Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Once upon a time, power companies owned large swaths of land rich in natural and cultural heritage. Then, instead of succumbing to construction of a major dam as well as likely commercial and residential development, the 4,500-acre Needmore Tract was purchased by the State of North Carolina in January 2004 and designated a nature preserve. What transpired to result in this serendipitous transaction was the topic of Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center’s monthly speaker series: “Where We Live – History, Nature, and Culture.” Speaking March 18 on the topic of Needmore was Paul Carlson, founder and now retired former director of Mainspring Conservation Trust.
The Tract, one-fourth of which is in Macon County and three-fourths of which is in Swain County, includes 26 miles of Little Tennessee River frontage and 37 miles of tributary streams to the river. Explained Carlson, it also serves as the keystone to the forested corridor connecting the Nantahala and Cowee Mountain ranges.
According to oral history passed down through generations, Needmore was so named because early settlers to the area would say that “needed more of this or needed more of that,” shared Carlson, when the postal service made deliveries.
Carlson instructed further on the history of the Needmore Tract, sharing that it was once a significant pathway for trade among Native people as well as a route for European settlers and even British Redcoats in 1750. Yet, by the end of the 20th century, the land became the central player in a conservation movement.
With maps and photography, Carlson conveyed to a full house at Cowee School that the Little Tennessee River running through the Needmore Tract is home to native, freshwater, North Carolina fish species such as tangerine darters, small mouth bass, sicklefin redhorses, and many more. Plus, fresh water mussels reside in the river. Also, endangered, threatened, or rare species are found throughout the Needmore Tract.
The final asking price for the Needmore Tract was $19.1 million, and several entities stepped in to provide that amount, including: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, N.C. Natural Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (which was the original name of Mainspring Conservation Trust). The bulk of the monies came from N.C. Clean Water Management Trust and NCDOT Mitigation Funding. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission now manages the Needmore Tract.
“What happened with this tract of land actually helped expand conservation efforts throughout Western North Carolina,” Carlson said.
In fact, since 1997 when the nonprofit was officially formed that became Mainspring Conservation Trust, dozens of land and water projects have ensued.
Upcoming lectures in the Cowee School speaker series: April 15, Mary and Stan Polanski, “Growing Native Plants” and May 20, Lamar Marshall, “Cherokee Wars of the Cowee Valley.” Future monthly topics will be listed on the coweeschool.org Upcoming Events page.