Mitchell River – Surry County
Alleghany, Surry and Wilkes Counties – More Than 8,100 Acres Protected
“Water flows from high in the mountains. Water runs deep in the Earth. Miraculously, water comes to us, and sustains all life” – Thich Nhat Hanh
The cool, clean waters of the Mitchell River begin on the steep, wooded edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of 3,300 feet. As it meanders through rolling hills, forests and farms to join the Yadkin River in Surry County, the River and its many tributaries drain more than 67,000 acres in Alleghany, Surry and Wilkes Counties. Expansive, mature forests in the upper part of the Watershed have been instrumental in protecting the river’s water quality, which received the state’s highest water quality designation – Outstanding Resource Water – in 1987.
In the late 1990s, Piedmont Land Conservancy joined the Mitchell River Coalition, a loosely organized group of more than 20 agencies, organizations and community members, to work diligently to protect and improve the water quality of this unique regional asset.
To accomplish this goal, Piedmont Land Conservancy and Coalition partners are working with landowners using a variety of strategies, including land protection, stream restoration and Best Management Practices (BMPs) for agricultural and forestry activities, to change the river’s course to one of long-term stability and maintenance of the highest water quality for generations to come.
Coalition partners use conservation planning documents such as the Mitchell River Watershed Protection Plan, which incorporates conservation data related to a variety of topics including geographic features, land use, water quality, and unique natural areas to identify and prioritize watershed parcels for protection and/or restoration, to guide our activities.
Taken together these projects serve to permanently protect twenty miles of stream and nearly 10% of the total acres of the Mitchell River Watershed.
The headwater of any river or stream is its source, where it begins. In any watershed as large as the Yadkin River, there are thousands of streams and many smaller rivers that contribute to its flow. In the Mitchell River in Surry County, the headwaters begin high in the mountains of eastern edge of the Blue Ridge. Protecting the headwaters of any river helps ensure that the water in that river will be clean for drinking and recreation.
- Saddle Mountain/Wolfe Creek Preserve
A conservation easement allowing a conservation-based development on the top 250 acres of Saddle Mountain was donated to PLC in 2001. In addition to limiting the number of homesites, the easement defined specific construction parameters of any homes eventually built. Although residential development was not prohibited on this property, easement terms ensured that if it occurred it would be done with minimal impact to the site’s natural features, water quality of the Mitchell River and the views from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In 2005, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) acquired the underlying property title and safeguarded the conservation values of this site even further than the initial easement. PLC transferred the easement to CTNC so that they could then transfer their entire interest in the land to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to manage as a state natural area within their public game lands program.
Project funding provided by the landowner, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and the NC Natural Heritage Trust Fund.
- Hanes Forest
In the Piedmont, protecting parcels more than 500 acres in size can be considered a significant opportunity. In the late 1970s, the North Carolina Nature Conservancy was approached with an opportunity to protect a large acreage significant natural heritage site provided that the land’s tenant at the time, the Eckerd Youth Camp, could continue to lease the property.
With its high quality natural features, including habitat for the NC threatened Wehrle’s salamander (Plethodon wehrlei), its adjacency to the already protected 2,874-acre Broadhead Tract and the presence of on-site land managers, the Nature Conservancy readily and happily accepted the offer of this generous gift that protected land in both the Mitchell and the Fisher River Watersheds.
By 2001, PLC had been working in the Mitchell River Watershed for five years and had protected over 700 acres, including Wolfe Creek Preserve and Saddle Mountain. Due to PLC’s strong presence in the immediate area of this property and professional tract record, the North Carolina Nature Conservancy felt that the long-term stewardship needs of this site would be better served if they transferred their ownership of Hanes Forest to PLC. The Eckerd Youth Camp is no longer in operation. Currently Wellspring Mountain is operating the property as a retreat and educational center with a focus on herbal medicine.
Arcadia, a part of the historic Reynolds family property known as Devotion, has long been one of the top conservation priorities for PLC. The property lies at the toe of the Blue Ridge Mountains and contains a portion of the headwaters of the Mitchell River. Mill Creek, an important tributary to the Mitchell River, flows throughout the property. Its pristine waters are recognized by the state of North Carolina as Outstanding Resource Waters, meaning its purity and wildlife habitat is second to none. The waters run so clean and pure that native populations of brook trout thrive. The forested slopes contain a mixed hardwood forest where black bears are common.
Arcadia was one of the most important missing pieces in completing conservation of the Mitchell River headwaters. The Hough brothers from Winston-Salem, Michael and Ben, who purchased the property in 2012, have ensured permanent protection with a conservation easement.
The property connects several conservation properties and helps to ensure that PLC’s efforts at protecting the beautiful waters of the Mitchell River will continue to be one of our proudest success stories.
- Broadhead Easement
A regionally significant natural heritage site due to its size, excellent examples of Chestnut Oak Forest and Low Elevation Rocky Summit community types, and presence of the NC threatened Wehrle’s salamander (Plethodon wehrlei), the Broadhead Tract was a high priority for protection in the Mitchell River Watershed. In 1984, the North Carolina Nature Conservancy had the opportunity to protect this valuable ecological site through a donated conservation easement. As the original donor was interested in maximizing potential tax benefits through the donation of the easement, the terms of this easement are extremely restrictive allowing only one home site and prohibiting all timber harvesting. As PLC’s work and presence in the Mitchell River Watershed continued to grow, the North Carolina Nature Conservancy decided to transfer the long-term stewardship responsibilities of this conservation easement to PLC.
This easement lies adjacent to several other protected properties including Wolfe Creek Preserve, Hanes Forest, and Low Gap Wildlife Club. Prior to transferring the easement to PLC in 2003, the NC Nature Conservancy and the current owners amended the easement to enable the use of trails for access and management purposes and the use of prescribed burning for wildlife habitat enhancement. PLC is honored to play a role in the long-term protection and management of this valuable ecological site.
Project funding provided by the landowner and the NC Nature Conservancy.
- Low Gap Wildlife Club
Low Gap Wildlife Club, Inc. Sale of Conservation Easement.
A summer getaway place for local residents, Low Gap Wildlife Club had to either repair a 40-foot earthen dam for the property’s two lakes or remove it entirely. Situated at the headwaters of a Mitchell River tributary, removal of the dam could lead to considerable sediment entering this stream. In 2003, PLC purchased a conservation easement protecting the undeveloped parts of the property from timber harvesting and further residential development. The Club used the funds to offset the dam repair costs.
Project funding provided by the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
- River Bend Farm
“River Bend Farm has been a gathering place for our family and friends. It is a place where we can come to get away from the hustle of everyday life, relax and enjoy each other’s company and commune with nature. We enjoy the quiet solitude of the farm, the constant tumbling of the Mitchell River, the singing of the birds, and watching the deer and turkey forage in the pastures. It is a place where we can go to renew our souls and be a little closer to God’s creation. Putting River Bend Farm into a conservation easement with the Piedmont Land Conservancy ensures that this place our family loves will remain in a natural state.” ~ Joe Mickey
River Bend Farm is a beautiful family get away on the Mitchell River, with forests and rolling pastures where wild turkey roam. Identified as a high priority parcel for the protection in the Mitchell River Watershed Protection Plan, this easement protects the water quality of the Mitchell and one of its tributaries by establishing no-touch riparian buffers adjacent to the River and the stream. Additionally, the easement protects the property’s agricultural soils, wildlife habitat, and forest resources.
- Schumak Farm
“Donating a conservation easement to PLC was an easy decision. We wanted to teach our children what it means to be good stewards of the land and we also wanted to pass something on to them that we know won’t change and will always be protected.” ~ Bern Schumak
Situated along the Mitchell River and adjacent to Little Mountain, Schumak Farm has everything a sister and brother could ask for – fields to run in, woods to explore, and a river to fish. Bern and Ellen Schumak found a safe environment to raise Catherine and Matthew in the Mitchell River Watershed. The easement granted to PLC in 2003 protects the water quality of the Mitchell, prime agricultural soils, and the open space character of the property.
Project funding provided by the landowner, Pilot View RC&D, and PLC.
- Old Williams Farm
“I don’t want anyone messing up my river or building condos on my land.”
~ Ola Williams Hendren (1914 – 2009)
Having grown up on this tobacco farm, Ola Hendren was full of stories about the farm and the river including riding the family mule across the river to collect rocks for the farm’s well house and “accidentally” falling off so she could play in the water for a few moments. A retired school teacher with no children, Ola had to make a decision about the fate of her family’s tobacco farm. After careful consideration and attending landowner workshops hosted by the Mitchell River Coalition, she donated an easement to PLC and then, through her will, donated the farm to North Carolina State University’s School of Agriculture, a perfect solution to ensure her treasured family land would always be protected while providing scholarships for Surry County youth.
The easement includes a 100-foot wide no-touch zone along the river to ensure that Ola’s River is permanently protected. Additionally, the easement protects the farm from non-agricultural development and protects its open space and scenic nature. NCSU will use part of the farm as a forestry demonstration site and has sold part to a conservation buyer. In addition, the County manages a canoe access on her property.
Ola’s wishes will always be honored since PLC’s easement will continue to protect the land and the Mitchell River forever.
Project funding provided by the landowner and the NC Clean Water Management
- Long Point Preserve
Situated at the confluence of the Mitchell River with its major tributary, the South Fork, this parcel encompasses steep forested slopes shading the rivers and holding the soil in place for two and a half miles of river frontage with pastures located along ridge tops and bottomlands. Vernon and ReElla had farmed this land and approximately 20 additional acres for many years. As they neared retirement, they decided that they didn’t want to hold on to all of their land, but they didn’t want to see it developed either. Through the Surry County Soil and Water Conservation District, Vernon and ReElla Ball were introduced to PLC in 2002. While it took some time to complete the transaction, PLC acquired 83 acres of their 100-acre farm at a bargain sale price early in 2004.
As often happens when PLC works with several landowners in the same community, information about conservation options spreads from neighbor to neighbor. While working with the Balls to acquire Long Point Preserve, PLC learned that their adjoining neighbor on the South Fork of the Mitchell River was interested in exploring the options available. PLC met with Randall Tuell who eventually decided to sell a portion of his family’s land, too. Similar to Long Point Preserve, this land is comprised mostly of forested slopes along the river with existing trails. PLC completed the acquisition of an extension of Long Point Preserve, which encompassed an additional 17 acres in 2006.
Upon acquisition of these properties, PLC granted conservation easements to the state to ensure that the land would be managed for the protection of water quality and wildlife habitat. Today, PLC is working with Surry County Soil and Water Conservation District and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to convert former fescue pastures into Piedmont Prairie for the benefit of wildlife including turkey, quail, deer, rabbits and migratory songbirds.
Project funding provided by the landowner, the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.
- McNeill, Swift, Swaim and Tayloe Easement
These contiguous tracts near the confluence of the Mitchell and the South Fork of the Mitchell, expand PLC’s protection of Long Point Preserve. PLC has protected nearly 250 acres and over six miles of stream near the rivers’ confluence.
Project funding provided by the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund
- Quail Hill Farm
Located on the main stem of the Mitchell River below Kapps Mill, Quail Hill Farm has been in the Hayes Family since 1875. Tracy grew up working the land, learning about nature and how to fish, hunt, and trap on this and other family lands. Donating a 300-foot wide linear conservation easement along the Mitchell River to PLC in 2002 to protect the forested riparian buffer was an easy and natural decision to make for the Hayes Family.
Project funding provided by the landowner and the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
- Brushy Fork
“My job with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA) focuses on helping neighbors protect the Mitchell River. The river runs clean because of the buffers along its banks and forested headwaters in Surry County. Buffers are its source of energy, with vegetation providing food for the insects which feed the fish and other species. Trees and plants in these buffers stabilize the soil so it doesn’t erode, keep the temperature down by shading the water and filter storm run-off. Buffers feed and protect the river, and we must protect them. If you enjoy our rivers and want your children and grandchildren to enjoy them, you have to protect them.”
~ Dick Everhart
As community leaders, Dick and Suzy Everhart chose to let their actions speak louder than words by working with PLC and North Carolina State University to restore and protect their segment of Brushy Fork, a tributary of the Mitchell River’s South Fork. The restoration work focused on returning the stream channel to a more natural design to minimize streambank erosion and replant the stream banks with appropriate trees, shrubs, and plants. The easement ensures that these restoration efforts are permanently protected by ensuring the newly planted buffer will not be removed.
Project funding provided by the landowner and the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
Other protected properties in the Mitchell River
Stevenson Forest – 23.6 acres
Poole Easement – 22.5 acres
Wilson-Davis Easement – 0.5 acres
Chatham Forest – 56 acres
Harris-Mill Creek Preserve – 28.73 acres
Steele Riparian Easement – 14 acres
Ellis Preserve – 75.09