A New Educational State Forest

Protecting 848 Acres on the Dan River for a new Educational State Forest

April 2023

Piedmont Land Conservancy (PLC) acquired an 848-acre tract on the Dan River in Stokes County near Walnut Cove that will soon become the first Educational State Forest in the piedmont triad region. The property, known as the “Shoebuckle Tract”, will prioritize recreation, serving as the home for a future segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and creating the opportunity for a new river access on the Dan River State Trail. 

The purchase of this land protects more than a mile of forested buffer on the Dan River and almost two miles of tributary creeks, benefitting water quality downstream. 

Though the land has been managed for timber in recent years, it retains beautiful hardwood buffers along the tributaries. 

“Forestry production is a longstanding tradition in North Carolina and a valuable contributor to our economy” said Kevin Redding, PLC’s executive director. “We look forward to this property serving the educational and recreational needs of our citizens, protecting the important waters of the Dan River, and providing important wildlife habitat on the uplands while continuing to hold a portion of our irreplaceable history.” 

Plans for the land include a public river access along the Dan River State Trail

Multiple Recreation Uses

In the future, the property will include a river access for the Dan River State Trail which is a paddle trail that was authorized by the NC General Assembly in 2021. It includes 90 miles of the river through Surry, Stokes, and Rockingham counties. Other plans include building part of the the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across the land. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, primarily a footpath, is the state’s longest trail at 1,175 miles spanning from Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge in the Outer Banks. Trails are a key aspect of this opportunity for land protection as funding to purchase the property came from the Complete the Trails Fund, direct appropriation from the NC General Assembly.  

The land also holds historical significance as it is located across the river from the site of Upper Sauratown, one of two large settlements occupied by the Saura Indians and abandoned in the early 18th century. Additionally, the land was formerly part of the Shoebuckle Plantation, one of the largest and most historic plantations on the Dan River. This property has been in the Hairston/Kluttz family continuously since 1804 when Peter Hairston (1752-1832) purchased the land from Absalom Bostick. PLC purchased the property from the Kluttz family, descendents of Peter Hairston. The “Shoebuckle” name comes from a distinct curve in the river that resembles a shoebuckle just a short distance downstream where Town Creek joins the Dan River.  

“This project just has so much to offer the community and the state,” said Will Summer, Executive Director for the N.C. Land and Water Fund, one of the funding sources for this acquisition. “In addition to the recreational and historic benefits, this section of the Dan River is rated as exceptional by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program for a host of rare aquatic species that call it home. I would like to thank PLC for championing this project and the N.C. Forest Service for managing and stewarding this property in the future.” 

Piedmont Land Conservancy will transfer the property to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services within the next year to become an Educational State Forest (ESF). The N.C. Forest Service operates a system of ESFs designed to teach the public, especially school children, about the forest environment.

Aeriel view of the newly protected land

“Educational State Forests (ESFs) in North Carolina are treasures for citizens and visitors,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “The Shoebuckle property is an important addition to our ESF system not only because it will be an outdoor, living classroom for children but also because of the natural resource conservation and recreational value it will add to the Piedmont Triad region.” 

To learn more about ESFs in North Carolina, visit https://www.ncesf.org

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