SALT Pitches Plan for Preserving Scenic Byways
Farmers, ranchers, shopkeepers, potters and others who live and work or whose land lies along N.C. 24 and 27 gathered Thursday night at Clyde Maness’ Music Barn for barbecue, bluegrass and a proposition.
This was the third meeting by the Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT) for one of its latest initiatives, the Sandhills Heritage Scenic Byway.
“We work in six counties that define the Sandhills to protect land through conservation easements,” said Candace Williams, executive director of the nonprofit, as she welcomed guests. “Today I am thrilled to say that we are right at 12,000 acres that we have conserved in this region. That is just one of many things we do. We are very excited about one initiative we are here tonight to celebrate. That is our scenic byway project.”
SALT’s Gateway will include three different roads as state-designated scenic byways. Designating roads that pass through lovely, interesting parts of North Carolina as “scenic byways” is one way the state is hoping it can spur economic life in those areas.
Its Sandhills Heritage Gateway will promote N.C. 73 as “Indian Heritage Trail,” N.C. 705 — already designated as “Pottery Highway” — and now N.C. 24/27 as “Pineland Trail.”
“It is quite unusual to have three,” she said. “We feel really fortunate about that.”
SALT has now hosted three events at places it sees as local “must-see” stops along these byways. Indian Heritage Trail brought people from its area to the Little River Winery between Ellerbe and Mount Gilead. Next, SALT invited folks from the Pottery Highway area to the Village Theater in Robbins. Its third event was this one, at Maness Music Barn on 24/27, the Pineland Trail.
Jesse Wimberley is SALT’s community outreach director and manages the byway project. Wimberley is a fifth-generation farmer in West End, where his family started out as turpentiners, then went into free-range cattle and a little tobacco farming.
“People ask me what I do, and I do tree farming, but I also grow water,” he said. “Drowning Creek heads up around my farm, and that’s the water supply for all of southern Moore County. My family has transitioned over the years from one agricultural product as times have changed.”
How to take advantage of changes is one focus of the byway, an endeavor whose greatest value is the legacy it will leave.
“I want to introduce you to a concept,” Wimberley said. “You’ve probably heard of a ‘watershed,’ where all the different water comes together, and by the time it gets to southern Moore County it is the drinking supply — but it comes from a lot of different creeks that come together. There is another term called a ‘viewshed.’”
SALT is bringing together all who own land along these three scenic byways and introducing them to different programs that could help them see what they want to do.
“The reason it was designated a ‘scenic byway’ is because it’s nice,” Wimberley said. “If any of you have been down around Aberdeen or Southern Pines and you ride along what I call ‘french fry alley,’ it just gets you real nervous. Just to get in to get some french fries you feel like you are taking your life in your own hands. It makes you tense.
“But when you ride along 705 or 24/27 or 73 it gives you a good feeling. That’s because most of the land is working land: farmland or forestry land. That has a value not only to the people who own the land, but to all who travel along it.
“How can we bring all that together into a program where not only landowners benefit, but businesses and other people?”
By 2030 the state is expecting a 50 percent population increase, Wimberley said.
“I am also the manager of the Sunrise Theater, and you can’t even find a parking place in Southern Pines anymore,” he said. “It is so crowded down there. There are people now coming from the Triangle, Charlotte, the Triad because we have such a pretty place.”
The Sandhills Gateway, with its three scenic byways, can bring communities of people along those routes together in cooperative efforts, he said.
The crowd at Thursday night’s event included people who raise crops, cattle and chickens. There were innkeepers and potters. A film writer and director from Los Angeles is back in North Carolina to care for his aging mother and looking for a way to keep the family land. A town commissioner from Carthage was lamenting the loss of a proposed antique car dealership, victim of zoning rules. A photographer said she had started a studio here, because this was where she wanted to live.
Community-building combined with conservation were ingredients in the evening’s recipe. Neighbors were introduced or re-introduced to each other and conservation options offered through one-on-one talks with representatives about various conservation options in making the natural resources on their land more profitable.
SALT’s dream is a network of scenic working farms and forests conserving the vistas along the byways while bringing ecotourism dollars to the region. SALT believes these things will further benefit travelers by helping preserve the stories the byways tell about their history, culture, and land.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or email@example.com.
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