The Blue Ridge Parkway is set to expand by 1,654 acres in the Plott Balsam Mountains of Jackson County, North Carolina.
The expansion is being made possible by a generous land grant from The Nature Conservancy valued at just over $3 million.
The gifted land, which can be seen from the Waterrock Knob Overlook, is of particular importance to conservationists because it harbors two federally endangered mammals— the North Carolina flying squirell and the Indiana bat— and a rare type of rhododendron often called pinkshell azalea. It’s also home to nine other rare plant species as well as rare Red spruce and Fraser fir habitat.
With this new land acquisition, which comes as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, NPS hopes to improve the overall visitor experience of the Blue Ridge Parkway, an attraction that drew more that 15 million visitors last year alone.
“Every time a property is conserved adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it improves the visitor experience by preserving scenic vistas, water quality, and habitat for wildlife,” Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods told the Asheville Citizen-Times last month.
In addition to hosting rare plants and animals, the newly donated tract, visible from Milepost 452, contains the highest summit in all of the Plott Balsam Range at an elevation of 6,292 feet.
According to the Citizen Times, the land will be added to an adjacent 5,000 acres later this month to make up a new conservation area to be known as Waterrock Knob Park.