By Tom Joyce
August 8, 2013
At 3,540 feet, Fishers Peak is the region’s high spot — offering breathtakingly panoramic views of the landscape below. The problem is, people can’t experience them due to limited access.
However, this could be changing due to a Piedmont Land Conservancy (PLC) acquisition of a 550-acre parcel at Fishers Peak, situated near Lowgap in Surry County.
Not only will this purchase allow the land to be protected from development and preserved for future generations, it could open the door for the public to enjoy the scenic resource through the construction of a trail.
“Residents of Surry County, and tourists to the area, value the beautiful views that Fishers Peak affords them,” said Piedmont Land Conservancy Executive Director Kevin Redding.
“This was the culmination of the project we’ve been working on,” Redding added of an ongoing PLC effort to acquire tracts in the Fishers Peak area and the milestone reached with the latest purchase. It marks the fourth by the conservancy since 2007, from multiple landowners at an overall cost of less than $4 million, and brings the total acreage under its protection there to more than 1,700 acres.
“Everything we’ve set out to acquire, we’ve finally done,” Redding said.
The mission of the Piedmont Land Conservancy, a grassroots trust headquartered in Greensboro which was formed more than 20 years ago, is to permanently protect important lands to conserve rivers, streams and natural and scenic areas in a nine-county region including Surry.
Along with the scenic value of Fishers Peak, it is a key natural resource due to containing the headwaters of the Fisher River, said Redding, who mentioned that the opportunity to secure such a large land area is rare. Altogether, PLC-owned property at Fishers Peak contains more than eight miles of headwater streams that drain into the Fisher River, a tributary to the Yadkin River.
“One of PLC’s goals is protecting lands that are important to their local communities,” the organization’s official added.
With the addition of its fourth parcel at Fishers Peak, located in Surry’s northwest corner, the Piedmont Land Conservancy has now protected more than 20,000 acres in its nine-county region.
The PLC paid $1.3 million for the fourth tract.
“We raised about half the money privately,” Redding said. Other funding came from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF), a source of state funding with a goal of maintaining and restoring surface waters in North Carolina. A grant, originally approved in 2010, was matched by private donors who contributed to PLC’s Protecting the Nature of the Piedmont campaign.
“It’s a good deal for everyone involved,” Redding said.
Plan For Peak Access
It’s one thing to provide long-term protection for a heavily forested, mountainous area. But the PLC’s plans include working to provide a resource people can experience. “The views are fantastic,” Redding said of Fishers Peak, which is located just northeast of the Lowgap community. “We’ve had periodic hikes and outings…but it is not open to the public yet.”
The plans from this point on include working with the National Park Service, the agency that oversees the Blue Ridge Parkway and a facility at Milepost 213 of the scenic highway, the Blue Ridge Music Center. The property obtained by the conservancy is connected on the north to lands owned by the National Park Service, with the center about one mile from Fishers Peak as the crow flies, Redding said.
It is the PLC’s hope that it can turn over land there to the National Park Service to develop and maintain a trail connecting the two sites, Redding said. That would allow people to at least hike in to the peak, something now hampered.
“You really can’t get onto the property very good,” the PLC official said of the existing situation. “It’s a mud road pretty much.”
Redding added: “You can still get there if you put your mind to it, but you’re probably trespassing.”
Aside from the proposed trail, no other recreational uses for the Fishers Peak site have been identified so far. “We will begin working on that,” said Redding, who explained that the priority up to now has been acquiring the property and raising money for this.
“It’s not a place you would just want unlimited public access,” Redding said. “A lot of it is steep.” An existing trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway grounds is known as the Fishers Peak Loop Trail.
The highest point of the mountain is located just inside the North Carolina border. “We don’t actually own the tower there,” the PLC official said of a structure at the site.
Eddie Harris, the chairman of the Surry Board of Commissioners, said Monday that county officials welcome an opportunity for respective governmental entities in North Carolina and Virginia to forge a cooperative agreement to allow visitation at Fishers Peak.
“I think it would be great if we could have some sort of public access point that would allow folks to come and take in the scenery,” Harris said, citing Fishers Peak as a key part of Surry’s rich natural resources. “We are delighted it has permanent protection.”
The county official also praised the local conservation efforts of the PLC over the years.
“They have always been an outstanding partner with Surry County.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.