2020 Fall/Winter Newsletter

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4530 Park Road, Suite 420 Charlotte, N.C. 28209 704.342.3330 catawbalands.org carolinathreadtrail.org


ON THE THREAD TRAIL Trail users share their personal challenges

Catawba Lands Conservancy is part of a network of land trusts that collectively have protected more than 400,000 acres of the places you love in North Carolina.

By Adam Bratton

The goal of Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Carolina Thread Trail is to connect 85,000 acres of parks and conserved land with 1,600 miles of trail in 15 counties.

here are countless metrics and analytics that can, and do, paint a clear picture of the positive impact that both the Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC) and the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) are having on our collective communities. For instance, over 190 distinct properties have been conserved, totaling over 17,000 acres of greenspace, which sequester over 45,000 tons of carbon per year: the equivalent to removing over 10,000 cars from our roads each year. On a hyperlocal level, the South Fork Trail in McAdenville has seen a 2,000% increase in trail usership year-over-year. This measurable increase demonstrates the community’s desire to seek out and utilize various recreational and natural assets in this unique time. However, experiencing the outdoors is about more than just numbers. How do we measure the qualitative impact


Photo by Nancy Pierce

DON’T FORGET TO SUPPORT NATURE AND TRAILS THIS GIVING SEASON! Giving Tuesday is Tuesday, Dec. 1. Please consider making a gift to Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Carolina Thread Trail. www.catawbalands.org/donate • www.carolinathreadtrail.org/donate

of these efforts to to protect nature and connect people to it? Can you measure a deeper personal connection to nature that is formed through preserved greenspace? What about the strengthening of a parent/child relationship as they enjoy their weekly trail time? I was able to ask a variety of people how they have been impacted by the work of the Carolina Thread Trail through their own unique personal challenges.

THE MCLEANS: GREENWAY GURUS Malcolm “Mal” and Laura McLean began 2020 with a New Year’s Resolution to hike each greenway in Mecklenburg County to stay active and challenge themselves. Their resolution would quickly turn into a blessing on several levels for them and their entire family – including Pinto, their 10-year-old English Cocker Spaniel who joined them for every step of the way. Their resolution quickly evolved into a

Malcolm “Mal” and Laura McLean with their dog Pinto


NEVER WASTE A CRISIS 2,000%! That’s the year-over-year increase in usage at one of our trails. We’ve already tripled the amount of acreage we’ve preserved from last year to this year. And our pipeline of new conservation projects has also increased. The pandemic has changed many things in our lives. One of them is people’s appreciation for the value of nature, outdoor recreation and the combination of the two. It is impossible to feel good about the health impacts, dislocations and negative economic impacts to so many people that COVID has caused. However, it has made our work more evident and more desirable to many. You probably know that bike sales have doubled. There have also been runs on tents and kayaks. Locally, statewide and nationally, parks have been overwhelmed with visitors. We recently began providing programs

in person again (with limited numbers and using face masks). Many have been full to capacity, and participants have expressed gratitude for the experience and increased safety measures. During the lockdown, we began providing online versions of our programs so that people could learn about the wonders of nature and know when, where and how to enjoy the natural world around them. Check out the Nature at Home, Trail Tours and What’s in Bloom features on our website, Facebook and Instagram. As you read this newsletter, you’ll see that we’ve got a lot going on. The COVID pandemic is difficult, but the silver lining is a greater appreciation for our mission of saving land and connecting lives to nature.

BRYAN ALSOP: ALL 134 LAND TRAILS COMPLETED Looking for an outlet to mentally recharge after long days and weeks in front of his computer, Bryan Alsop had always enjoyed the outdoors and has even notched a number of North Carolina State Park hikes on his belt. It started to become increasingly difficult to travel and plan around a statewide park system of hikes, so Bryan began looking for more convenient, but still diverse, trails. In 2017, Bryan discovered the Carolina Thread Trail and in a matter of months his interaction with the trail system progressed from casual to infatuation and ultimately to a state of necessity. “Hiking feeds my soul,” he vibrantly exclaimed. “It has really become a need for me,


Bryan Alsop with sons Cameron and Evan

as much as the need for eating, drinking or sleeping.” That need, fueled by an insatiable curiosity to see what is around the next bend, was recently fulfilled on July 4, 2020, with a hike along the Uptown Charlotte Cycle Track segment of the Thread Trail. At the conclusion of that outing, Bryan had officially hiked every single land segment of the Thread Trail system … all 134 of them! His three-year personal challenge further solidified Bryan’s relationship with the Thread Trail above and beyond his ongoing financial and volunteer support. It also provided many much-needed opportunities for Bryan to “tune into the natural world and think deep thoughts with a clarity that I can’t always do in regular daily life.”

ERIC SMALLWOOD: HUMAN POWERED MOVEMENT CHALLENGE Eric Smallwood recently participated in a two-month challenge created by locally based Human Powered Movement – to complete as many segments of the Thread Trail as possible during June and July 2020. Human Powered Movement’s mission is to inspire, promote and


READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT The Conservancy and Thread Trail are thrilled to welcome our 2020-21 Davidson Impact Fellows to the team:

The Carolina Thread Trail is special to lots of people, and for Sam Duncan, it is a place of solace. Sam is a regular user of Seven Oaks Preserve Trail in Gaston County, walking it nearly every week before the pandemic hit. Over the years, he got to know our stewardship team and shared with them the story of his older brother, Earl. Corporal Earl William Duncan served in Korea and was reported MIA in 1950. For decades, there was no information on his whereabouts. However, in 2018, Earl’s remains were among those repatriated to the United States following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. Earlier this year, Earl returned home to Gaston County where family and friends honored his memory. We are so grateful for the service Earl provided for this country and are proud that the Thread Trail provides a place for folks like Sam to remember him.

CONT. FROM PG. 1 welcomed distraction from the disruption of the pandemic. These hiking outings allowed Mal and Laura to experience more quality time within their own relationship during their more than 100-mile quest, which they accomplished on April 14, 2020. They also enjoyed forming a more appreciative, knowledgeable and deeper relationship with the wildlife, foliage and natural aspects of previously unseen corners of our region. “We thought that we knew all there was to know about all the various areas of the city,” Mal, born and raised Charlottean, shared. “Seeing all the beautiful areas in Mecklenburg County that we were not aware of was our greatest experience. We’re very proud of Charlotte!” The McLeans’ accomplishment and admiration for the outdoors is not an isolated instance either. Their lifestyle choices have impacted both of their children (Sinclair, 27, and Joe, 25) who frequently utilize many of these same greenways to traverse the Charlotte region on bikes. Joe just bought his first home adjacent to Little Sugar Creek in the Belmont neighborhood. This impact is being passed down to future generations.


facilitate greater community and environmental engagement through human powered experiences. The challenge provided Eric an opportunity and excuse to explore beyond Cramerton where he serves as the Parks and Recreation Director. Rallying friends and family members along the way, he shared many of his experiences during the challenge on social media, with the hope of inspiring more people to join the challenge and experience the diversity of the Thread Trail themselves using the #CTTsummer hashtag. Eric ultimately completed every segment of the Thread Trail, including blueways. Eric added many new trails to his “family trail days” list with wife, Olivia, and 4-year-old son, Lincoln. A proud father moment occurred when Lincoln hiked to his first mountaintop summit at Bakers Mountain Park in Catawba County, which is one of Eric’s favorite trails throughout the system. He has also taken his first-hand experiences through the #CTTsummer to bolster civic engagement with the citizens of Cramerton in his professional role. Eric and his team have been further inspired to develop educational content and physical programs to more deeply communicate and showcase the benefits of our natural resources and informing the public why the work in this space is important to our daily lives. Group paddles, environmental education courses, water safety clinics and sustainability tips are all on his agenda along with ongoing efforts in working with developers, local business owners and private funders to build a more connected community. After learning about, and being inspired by, these stories, it is clear that much of the positive impact of the Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Carolina Thread Trail simply cannot be measured by numbers. Likely there are countless other stories that have yet to be shared. If you have a personal story about your experience on the Thread Trail, we would love to hear it. Are you taking on a personal challenge? Maybe you just have a special memory about the Thread Trail. Drop us a line at jennifer@catawbalands.org or tag us in a post on social media!

Adde Sharp, Trail Development and Stewardship Fellow


In spring of 2020, Adde graduated from Davidson College with degrees in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies. Passionate about conservation and land use rights, she is deeply invested in fostering connections between people and their surrounding environment. A Colorado native, Adde has always viewed trails as an essential component of a healthy, connected community. Throughout the course of her fellowship, Adde is looking forward to supporting the continued development of the Thread Trail, increasing trail accessibility for all persons and learning more about the non-profit sector. If Adde is not out on her bike, you can find her drinking coffee and gardening.

The Catawba Lands Conservancy recently lost a tireless volunteer with the passing of Jack Baker. After relocating to Charlotte, Jack found kindred spirits in the Conservancy staff and volunteers. He had a passion for restoring native forest habitats through invasive plant control and the planting of native trees and shrubs. His favorite area was the South Fork Trail in McAdenville, where he helped eradicate some huge Chinese privet infestations and replaced them with native paw paw trees. We will greatly miss Jack’s enthusiasm and dedication to conservation … as well as his jokes. Jack joins our recently designated Mary McDaniel Legacy Society, for those who choose to carry on their legacy through planned giving. Learn more about planned giving at catawbalands.org/donate.

Liam Barr, Program Coordinator Liam graduated from Davidson College in the spring of 2020 where he majored in Religious Studies and minored in Latin American Studies. Outside of schoolwork, he served in leadership roles in Davidson Outdoors, lived for a year in Davidson’s Sustainability Co-op and held several summer internships working with non-profits in Charlotte. Over the course of his fellowship, he is excited to connect people in the Piedmont region to the restorative and energizing characteristics of the outdoors. Outside of work, you can find him hiking, reading a book or listening to the Avett Brothers. The native paw paws planted by Jack are bearing their first harvest of fruit this year.

THANK YOU TO OUR 2020 SUMMER INTERNS! We were happy to host four interns this summer, one for our legal department and three for our stewardship team. The pandemic made this an unusual summer for us, with no volunteer workdays to help with our property and trail maintenance. These interns helped keep our trails and preserves managed and tackled important projects we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish otherwise.

Dave Johnson

Katie Perkins

McKenzie Miller

Josh Rodriguez

Legal Intern

UNCC Levine Scholar

Stewardship Intern

UNCC Levine Scholar -3-

Photo by Sean Bloom

FIELD NOTES BRIDGE AT PHARR FAMILY PRESERVE REPAIRED With support from REI and assistance from the UNC Charlotte Levine Scholars program and Lee College of Engineering Leadership Academy, we are glad to say that the footbridge and canoe/kayak launch along the Pharr Family Preserve Trail in Midland, NC have been fully repaired and are once again open to the public.

RELIC SAVANNAH PLANT AT BUFFALO CREEK PRESERVE The Carolina trefoil was recently discovered at our Buffalo Creek Preserve by a Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation staff member. This plant is special because it is a relic Piedmont prairie plant, which thrives in open savannah habitat. Our stewardship team has been working to restore that type of habitat at Buffalo Creek Preserve in Mt. Pleasant, N.C., using controlled burns and other methods to clear out overgrown foliage. Finding Carolina trefoil on the property means our team’s hard work is paying off, and, plants that thrive in Piedmont savannah habitat are starting to return.

Students from the Lee College of Engineering Leadership Academy assisted with reconstructing the bridge along Pharr Family Preserve Trail. Dustin Williams, Jason Shank and PJ Drye.



Conservation of Old Stumpy and St. James preserves will enhance Forney Creek

like to have a pollinator habitat around the trailhead area, if possible, for bees and butterflies with different wildflowers and grasses.” There are plans to extend Forney Creek Trail to a grand total of four miles in the future with additional property acquisitions. Another goal involves enhancing the natural environment as Forney Creek is currently listed as an impaired stream under the Clean Water Act. “Forney Creek is considered an impaired stream by the EPA because the aquatic community is in poor condition,” Bloom said. “There’s a lot of sediment there and very little structure for aquatic wildlife. So one of our future goals is raising funds to improve the quality of the creek and get it unlisted.” In fact, the Conservancy just received partial funding for a stream restoration project from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund, and is seeking additional funding for the initiative. In the short term, the Conservancy is exploring what can be done with the pine trees currently dotting Old Stumpy Preserve. “The land was timbered about five years ago and then replanted with more pine,” Bloom said. “Stewardship ideas are underway for how best to care for the land to make it a wildlife habitat. We’d expect to see deer, turkey and ground nesting birds there in the future.”

UNCC ROCK RESEARCH ON PINHOOK PRESERVE This summer, Interns McKenzie Miller and Josh Rodriguez worked with UNC Charlotte professor Dr. Missy Eppes to document and assess rock types on the Conservancy’s Pinhook Preserve, located in Gaston County, along the South Fork River. The project spans multiple years and students will continue collecting data on the rock type, dimensions, placement, appearance and changes over time from weathering and erosion. This property was chosen for the project because it is protected by the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program and the Conservancy, which allows researchers to study the history of agricultural development in the Piedmont on a nature preserve that is representative of the region.

NEW BOOK WRITTEN BY CONSERVANCY SUPPORTER Charlie Williams, a supporter of the Conservancy since 1993, recently translated and published journals of Andre Michaux, the man who discovered the bigleaf magnolia in Gaston County. It is a threatened species of magnolia tree that is found on several properties that the Conservancy protects. The book is titled “André Michaux in North America: Journals and Letters, 1785–1797” and can be found at online retailers or at a bookstore near you.

CATAWBA RIVERFRONT GREENWAY IN MOUNT HOLLY FULLY OPEN In June, staff from the Thread Trail participated in the ribbon cutting for the recently completed Catawba Riverfront Greenway in Mount Holly, N.C. This greenway is now open to the public for the full 1.2 miles from Tuckaseegee Park into downtown. This greenway and park will also be the location of our 2021 National Trails Day celebration!




Helen Lieurance was born in 1920 on Rhyne Farm, which the Conservancy has protected through a conservation easement since 2001. Helen turned 100 years young this past spring, and though she no longer lives on the property, she continues to love the land where she grew up. Happy birthday, Helen, from all of us at the Conservancy and Thread Trail!

Our 2019-20 Davidson Impact Fellow Jon White recently wrote a series of blog posts that cover the history of the Thread Trail, from its inception as an early idea all the way to reality. The series of posts was popular on our social media, but if you have not had a chance to read it yet, you can find it on our blogs at carolinathreadtrail.org.


Photo by Andy Kane


Back outside, Forney Creek Trail provides hikers and bikers with a wooded, shady place to exercise among oak trees and in occasional sight of eastern box turtles and other small creatures. “We adore the Forney Creek Trail,” said Will Ruark, Trail and Stewardship Coordinator for the Carolina Thread Trail. “The trail was well built on a slope above the creek, so it has great views. There are two impoundments along the trail, and in spring or winter, you can see a lot of waterfowl from there.” Sean Bloom, GIS Director and Biologist for the Conservancy, pointed to the prominent 66-foot-long suspension bridge that crosses Forney Creek as one of the trail’s best features. Amanda Byrum, Land Conservation Director for CLC, said the greatest benefits of the acquisition are the protection of Forney Creek, completing the connection of the trail corridor running from Optimist Club Road to N.C. Business Highway 16 and the development of a highly visible trailhead in the area. The Conservancy weighed the potential for land preservation, water quality improvement and habitat restoration, as well as the addition of trails to provide public access and engagement, when considering the acquisition. “The trailhead will include a parking area and information kiosk,” Ruark said. “We’d also

Photo by Nancy Pierce

utdoor enthusiasts will have new terrain to explore soon in eastern Lincoln County. Catawba Lands Conservancy acquired 87 acres of land known as Old Stumpy Preserve in August, thanks to an $885,000 grant from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. Formerly used for timber from loblolly pine trees – where it got the name Old Stumpy – it will now be conserved for years to come. In September, CLC worked with the Catawba Springs Hunting Club to conserve an additional 72 acres of nearby land known as St. James Preserve. The Preserve boasts some bluffs that could become the future home of rugged terrain trails. Both purchases expand the Forney Creek Conservation Area near Denver, N.C., to 380 acres of hardwood and floodplain forests and waterfowl ponds. They will also increase Forney Creek Trail from its current length of 2.5 miles, winding from Sally’s YMCA along the banks of Forney Creek an additional mile within the next two to three years. Joe Kovalcheck, Executive Director of both Sally’s YMCA and Lincoln County Family YMCA said the summer day camp as well as preschool and afterschool programs at Sally’s Y make great use of Forney Creek Trail for hiking and biking opportunities. Sally’s Y also constructed a low-risk ropes course in its woods that is available to those using the trails. “Denver and East Lincoln are transitional communities with lots of people always moving in and out. So there’s a constant rediscovery of the trail,” he said. “A lot of our members stick with us because they believe in the stewardship that the Y puts into the trail in terms of maintenance and upkeep and our commitment to developing the trail system in partnership with CLC.” This fall, Sally’s Y has opened its doors to 50 elementary school students from Lincoln County Schools so they can continue learning remotely during COVID-19. The program will run until the children can return to in-person classes and includes an outdoor education curriculum.

The Conservancy has closed on two farmland properties since the spring. The Joseph Bennett McCoy Preserve in Mecklenburg County adds 60 acres to the Gar Creek Conservation Area and protects a historic farm. The Piedmont Jerseys Farm in the South Fork River watershed in Lincoln County is a 266-acre working dairy farm that is now under a conservation easement and will soon feature a creamery and farm store. With the protection of the Bradford Farm in January, the Conservancy has protected three local farms so far this year.

POWERING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC As it did for everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic changed up our plans for 2020. We put programs, workdays and large public events on hold, but the need to care for our protected lands and connect people to nature continues. Here are a few of the ways the Conservancy and Thread Trail have been continuing to advance our missions during the pandemic.

KEEPING TRAILS OPEN Even during a pandemic, nature does not rest. Without our typical season of volunteer workdays, the stewardship team was busier than ever, keeping trails clear, removing invasive species and generally keeping our public properties accessible. And lots of people were using them! In fact, trail counters we installed at the South Fork Trail measured a 2,000% increase in foot traffic during April, May and June, compared to previous years. If you see our team while you are out for a hike, give them an elbow bump and thank them for keeping the trails open!



After taking a pause on our public programs, we are now able to bring them back in a way that ensures the safety of participants and staff.

Program capacity is capped to levels that allow safe social distancing.

We are so grateful for the following businesses and foundations for sticking with us during this challenging year.

Face masks are worn by all staff and participants, as required by government guidelines.

Hand sanitizer is available at all programs.

MONITORING CONSERVANCY PROPERTIES Every year our stewardship team monitors every single one of our 200+ properties to evaluate natural changes, ensure there are no violations like clear cutting trees, dumping or erosion from nearby developments, identify invasive species and more. This year was no exception, with our team monitoring 21 properties from May through September. Make sure you’re following the Conservancy and Thread Trail on social media to see their encounters with wildlife and unique plants while in the field!

3Q Digital Akers Foundation Amazon Smile Appian Textiles Batson-Cook Construction BGE, Inc. Brasfield & Gorrie Carolina Sporting Arms Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation CBRE Choate Construction David Belk Cannon Foundation Davidson College ECS Southeast Fork Farm & Stables Gaston Community Foundation Great Outdoor Provision Co. GreerWalker LLP Lat Purser & Associates, Inc. Little Diversified

Staff and volunteers follow all CDC guidelines for reducing and preventing spread of the virus.

UPCOMING PROGRAMS Make sure you check our online calendar at catawbalands.org/ events for upcoming programs and events.

presented by:

CAROLINA THREAD TRAIL IMPLEMENTATION GRANTS During our spring grant cycle, the Thread Trail Governing Board approved $391,000 in grants to communities and partner organizations to assist in advancing 10 projects throughout our region. As more people than ever flock to trails during the pandemic, we are proud to continue funding the expansion of trails throughout our 15-county footprint.

NATURE AT HOME Our communications and outreach team shifted focus from programs and outreach events to finding ways to connect people to nature in their own neighborhood. We built a new webpage sharing resources and activities for ways to explore nature from home, videos highlighting unique plants in bloom as well as recommendations for safe, socially distant daytrips and trails less traveled. We are updating it with new information all the time! See for yourself at catawbalands.org.



We are excited to share that our annual Trail Forum will be going virtual this year! Registration is now available at carolinathreadtrail.org.

While we are not able to host our large public events like National Trails Day and Pop-Up Picnic this year, we hope to be able to bring them back safely in 2021. Please mark your calendars!

National Trails Day: Saturday, June 5, 2021

Trail Forum: Thursday, December 3, 2020 • 8am-2pm

our work continues, despite the challenges of COVID-19, and we need your support Please consider making a donation to the Conservancy and Thread Trail this year!


Architectural Consulting Loebsack & Brownlee, PLLC McKim & Creed Moore & Van Allen Nation Ford Land Trust Odell PNC Bank SteelFab Southeastern Architectural Services Southwire summit coffee The Keith Corporation The Leon Levine Foundation The Odom Firm The Shaw-Tate Group The Stowe Foundation town of mineral springs Uwharrie Bank Warco Construction Wildlands Engineering

In addition to our all-access ticket, we will have an option for a community access ticket that will be good for our two keynote speakers. In the morning, Thread Trail Director Bret Baronak will share an update on recently opened trails and projects under construction. Our lunchtime keynote will be by Jesi Stracham, founder of the Wheel With Me Foundation, who will share her experience as a wheelchair user who also uses trails.


Pop-up Picnic: October 2021

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