Conservancy adds 300 acres to lake’s protection

by Andrew Batten

The Catawba Lands Conservancy recently finished protecting around 300 additional acres on the banks of Mountain Island Lake.

STANLEY – Approximately 300 acres of farm and forest on the banks of Mountain Island Lake will never be subjected to a developer’s bulldozer, now that they’re protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy.

The land on Killian Farm Road spans Gaston and Lincoln counties, and is owned by the Killian family who has donated conservation easements to protect the land in perpetuity.
Kay Killian, whose great-grandfather first purchased the property, donated the conservation easement to the conservancy. She’s a descendent of the area’s first settlers and served on the conservancy’s board of directors in the 1990s.

“My family has seen a lot of change in the area over the years and never wanted our land turned into a housing development,” said Killian, who owns two of her family’s conserved properties. “By establishing conservation easements with the conservancy, we can keep our family properties and ensure that they will remain farm and forest land forever.”

The protected land encompasses open fields and mature forests and is adjacent to the Mountain Island Educational State Forest, which borders Mountain Island Lake.

“It is a beautiful area. It varies from a pastoral farm land from subdivisions to individual homes,” said RoxAnne Smith, the conservancy’s associate director. “The contrast in that view is what we hear from people who want to see that farmland and views protected.”

Kay’s parents, Alonzo and Margaret Killian, brought together the Killian and Bynum family farms once held by their parents and grandparents and protected them from future development through this conservation project. The Killians have completed two other conservation easement projects with the conservancy: 146 acres of forest in 2003 and 107 acres of farmland in 2000.

The Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Killian family have created protections for about 300 acres off Killian Farm Road. The approximate area is shown in red on the above map.

This project adds to a conservation area now totaling 1,300 acres, which provides near-contiguous wildlife habitat. The conservancy doesn’t usually get the chance to preserve this amount of land in one specific area, Smith said.

“That’s a very unusual opportunity to put together landscape scale preservation so that you don’t necessarily continue to see more housing pop up,” she said. “It will continue to be a lot of preserved land.”

Landscape scale preservation refers to connecting preserved open land to form a large enough area to support habitat for species and “to really make a meaningful difference,” Smith said.

“That’s really important in a rapidly developing area like the Charlotte metro area,” Smith said. “Usually we are able to preserve five acres here and five acres in another location. The conservation benefit is not as great with landscape scale conservation.”

Killian also points to the conservation’s ability to preserve water quality.

“I think the water quality protection is a big thing because when you look at the Mountain Island Lake watershed, it’s very small but it supplies water to Charlotte, Gastonia, and Mount Holly.

Several streams on the property feed Johnson Creek, the lake’s biggest tributary. Other streams on the property feed directly into the lake.

Killian and Smith also point to a portion of the 300 acres, which they call prime agricultural land, that will help farmers in the area produce more food here, rather than having those foods trucked in from elsewhere.

The Killian conservation project is the latest project from Catawba Lands Conservancy, which started with a group intent on protecting the area surrounding Mountain Island Lake. Save Mountain Island Lake for Everyone was formed in 1990. That group evolved into the Catawba Lands Conservancy, which has conserved more than 1,400 acres of land in the region this year. The conservancy recently passed the 10,000-acre milestone for total lands protected since the organization was launched in 1991.

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