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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Natural Heritage Program - Success Stories

Natural Heritage Program

Conservation Success Stories

North Carolina has one of the most diverse natural environments in the nation, stretching from the mountains to the sea. Many partners are working to conserve these resources for future generations, resulting in a number of success stories. The N.C Natural Heritage Program plays a valuable role in the successful protection of some of our state’s most unique and special places.

Sandy Run Savannas State Natural Area

Sandy Run Savannas State Natural Area, owned by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, protects almost 2,500 acres of savannas, swamps and pocosins in western Onslow and northeastern Pender counties. The project area, which lies between Camp Lejeune and Holly Shelter Gameland, encompasses several miles of the blackwater Sandy Run Swamp and Shelter Swamp Creek, part of the relatively pristine Holly Shelter Creek watershed.

Home to many unique species

Sandy Run lies within one of the largest, nearly contiguous natural areas in North Carolina.

  • Ten percent of all plant species that occur within North Carolina grow naturally within this nature preserve.
  • This unique site supports numerous populations of rare species, including nine rare animals, 34 plants and approximately 80 percent of the critical habitat for the federally and state endangered Golden Sedge (Carex lutea).
  • Holly Shelter Creek flows into the Northeast Cape Fear River, which serves as a designated Primary Nursery Area for fish and provides habitat for two federally endangered species.
  • The Croatan crayfish, a federal species of concern, is known from Shelter Swamp Creek.

The work of many partners

State, federal and private organizations worked together with interested landowners to achieve this conservation success.

  • State acquisition of this coastal plain site began in 2007 as a cooperative effort between The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Transportation, and the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation to protect several tracts of land.
  • Acquisition of the site was funded by the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, N.C. Department of Transportation, and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
  • Biological surveys were conducted by staff from the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Plant Conservation Program, as well as staff from the managing agencies.
  • The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation is in the process of developing a master plan for the park, which will include low-impact recreation and environmental interpretation in addition to natural resource protection.

Arnett Branch Old Growth Longleaf Pine Forest

The largest remaining stand of old-growth Piedmont longleaf pine in North Carolina, located in northern Montgomery County, was purchased in 2011 by the LandTrust for Central North Carolina and the N.C. Zoo.

A very special natural area

This newly preserved tract is a unique forest, with some trees nearly 200 years old. Longleaf forests are a unique ecosystem home to a suite of endemic species, and dry longleaf pine forests are extremely rare in the North Carolina Piedmont. Some animals that call this special place home include spotted salamanders, timber rattlesnakes and Kentucky warblers.

The property was previously owned by the late Margaret Nichols, who loved the longleaf pines and would not let them be cut down. She was a naturalist and knew the importance of longleaf forests for wildlife. Many years ago, a person could ride from that property all the way to Fayetteville and never be out from under the shade of a longleaf pine.

The work of many partners

The N.C. Zoo acquired half of the 116-acre property and The LandTrust for Central North Carolina purchased the other half.

  • The N.C. Zoo obtained grant funds through the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, which preserves natural areas and rare species across our state.
  • The LandTrust for Central North Carolina obtained interest-free loan funding through the Norcross Wildlife Foundation to purchase the remaining acreage, and will continue to work with the zoo to find grant funding to pay off the loan for eventual zoo ownership of the entire tract.
  • Funds were also provided by Fred and Alice Stanback to purchase a two-year option in the summer of 2010 with the family members who inherited the property, previously owned by the late Margaret Nichols.

How the area will be used

The zoo has been working to buy the property through its Plant Conservation Program, part of the state-owned facility's mission to provide recreational and education opportunities for North Carolina residents while also preserving space for native plants and animals.

  • The zoo will develop hiking trails and partner with local schools to develop an outdoor environmental education program at Arnett branch.
  • The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program is working with zoo staff to develop an agreement to permanently protect the site as a Dedicated Nature Preserve.
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