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Little Yellow Protection Compete

Last tract atop 5,504-foot mountain conserved


Philadelphia Lily on Little Yellow Mountain

Rare flowers like this one will have a greater chance to thrive.

Jay Leutze was one of many visitors testing out the observation deck at Roan Mountain when it reopened this summer after a facelift.

“You stand on the deck and you see the west face of Little Yellow Mountain – you are looking right at Hawk Mountain Farm,” Leutze explains. “It is a really gratifying experience.”

It is gratifying because the 210-acre Hawk Mountain Farm is now protected along with the entire summit of Little Yellow Mountain. Leutze serves on the board of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), which partnered with The Nature Conservancy to acquire the last unprotected tract atop the 5,504-foot mountain that straddles Mitchell and Avery counties.

David Ray, the Conservancy’s Mountains Program Director, says standing atop Little Yellow Mountain is equally gratifying. “You have to earn that experience. It is a pretty good trail, but parts are very steep. You walk through some really beautiful forests. Then you get to the top – three or four acres of open area. You have these very rewarding views. You are on one of the highest peaks in our mountains. You can see Grandfather [Mountain] to the east. On a clear day, you can see the Smokies out to the west. And you have a commanding view of the Roan Mountain Massif – from Roan High Knob to Big Yellow Mountain.”

Little Yellow Mountain is an important piece of the nationally significant Roan Mountain Massif natural heritage area, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Southern Appalachians. Seventy-six rare species of plants and animals are found there. The Roan contains an incredible mix of habitats – spruce-fir forest, grassy balds, high elevation rocky summits, and rich coves.

“You see a number of rare plants,” Ray explains. “You also see wildlife – wild turkey, deer, hawks, and songbirds. Little Yellow is an important node along an impressive wildlife corridor stretching from the Roan Mountain Massif south toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

Shortly after the entire summit was protected, Leutze and SAHC Board Chair, Witt Langstaff, took a hike to the top. “The wildflowers were amazing. There was just a profusion of them – four different colors of bee balm,” Leutze recalls. “And then I saw a plant that I had never seen before but had always wanted to see – Philadelphia lily.”

According to the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, there are only 10 records of this species in North Carolina. Leutze says he was so thrilled by the finding that he made Langstaff, who had headed off the mountain, turn around and climb back up to where it was. “I wanted to have some proof that we had seen this beautiful flower.”

In the future, the public will have the opportunity to catch their breath over a beautiful flower atop Little Yellow Mountain, look off its top toward other nearby mountains or see it untouched from Roan Mountain. The peak is slated to be added to the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.

Aside from natural heritage, Little Yellow Mountain is also important for people downstream. Streams from the mountain flow into the North Toe River, which provides drinking water for the Town of Spruce Pine.

Like most conservation projects, Little Yellow Mountain fills a variety of niches – ensuring safe drinking water, providing recreational opportunities and protecting special plants and animals.

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