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Land eyed for shooting range now conserved forever

SALUDA — Land in Saluda on the edge of the Green River Game Lands that was once targeted for an outdoor shooting range is now a protected natural area. On May 17, Conserving Carolina purchased the 78-acre property on Macedonia Road with strong support from the local community.


“The journey has come full circle from something very bad for our community to something very, very good," Susan McHugh, a local activist who has led efforts to protect the land, said in a news release. "The end result is that this beautiful forest will be protected forever.”

The property is entirely forested with wetlands and streams that flow into the Green River, which boasts some of the most popular whitewater rapids in the eastern United States. Its conservation helps ensure clean water and protects scenic views over the Green River Gorge.

“The more we learn about this property, the better it gets," said Tom Fanslow, Conserving Carolina’s land protection director, says. "We’ve found a low elevation seep, which is a rare wetland community. The tract has rare plants and good habitat for game. We’ve also found out that an old road on the property is actually the historic Howard Gap Road—a drovers’ road that was one of the main thoroughfares through this area.”

Conserving Carolina’s goal is to add this property to the Green River Game Lands, which is managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. If the project does become part of the Game Lands, two adjoining landowners have pledged to donate conservation easements on 52 acres of land which would buffer the Game Lands from encroaching development.

Conserving Carolina has applied for a grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund to cover the bulk of the $450,000 purchase. Local donors responded enthusiastically to fundraising to secure matching funds for this grant, contributing nearly $83,000. Among these contributors was the Saluda Community Land Trust, which partnered with Conserving Carolina on the project. Conserving Carolina continues to accept donations toward its goal of $100,000.

Prospects for this land have come a long way in a little over a year. In the spring of 2018, Henderson County put the property under contract for a police training facility, which would include an outdoor shooting range. As the sheriff's office was trying out the property, blasts of heavy gunfire — test firing to measure noise — gave Saluda residents a preview of how this facility could impact their lives. Hundreds of local residents packed public meetings to speak against the proposed facility. They voiced concerns that it would disturb the peace and quiet of their homes, contaminate water, reduce property values and harm local businesses, especially in the growing tourism and recreation sectors.

The citizens prevailed when the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted unanmiously to drop the effort to buy the land. Saluda residents then reached out to Conserving Carolina to seek a conservation solution and they succeeded in their efforts to protect this beautiful natural land.