, sensitive plants to thrive, according to the release. Its composition includes amphibolite rock, which is rich in calcium and very nutritious for plants.
In August, conservationists from several agencies accompanied an Appalachian State University class of budding botanists to survey for Heller’s Blazing Star along the ridgeline of Paddy Mountain. The outcroppings toward the summit are home to one of the largest and healthiest populations of the Heller’s blazing star, Liatris helleri, in the state, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.
There are no trails or public access to the preserve to protect these sensitive areas. The biggest threats to these rare populations of plants is poaching and trampling, according to the BRC.
“Housing and commercial development is rapidly consuming land, and the effects of a changing climate threaten our landscape and our economy,” the release said.
Conserving the uplands of Paddy Mountain will also protect the integrity of the headwater streams feeding into the North Fork of the New River. Large tracts of forest also sequester carbon, which helps to maintain air quality, the release said.
Meanwhile, on the eastern side of Paddy Mountain, Randall Eller, owner of Independence Lumber Company, purchased 154 acres of forested land adjacent to the preserve after winning a bidding war against BRC when the property went up for auction in May. The future of this side of the mountain remains unknown.
Blue Ridge Conservancy said it will continue to seek out high priority land protection opportunities that will preserve the natural and cultural heritage that make our mountains such a special place to call home, the release said.
The Conservancy said it relies on the support of the community and its members to make land protection projects possible. For those interested in learning more or becoming more involved, visit www.blueridgeconservancy.org.