First steps made to protect Rutherford, McDowell’s Box Creek Wilderness

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Press release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, shared July 10:

RALEIGH – The first steps have been taken to protect one of North Carolina’s most treasured wilderness areas, thanks to a recent agreement between a private landowner and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Tim Sweeney, owner of the Box Creek Wilderness area near Marion, recently signed a registry agreement with Dee Freeman, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The agreement formalizes Sweeney’s commitment to manage the 3,300-acre Box Creek Wilderness area in ways that will protect the property’s rare species and enhance its natural beauty, said Linda Pearsall, director of Conservation, Planning, and Community Affairs.

“We are pleased Mr. Sweeney agreed to register a wilderness area with outstanding natural and scientific values,” Freeman said. “This voluntary agreement is especially significant at a time when state budgets are tight and fewer financial resources are available to devote to land conservation. All North Carolinians should be grateful for conservationists like Mr. Sweeney because the state simply does not have the money to protect every place like the Box Creek Wilderness.”

The Box Creek Wilderness, which sits in Rutherford and McDowell counties, boasts many rare species and plants as well as natural plant communities. Plants such as Appalachian golden-banner and animals such as Broad River spiny crayfish and South Mountains gray-cheeked salamander are a few of the rare species that live in the forested wilderness. The area is also an important part of the South Mountains landscape, as it includes a continuous natural area capable of supporting populations of many forest animals.

In May, the N.C. Natural Heritage Program’s advisory committee recommended that the state enter into a registry agreement with Sweeney, who lives in Cary.

The agreement signed in June doesn’t involve any exchange of funding or property interests. Instead, it recognizes Box Creek Wilderness as one of North Carolina’s registered Natural Heritage Areas and creates a mutual understanding between Sweeney and the state to protect the property’s natural diversity. As a part of the agreement, the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program has agreed to provide Sweeney with site-specific management recommendations. Those recommendations include allowing the forests to mature to old growth, managing the property for the protection of natural communities, rare species and native wildlife, removal of invasive exotic species and use of prescribed burning to better manage the forest.

Several conservation agencies, including Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, worked with Sweeney and state partners on the agreement.

For more information about the Box Creek Wilderness, check out Unique Places’ website, www.boxcreekwilderness.com. Unique Places is a conservation design and land management firm based in Durham.

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Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the founder, director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 279-0949 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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