The Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust’s public hiking destinations
By ALLISON BOLT
The Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT) is a non-profit organization that currently conserves over 3,400 acres of valuable land resources across Macon and Jackson counties. It is the oldest land trust in North Carolina, one of the oldest in the United States, and it is the organization behind the conservation of some of the plateau’s most cherished hiking spots and vistas.
The HCLT’s mission is to conserve valuable land resources for all generations. The organization has upheld its promise to protect these mountains for over 100 years, providing clean air and water, scenic views and hiking trails so that everyone who lives on or visits the plateau can enjoy a healthy habitat. Their efforts have protected species such as bears, salamanders, trout and more while also preserving the old-growth forests, the purity of watersheds, granitic domes and biological diversity.
As a non-profit, the HCLT relies on the support of the community to help them with their conservation efforts. The organization has nine properties that are open to the public. Julie Schott, HCLT Development Director, calls these public access properties “land ambassadors” because Schott says if the public “enjoys the places we conserve, we believe they will fall in love with them and want to protect them.”
Satulah Mountain Preserve (3 miles - difficult)
Protected: rare and endemic species
It all started in 1909 when members of the town of Highlands banded together and raised $500 to purchase 56 acres on Satulah Mountain in order to save it from the construction of a hotel. The goal was to preserve the summit in its natural state as a public park for the community. A small stone shelter was constructed for overnight hikers, later Satulah housed a U.S. Forest Service fire tower and cottage.
Today, the Satulah Mountain Preserve is home to a three-mile hike for experienced hikers with the remains of the stone shelter and a 270-degree vista that overlooks North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Ravenel Park (1.1 miles - moderate)
Protected: rare high elevation granitic dome and unusual plants
Ravenel Park, home to Sunset and Sunrise Rocks, was the second property conserved by the organization that would later become the HCLT. In 1914, the children of S.P. and Marguerite Ravenel donated their family’s land as a public park in their parents’ honor.
Today, you can walk or drive up the road that leads to the top. Sunset and Sunrise Rocks are on opposite sides of the mountain with Sunset overlooking the town of Highlands and Satulah Mountain while Sunrise offers a view of Horse Cove.
Brushy Face Preserve (1.2 miles - moderate)
Protected: old growth forest, headwaters of Clear Creek
The HCLT’s newest public property is called Brushy Face Preserve, which opened in 2016. The property was slated to become a residential community until ten local families came together with HCLT and transformed it into a nature preserve. The entire project was built by the hands of community trail volunteers under the leadership of AmeriCorps Members. The trails are still expanding and will include over two miles of hiking once the new loop is finished, with more still to come.
Kelsey Trail Preserve (1 mile - moderate)
Rhododendron Park (.6 miles - hard)
Protected: old growth forest, watershed for Mill Creek
The HCLT has multiple other hiking properties and vistas, preserved to be enjoyed by - and thanks to the community. The Pittillo Family Nature Preserve is possible because Dr. Dan Pittillo, a former Western Carolina University botanist, protected his property by a conservation easement. His property is now open to the public to enjoy the volunteer-built trails and Nodding Trillium, a native wildflower garden. The Kelsey Trail Preserve, which connects with Rhododendron Park, was a historic ox cart trail that used to lead from Highlands to Whiteside Mountain. It is now used by locals and visitors alike as a favorite hiking spot near town. The Dixon Woods trail offers a mostly flat hike that includes views of a now preserved forest, pond and seepage wetlands.
The HCLT is also responsible for the treasured vista where the public can view the grandeur of the mountains, including Big View, a popular spot to see the “Shadow of the Bear,” near Whiteside Mountain. The Land Trust also conserves a native wildflower meadow in Cashiers called McKinney Meadow.
Highlands and Cashiers are home to many forests, vistas, trails, waterfalls and wildlife that the community holds dear. The HCLT is behind the conservation of many of these cherished natural wonders. It bears all the costs of maintaining these places for the public to enjoy year-round. Thanks to the first plateau community who saved Satulah from the construction of a hotel, the HCLT is conserving these mountains with the help of the current community for generations to come.
Consider permanently protecting your land with the Highlands-Cashers Land Trust
4 reasons to place your land in conservation with HCLT:
Protect Habitats: fish, wildlife, or plant
Protect Open Space: farm and forest land
Protect History: important land or buildings
Public Use: outdoor recreation or education
HCLT conservation easement benefits:
Landowner retains ownership of their land
The land is conserved forever
Landowner receives a federal tax deduction
Property taxes are reduced
For more information call 828-526-1111