Group preserves Little Yellow Mountain

Article Published: Dec. 3, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

The Nature Conservancy today announced the acquisition of 466 acres at the summit of Little Yellow Mountain in Avery and Mitchell counties. At 5,504 feet, Little Yellow is one of the higher peaks in the Southern Appalachians. Its protection is a valuable addition to a large corridor of protected land in the Greater Roan Highlands, much of which is classified as nationally significant by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. It is also an important acquisition from an aesthetic perspective - it can be seen prominently from other High Country landmarks, including the Appalachian Trail and the Conservancy's Big Yellow Mountain Preserve.

"This is a keystone tract, with a high conservation value," said David Ray, the Conservancy's Mountain Project Director. "It provides a safe corridor for wildlife movement and protects natural communities and rare plants that are found in the area. In addition to its conservation value, it is a prominent feature in the Greater Roan Highlands. It would have been very noticeable if it had been logged or developed."

Its role as a wildlife corridor is one of the things that attracted the Open Space Institute to the project. The New York-based nonprofit provided a $1.2 million low-interest loan for the project, enabling the Conservancy to reduce total costs of the project during challenging economic times.

"The Institute has an interest in protecting wildlife habitat in the Southern Appalachians," said Marc Hunt, OSI Southern Appalachians Field Coordinator. "Preserving Little Yellow is an important part of that work."

Little Yellow is part of the Audubon Society's Roan Mountain Important Bird Area (IBA). "It is important that we conserve as much unfragmented forest as possible in this area," explains Merrill Lynch, who runs The Nature Conservancy's Boone office. "There are a huge number of birds that breed in the Roan Mountain area that are extremely sensitive to fragmentation."

Species include the Canada warbler, the chestnut-sided warbler, the blackburnian warbler and the scarlet tanager. The Roan IBA is also noted for the fall broad-winged hawk migration.

Mixed hardwood forests of yellow birch, sugar maple and northern red oak run along its slopes. The rare Carolina saxifrage, with its tiny white flowers, is found there along with other uncommon plant species. At its top, Little Yellow is an open area covered in sedges, grasses and a variety of wildflowers.

The Little Yellow purchase builds on more than three decades of preservation work in the Greater Roan Highlands, which has resulted in 19,000 acres of protected land in the area (see map). The Conservancy began working in the area in 1975 when it joined with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to acquire Big Yellow Mountain Preserve. Little Yellow is probably best viewed from Big Yellow (see picture). In recent years, SAHC has acquired 550 down-slope acres that join the Little Yellow summit.

In the future, The Nature Conservancy expects to transfer the Little Yellow Mountain land to the North Carolina State Parks System for inclusion in the recently established Yellow Mountain State Natural Area. "There's more work to be done in the Greater Roan Highlands, but the development risk to this property is behind us," Ray says. "This is the kind of place that people are really going to enjoy in the future."

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