A national conservation group said Friday it has assembled land that will more than double the size of North Carolina’s first state park, Mount Mitchell.
The Conservation Fund will resell to the state two tracts totaling 2,744 acres on the western slope of the Black Mountains northwest of Marion. The park created in 1916 now occupies 1,996 acres around the highest peak in the East.
The acreage includes 6,584-foot Cattail Peak, which the Fund says is the highest privately-owned peak in the East. It also is the site of mountain man “Big Tom” Wilson’s cabin, which geologist Elisha Mitchell was trying to reach when he fell off the 6,684-foot mountain that is now named for him and died in 1857.
The acquisition will expand the state park down the mountain to the Cane River, a renowned trout stream, expanding public access when the peak is closed by snow.
The Conservation Fund paid $8.6 million for the two tracts and will resell them to the state for $3.2 million. One tract, of 783 acres, is expected to be conveyed to the state soon. The second parcel, 1,961 acres, is expected to close by the end of the year.
Contributions from Salisbury philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund will put it in state hands.
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservation also protects land in the Cane River Valley. The Asheville-based land trusts holds easements on 8,600 acres on a privately-owned 8,600-acre Cane River Club preserve and another 1,360 acres on the Cane River.
“One hundred years ago, Gov. Locke Craig and others showed extraordinary vision in having North Carolina protect the high spruce- and fir-covered crest of the Black Mountains running south from Cattail Park,” said Mike Leonard of Winston-Salem, chairman of the Conservation Fund.
Legislators authorized the state to buy Mount Mitchell in 1915, after Craig came back from a trip to the mountain aghast at logging that stripped it bare nearly to its 6,684-foot summit. It was near the end of a 40-year era of massive logging in the Southern Appalachians.
When the first 725 acres were acquired in 1916, the state still had no concept of a park system and didn’t know what it would do with the land. That’s the case with the addition announced Friday.
“It’s not going to affect the character of the park initially,” said Charlie Peek, a spokesman for the state parks. “In the next 100 years, there will be a lot of people who will be very glad we had the foresight to do this.”
The state parks will hold a centennial celebration at Mount Mitchell State Park this weekend.