The Catawba Lands Conservancy and Girl Scouts Hornets Nest Council have protected about half of the councils Dale Earnhardt Environmental Leadership Campus at Oak Springs in Iredell County.A conservation easement now permanently protects 358 acres of the 673-acre Oak Springs property, protecting it forever from future development, the conservancy and the council announced Jan. 15.Oak Springs is a regional destination for Girl Scouts, providing camp activities and educational experiences for girls from the counties of Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Rowan, Stanly, Union and York, S.C. On average, about 200 to 300 girls participate in activities every weekend from March through November.The easement protects the propertys conservation values, while allowing the council to continue using the property and plan for future expansion, conservancy officials said. The 358 acres were purchased in part with a $620,000 grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, with the remaining value of the property donated to the conservancy.One of our four local program focus areas is environmental leadership, said Sally Daley, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts Hornets Nest Council. Conservation of this land furthers our efforts to help girls live part of the Girl Scout law to use resources wisely. Part of the protected area is designated as an N.C. State Significant Natural Heritage Site an area of special biodiversity importance identified by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program to protect the natural habitat of rare plant and animal species. Four bird and one turtle species listed on the N.C. State Wildlife Action Plan Priority Species List the eastern box turtle, northern flicker, red-headed woodpecker, American kestrel and eastern meadowlark benefit from the high-quality habitat for breeding and survival, conservancy officials said. The area also protects three special status plant species that have experienced commercial collecting and poaching, according to the conservancy.The conserved area also provides watershed protection with two miles along the South Yadkin River and three miles of streams. A future, 2-mile segment of the Carolina Thread Trail will be built through the property, with plans to complete construction by the end of this year.The Land Trust for Central North Carolina previously conserved 610 acres near Oak Springs, and the Allison Woods Foundation is working to establish an environmental and historical education center nearby.