WCU group helps with bald restoration

A contingent from Western Carolina University’s natural resource conservation and management program recently provided a helping hand as The Nature Conservancy began work to restore a bald high in the Plott Balsam Mountains of Jackson County.

Four students and two faculty members from WCU were among a group of workers who hiked to the summit of a mountain known as Yellow Face to clear vegetation from an area that was once an open grassy area, said Megan Sutton, stewardship manager for the conservancy’s Asheville office.

Participants from WCU were Peter Bates, director of the NRCM program and head of WCU’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources; Brian Kloeppel, associate professor of natural resource conservation and management; and students Mike McCloy, Amber Holland, Brent Mills and Nathan Shepherd. Others involved in the effort were Sutton, AmeriCorps volunteers Tara Granke, Thomas Pagels and Evan Raskin, and Bates’ wife, Kris Bates.

Sutton said the Yellow Face summit, which rises to 6,032 feet on the crest of the Plott Balsams about a mile southwest of Waterrock Knob, includes an area that was historically cleared and that has now grown up in high-elevation blackberry and fire cherries. The area is part of a 1,595-acre tract of land, known as the Krauss-Stansbury tract, that The Nature Conservancy purchased in 1997. The property borders two miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“The work was focused on reopening the bald and reclaiming that area,” Sutton said. “Our hope is to clear a larger area every year.” The Nature Conservancy will probably not try to restore the entire bald, but “just enough of it to retain the view-shed and to maintain some early successional habitat,” she said.

Bates said WCU NRCM students have been holding a workday each fall for the past six years to help maintain the trail that extends down the Plott Balsam ridgeline from Waterrock Knob to Blackrock, a peak overlooking the town of Sylva. That trail passes across the Yellow Face summit.

For more information about the natural resource conservation and management program’s work in the Plott Balsams, contact Bates at 828-227-3914 or bates@wcu.edu.

WCU student Amber Holland works to clear away vegetation and restore a bald on Yellow Face, one of the high peaks in the Plott Balsam Mountains of northern Jackson County. (WCU photo by John Witherspoon)