Eno River Association Grows State Park’s Acreage and Protects Land in the Upper Eno River Basin

Tributary to Eno River on the Matheson Property. Photo credit Fred Myers.

On December 17th, the Eno River Association donated 14 acres of land to be included into Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area and a 1.86-acre trail easement, adjacent to the Eno River and Pleasant Green Road, to be included into Eno River State Park.  The North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is proposed to cross through both properties.  The Eno River Association, a non-profit conservation organization, accepted the 14-acre property as a donation from the Matheson family in 1999 and purchased the 1.86-acre trail easement in 2016 from Beth and Tandy McConnell with the intention of donating them to State Parks.    

“The Association has a long history of acquiring land for state and local parks,” says Don Moffitt, President of the Association.  “This is a great time to donate the property and trail easement to State Parks now that they’ve approved the proposed route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  We look forward to the day that the MST is complete.”

Both properties provide important forested stream buffers to the waterways that cross the parcels as well as increased connectivity for people and wildlife.  The trail easement will unlock three miles of additional trail in Eno River State Park, connecting sections on either side of Pleasant Green Road.  The incorporation of the Matheson property into State Parks provides a link between Occoneechee Mountain and Orange County’s Seven Mile Creek Natural Area by way of the MST.

The Eno River Association, in partnership with Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program and the North Carolina Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, has also secured the purchase of a “working lands” conservation easement on a 38-acre property in Cedar Grove.  The easement serves the dual purpose of protecting prime farmland and protecting the quality of water that flows downstream of the farm.

The Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm is owned by Jane Gledhill and is located on Carr Store Road across from their land already protected by an Eno River Association and Orange County jointly held conservation easement. The property is located within the Upper Eno protected watershed and drains into Lick Creek.  Lick Creek and the East Fork Eno River merge and flow directly into Lake Orange, a drinking water supply reservoir for the town of Hillsborough.  This property is in the headwaters of the Eno River which supplies drinking water for the not only the Town of Hillsborough, but also the cities of Durham and Raleigh.

“We are thrilled to further protection in the Upper Eno,” says Jessica Sheffield, Executive Director of the Association. “Without our partners and the commitment and generosity of our landowners, this type of conservation would not be possible. Increasing the conservation of private lands is absolutely necessary to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and the rural landscape.”

Conservation easements are written agreements that permanently protect land for its natural or cultural resource values while leaving it in private ownership. The Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm easement is Orange County’s 41st conservation easement (totaling 2,686 acres), and the ninth conservation easement held by the Eno River Association (totaling 1,065 acres).  The project would not have been possible without the support and expertise of Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District, NC Department of Agriculture, and, most importantly, Ms. Gledhill. 

The Eno River Association has been working on land and water quality conservation in the Eno River Basin for 53 years.  It was instrumental in the creation of the Eno River State Park in the early 1970s and continues to actively work to expand protected areas throughout the Eno River basin.  The Association’s efforts have resulted in the protection of more than 7,415 acres in the watershed.   

Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program was established in 2000 and has since conserved nearly 3,800 acres of land containing natural areas, riparian buffers, prime farm and forestland, cultural sites, and for future park sites.  Orange County has collaborated on many projects with the Eno River Association in the Upper Eno River basin.