55-Acre Family Farm Protected in Southern Franklin County

January 15, 2012

The fall of 2011 brought more acres of land under the protection of Tar River Land Conservancy (TRLC). Tracey Gay and husband Keith Fields of Hendersonville added their beautiful Franklin County farm to the list of sites protected by conservation easements held by TRLC. The Gay Farm, which has been in Mrs. Gay’s family since 1945, is located two miles south of the Town of Bunn on NC Highway 98. Mrs. Gay initially approached TRLC in the spring of 2010 to ask for help to preserve the farm from future development. Thanks to the support from several partners, TRLC, Mrs. Gay, and Mr. Fields signed a conservation easement agreement to permanently protect all 55 acres of the farm in October 2011.

Like many farms in the region, the Gay Farm consists of a mix of open land and forest. The cropland is leased to a neighboring farmer and forestland is managed for timber production. When Mrs. Gay first met with TRLC staff, one of her goals was to convert some marginally productive open land to trees. TRLC staff asked for assistance from Brian Short with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Fred Harris of the NC Forest Service. As a result, ten acres of the farm was enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and replanted with native red and white oak seedlings. The reforested area will provide water quality buffers around a pond and, over time, will provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species.

The Conservation Easement also protects buffers next to Crooked Creek, which forms the southern boundary of the Gay Farm. The creek converges with the Tar River a mile downstream.

“Crooked Creek is actually a wide swamp next to the Gay Farm, and for miles upstream,” notes Derek Halberg, TRLC Executive Director. “Beavers have been active in the creek for decades, creating some of the best waterfowl habitat in Franklin County.”

Additionally, Crooked Creek provides habitat for numerous endangered aquatic species, including the dwarf wedgemussel (Alasmidonta heterodon) and the Carolina madtom (Noturus furiosus), which is a native fish related to catfish that grows no larger than five inches long.

TRLC was awarded a generous grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund to help cover the costs of the conservation easement project, including funds to re-survey the property boundary and to establish permanent buffers adjoining Crooked Swamp.

Including the Gay Farm, TRLC has now protected 6,270 acres of farmland, forest, and wetlands across Franklin County and 16,926 acres total across its eight-county region. For more information about protecting your land using conservation easements, please contact the TRLC staff at (919) 496-5902 or info@tarriver.org!