Imagine a verdant forest with lush ferns growing underneath full, mature canopies. The slushing rush of stream waters echoes all around, lulling you into a state of calm relaxation. Nearby, wildflowers in meadow openings flush with sunlight set the stage for busy activity from pollinators (and their predators), hinting at the array of wildlife which call these places home. Damp earth and plentiful rocks harbor a healthy population of salamanders. Fortunately this stunning oasis in the Highlands of Roan – SAHC’s new Wiles Creek Preserve – is now permanently protected. We are grateful to the committed conservation-minded folks – including SAHC members, a former landowner, Brad and Shelli Stanback, and the Carolina Bird Club – who made protection of this beautiful sanctuary possible.
SAHC recently purchased 166 acres in Mitchell County, NC adjoining Pisgah National Forest, within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. The undeveloped tract is highly visible from the public overlook at Roan High Knob. Part of a landscape of protected lands with other SAHC-conserved properties, the Wiles Creek Preserve will be owned by SAHC in the long term as a nature preserve and will be managed for priority bird habitats, water quality, and other natural features.
Elevations on the property reach 4,700 ft., and it contains northern hardwood forest habitat and two meadows that provide excellent early successional habitat. The varied topography, habitat and elevation – along with abundant tributaries and headwater sources of trout streams – makes it a particularly wonderful oasis in the Roan. It has spectacular habitat for salamanders as well! On a recent field trip to the site with members of the Carolina Bird Club, Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett identified several different salamander species. The property contains six streams including Wiles Creek, three tributaries of Wiles Creek, and two headwater tributaries of Big Rock Creek. Wiles Creek and Big Rock Creek are both designated as trout waters.
“What Carolina Birding Club members on Wiles Creek meadow makes the Wiles Creek Preserve so special is diversity – in elevation, habitat types, etc.,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “It’s very rare that one property could be so valuable for pollinators and early successional species like Golden-winged Warbler, Field Sparrow, and Chestnut-sided Warbler, and also provide exceptional habitat for forest interior birds including species like Veery and Black-throated Blue Warblers, right on up the slope into habitat for Canada Warbler, Brown Creeper, and who knows – maybe even a Saw-whet Owl! I really can’t wait to explore this property with our partners to see which birds are out there – from hawk watching this fall to owl prowls and bird ‘blitzes’ next year. And if that wasn’t enough, Wiles Creek and the seeps and drainages flowing into it are full of trout, salamanders, and other aquatic critters. We use the word ‘gem’ frequently to describe our conservation properties (and it’s true, of course) but Wiles Creek is a place that a person could spend a lifetime, learning from nature and documenting biodiversity. I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of that!”