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NC Conservation Groups Hope for Small Victory in State Budget

PHOTO: More than 600 acres of Grassy Ridge land was purchased recently for conservation. Courtesy of Blue Ridge Forever.
PHOTO: More than 600 acres of Grassy Ridge land was purchased recently for conservation. Courtesy of Blue Ridge Forever.
May 27, 2013

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - This Memorial Day weekend thousands of people around North Carolina have been out enjoying its natural beauty, but it's a constant struggle for conservation groups to protect valuable land in the state.

However, land conservation in the state may take a small step forward without "two steps back," with the $20.58 billion budget proposed by the state Senate. It provides more funding than last year for land conservation and extends that funding for the next two years, and it's double the amount of funding in Governor Pat McCrory's budget proposal.

Valerie True, coalition coordinator for Blue Ridge Forever, declared that she and others support the Senate budget, largely because of the two-year extension of financial support.

"Land protection takes a long time," she said. "It's not anything that happens quickly and, when you enter into an agreement with a landowner, it may take two or three years to close on that project."

Land for Tomorrow, a statewide coalition of land and water conservation groups, also supports the Senate's proposal to consolidate the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund into a single fund.

Recently, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy was able to purchase more than 600 acres of land at Grassy Ridge in Avery County in an effort 40 years in the making. Now they're left with the task of paying the remaining $2 million owed on the property. According to True, it won't be easy.

"It's just getting harder and harder to make these projects happen," she stated. "We are pleased with this increased amount of funding and we're pleased with the support, but there is certainly opportunity to do more."

The Grassy Ridge borders one of the highest ridges of the Southern Appalachians.

North Carolina's Clean Water Management Trust Fund was funded at $100 million in 2007. Now, the fund receives about $10 million.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC