The USDA Forest Service has awarded grants to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, from the Community Forest Program, which supports working forests that provide benefits like clean water, wildlife habitat, educational opportunities, and public access for recreation.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will use their grant to expand and connect the Hall Mountain Community Forest to the Little Tennessee River. The community’s goal is to allow use of the Hall Mountain property for recreation and education with hiking trails, interpretative materials about natural features, forest restoration efforts, and descriptions of historical and cultural relevance. It will also be a site for hosting educational events and trainings and coordinating with the nearby Cowee Mound.
“The Hall Mountain Community Forest has returned a key resource to the tribe-a working forest that is also a cultural landscape which has been shaped by thousands of years of use. The continuation of traditional use and forest management fits the values of Cherokee land stewardship,” said Tommy Cabe, Forest Resource Specialist for EBCI.
The forests at Hall Mountain reflect thousands of years of human shaping through fire and low impact harvesting, mainly of non-timber forest products including artisan materials, nuts and other foods, and wood. Prescribed burning, invasive species removal, and tree planting may be used to help restore the health and diversity of the forest while preserving the cultural history of the property. The conservation and restoration of these lands also protects soils and streams that drain into the Little Tennessee River.
At Oak Hill Community Park and Forest, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina (FCNC) will use their grant to help purchase the remaining 321 acres of the project property in Burke County. The conservancy is raising additional funds to complete the purchase. The forest will eventually offer public trails, environmental education and archaeology programs, ecological study, and forest restoration. Forest management activities include prescribed fire, loblolly pine and sustainable hardwood management, invasive species removal, wildlife management, and sustainable agriculture.
“Foothills Conservancy’s expectation is that the Oak Hill Community Park and Forest land will energize the community by connecting people with place, nature, and each other through unique environmental education and outdoor recreation opportunities that we anticipate developing with partners such as Burke County, City of Morganton, Burke County Public Schools, Warren Wilson College, Exploring Joara Foundation, and NC FarmLink, among others. There are so many other community benefits derived from the conservation of this forest including enhanced air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and public health improvement and enjoyment,” said Andrew Kota, Executive Director of FCNC.
In total this year, the USDA Forest Service awarded $4 million to 10 community forest projects across seven states. For more information about the Community Forest Program, visit www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/private-land/community-forest.