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May 23, 2024 7 minute READ

For Land's Sake!

tags Local Flavor | Mast Family Favorites
locations All
Crab Orchard Falls are a part of a conservation easement at the Valle Crucis Conference Center

There’s an old adage about real estate investment that goes, “Buy land. They’re not making it anymore.” The line packs so much wit and wisdom that it has variations attributed to – not one but – two of America’s most notable quip-masters, Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Its truth is also precisely why we need land trusts.

Certainly, no one is “making” land, and, the Age of Exploration has long passed so there are no more intrepid Magellans, Drakes, or Cooks to navigate uncharted oceans and “discover” new territories. When it comes to land, to quote another famous American wordsmith and entertainer, Flip Wilson, “What you see is what you get!”

Land is among the most limited natural commodities, yet the very notion that land is viewed as a prized, finite “commodity” demonstrates why land trusts are essential. Let’s instead look at land as a delicate, nonrenewable resource – one so delicate that its health directly correlates to the health of our planet. Land trusts preserve the health of our land as well as that of the multitudes of ecosystems, elements, and flora and fauna it sustains. In this way, land trusts play a major role in regulating the fragilely balanced well-being of our land and our planet.

What are land trusts, and why are they so necessary?

Barn on land in a conservation easementLand trusts are non-profit organizations that work with landowners and other associations to help safeguard our land heritage, create open spaces, protect wetlands and wildlife habitats, and provide recreational opportunities everyone can enjoy.

Also known as conservancies, land trusts accomplish their goals through a number of avenues. They may purchase land from or negotiate easements with private property owners. They may ensure that a small family farm is passed down to the next generation through covenants that lead to financial help from tax breaks. They may assist in expanding the boundaries of state and national parks or help a small town extend its community greenway.

Mast General Store has a long history of partnering with local land trusts. The Mast Store’s co-founders John and Faye Cooper saw their benefit soon after they purchased and re-opened the Original Store in 1980. For them, land trusts’ work maintains the beauty that first drew them to North Carolina’s mountains.

“We began to see, as owners of the Mast Store, how important the preservation of the wonderful scenery of our area was both to making it a special place to live and to bringing tourists who appreciated the natural wonders of the High Country,” the Coopers said.

With the help of a new neighbor, Michael Leonard, John and Faye gained a knowledge of land trusts, including how an arrangement set up through one could mutually benefit both them, as property owners, and their new home for the long run.

“With Michael’s help we learned how we could enter into an agreement with our local conservancy to help the land around the Mast Store maintain its rural character in perpetuity. We retained ownership of the land, but should we decide to sell it, the easement will carry forward to future owners to enforce the same restrictions,” the Coopers elaborated.

To this day, the Coopers remain involved with Valle Crucis’s local land trust, Blue Ridge Conservancy, as board members and advocate for other land trusts, which have executed similar conservation easements on their properties throughout the Mast Store region.

As they describe it, “The work of land trusts and conservancies benefits everyone – maybe in ways you may not have considered. By protecting wetlands and open spaces, the damage caused by flood waters can be lessened, and when wildlife has preserved habitats, native plants are saved to continue contributing to the biodiversity of the area, and WE have recreational spaces to enjoy.”

Land trusts carry out all of these measures and many others as they make our communities more livable, generate local economic opportunities, and tell the story of the places we call home.

The Middle Fork Greenway Parking area off Highway 321. This is a project of the Blue RIdge Conservancy.

Mast Store’s Annual Land Trust Day Event

On Saturday, June 1, all Mast Store locations will host representatives from a community land trust partner. To support the important work that they do, each store will donate 20% of that day’s sales to its respective conservancy.

Here’s a list of our land trust partners and a bit about who they are:

Blue Ridge Conservancy, Original Store and Annex – Formed in 2010 with the merger of two local land trusts, Blue Ridge Conservancy protects more than 25,000 acres in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey counties. Since then, it has created the 3,600-acre State Game Land preserve, helped Elk Knob and Grandfather Mountain state parks expand their borders, protected biodiversity with the establishment of several state natural sites, and maintains working farmland.

New River Conservancy, Boone – The New River Conservancy protects the waters, woodlands, and wildlife within the New River Watershed. The group emphasizes educating those who live in communities along the river’s three-state course about the importance of water quality in maintaining the river’s health and growing its economic and recreational opportunities. NRC Operations Manager Stella Cybulski joins us at the Boone Mast Store on Land Trust Day.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Asheville and Waynesville – Established in 1974, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy today protects more than 70,000 acres in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. In doing so, it’s saving unique plant and animal habitats, such as the Highlands of Roan along the Appalachian Trail, freshwater sources, farmland, and pristine, natural landscapes. Celebrate SAHC’s 50th anniversary at the Mast Store this Land Trust Day!

Conserving Carolina, Hendersonville – This group protects 49,000 acres in Western North Carolina – from the waterfalls of DuPont State Recreational Forest to the rock cliffs of Hickory Nut Gorge. Conserving Carolina’s work has created new greenways, parks, and trails while restoring woods, meadows, and wetlands.

Upstate Forever, Greenville – Since 1998, the mission of Upstate Forever has been to maintain the critical, natural lands, and waters of Upstate South Carolina. The group has played a key role in securing and opening Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail, encouraging ecological activism and responsible community growth, and, today, protecting more than 28,000 acres on 140 properties across its region.

Foothills Land Conservancy, Knoxville – Since 1985, Foothills Land Conservancy has preserved more than 200,000 acres of land in 47 Tennessee counties and across six states in the southern Appalachian region through upwards of 500 conservation partnerships. The agency works primarily with landowners who seek to preserve their property as a natural state or a working farm, but it has also preserved more than 10,000 acres of land for public use.

Congaree Land Trust, Columbia – The Congaree Land Trust protects 90,000 acres of scenic lands, open spaces, farms, forests, and natural habitats across 14 counties in central South Carolina. For 32 years, this agency has promoted voluntary conservation efforts that support the regional economy, promote healthy lifestyles, safeguard clean air and water sources, and improve the local quality of life.

Piedmont Land Conservancy, Winston-Salem – Since 1990, the Piedmont Land Conservancy has protected more than 28,000 acres of land from Central North Carolina to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Through over 200 land protection projects, the group has helped create nature preserves and spaces for outdoor recreation, added significant acreage to state parks, saved Piedmont farmland and historic sites from development, and preserved more than 10,000 acres of land adjacent to vital waterways.

Blue Ridge Land Conservancy, Roanoke – This agency protects 21,000 acres of land in Southwest Virginia, including areas containing the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Smith Mountain Lake. The Blue Ridge Land Conservancy also hosts events on preserved headwater lands to educate local students about the interconnectedness of Virginia’s waterways, which run from their mountainous backyards to the Chesapeake Bay.

Drop by the Mast Store nearest you on Saturday, June 1, to learn about your local land trust and the outdoor spaces it has conserved in your community! It’s a great opportunity to acknowledge their important work that helps us all enjoy nature, breathe fresh air, and drink clean water every day.

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