Rocky Pee Dee Farms
Through a collaborative project involving the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FPP) and the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT), The LandTrust proudly announces the protection of its first ever Anson County property. Appropriately named, the Rocky Pee Dee Farm lies on the western side of the confluence of the Rocky and Pee Dee Rivers. The farm's rolling topography includes large agricultural fields and bottomland hardwood forests that comprise a total of 603 acres.
The method used in protecting the Rocky Pee Dee Farm displays an innovative approach to land conservation. Basically put, DOT purchases an easement on the stream corridor and FPP purchases an easement on the uplands while the landowner donates the remaining value. However, in reality, it just isn't that simple. To meet requirements for each program the property must be covered by one single conservation easement. Thus, we had to get attorneys from both organizations to come to terms and agree on the final easement. Kevin Redding, Uwharrie Land Specialist who facilitated the project, states "It's a tremendous accomplishment for the all the parties involved to be able to come together in a way that secures the permanent protection of this farm. It's easy to criticize the bureaucracy of the state and federal governments, but this is a case of both being flexible and willing to work towards a common goal." This property marks one of the first in the state to be protected through the cooperation of these two programs.
Dick Fowler, Assistant Conservationist in the USDA's North Carolina office, points out that "Farmland preservation is a critical issue in North Carolina as the state ranks in the top five nationally in the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. The steps leading to the signing of a conservation easement can be very challenging as there must be a willing landowner, funding to purchase the development rights, and a number of legal issues that must be addressed. The overall task is much larger than any one agency or organization and to be successful requires the coordination and close collaboration among various agencies, organizations, and individuals. For example, one agency or organization may have that all important special relationship with an interested landowner while another may bring funds to the table. If we are to succeed in this important endeavor, combining our efforts toward a common goal is not only extremely important but it is critical. The USDA – Natural Resource Conservation Service was pleased to join The LandTrust for Central North Carolina in this important conservation easement. This conservation easement is a prime example of how a partnership can work in preserving a valuable resource, the state's farmland."
Aside from the manner in which it was protected, the Rocky Pee Dee Farm is a special project for a variety of reasons. The property lies just two miles north of the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, which at nearly 9,000 acres is the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Piedmont. The farm also contains two historical homes that date back to the 1800's. One has already been approved for the Study List for the National Register of Historic Places. If approved for the final list, the property will mark the 8th LandTrust project to protect a nationally historic location. (Others are Cooleemee Plantation [Davie County], the Barber Farm, the Alexander Long House, the Henry Connor Bost House, the Michael Braun House [Rowan County], Daltonia Plantation [Iredell County], and the John Bunyan Green Farm [Cabarrus County].) These projects provide proof that the preservation of our landscape is intricately associated with the preservation of our culture.
One of the greatest beneficiaries of this project will be the streams that traverse the property. The majority of their 9,200 linear feet were previously surrounded by agricultural fields planted to the very edge of the stream. Many years ago, they were channelized in an attempt to make more crop land available. Unfortunately, the deep incisions were not conducive to water quality or aquatic habitat. As part of the conservation easement, the DOT will be allowed to restore the channel to its original depth while also reintroducing some very important meanders and pools. Basically, they will be restoring the function of the streams. Finally, they will be replanting a mix of native, bottomland hardwood species that will provide a much needed buffer against the upland agricultural practices. We look forward to watching the resuscitation of these streams right before our very eyes.
There is also excitement about this project due to a more recent development. Currently, the Rocky Pee Dee Farm is split into two different parcels. However, we hope to change that in the near future. The LandTrust has recently received approval for its application in the 2004 FPP that will enable us to protect this missing link and raise the total protected acreage to 817. Once completed, this will mark the second largest easement in The LandTrust's history.
The Rocky Pee Dee Farm is one of those rare projects that come along that allow us to dive into something new. Thankfully, the work there has been very rewarding and will help to protect vast amounts of prime farmland soils, riparian corridors, and the rural-agricultural character of the local community. Hopefully, it will also serve as the first of many outstanding land protection projects to be completed in Anson County.