A 7,000-acre tract in the foothills south of Marion has been permanently protected under one of North Carolina’s largest conservation easements donated by an individual.
Cary resident Tim Sweeney, founder of video game company Epic Games, donated the easement on his Box Creek Wilderness to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The tract harbors more than 130 rare and vulnerable plant and wildlife species, including three moths and a spiderwort species that are new to science. North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program named its ecological values among the highest in the state.
Box Creek also connects conserved land in the South Mountains and Pisgah National Forest, allowing animals to migrate across the landscape.
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The property may be best known as the focus of an attempted condemnation by Rutherford Electric Membership Corp., a local electrical cooperative that wanted to run a power line across it.
Sweeney fought the lawsuit, and credits U.S. Sen. Richard Burr with suggesting a dialogue that involved the Fish and Wildlife Service in protecting his land. The power line will be built along an existing road corridor.
Community hikes, nature tours and running events held on the tract in recent years helped raise public awareness of it.
“Fortunately, we had a very determined landowner, and our team was able to demonstrate to important stakeholders that conservation and energy infrastructure can coexist responsibly,” said Jeff Fisher of Unique Places LLC, the land management and consulting firm working for Sweeney.