A $3.5 million state grant and private fundraising will help protect a landmark mountain in Rutherford County that will likely become part of Chimney Rock State Park.
The state paid $24 million, including a private donation, for the 996-acre Chimney Rock Park tourist attraction in January 2007. The new state park now covers 4,005 acres, largely because of acquisitions by the Nature Conservancy and local land trusts, which have worked for two decades to protect the Hickory Nut Gorge.
The nonprofit group said Tuesday it will buy 357 acres on the flank of Rumbling Bald Mountain, on the gorge's north side and one of its most important undeveloped tracts. The money will come from the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund and a $3.25 million campaign by the conservancy.
The clean-water fund “recognized that this is a very special place,” said Executive Director Richard Rogers. The trust fund has spent $12 million on acquisitions in Hickory Nut Gorge, $1.5 million toward the Chimney Rock Park purchase. The Broad River flows through the gorge on its way to South Carolina.
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Protecting the tract announced Tuesday will ensure that development doesn't nibble at Rumbling Bald, protected on its southwestern flank by other conservancy holdings.
The conservancy still owns 2,100 acres in the gorge, including its Bat Cave Preserve. Much of the acreage will eventually become part of the state park.
Rumbling Bald, distinctive for its series of three mounds and high rock cliffs, rises to about 2,800 feet. Oak and hickory forest covers much of the tract, which harbors rare spiders, salamanders and wood rats. Ravens nest in the cliffs and bats hibernate in large fissure caves.
Money to develop a master plan for the new Chimney Rock State Park has been approved, and public meetings will likely be held early next year. When complete, said deputy state parks director Don Reuter, the park “will be a crown jewel in our system.”