Friday, October 3, 2008

Grandfather Mountain still in good hands

One of the biggest environmental success stories in North Carolina this year is the announcement Monday that Grandfather Mountain has been purchased by the state. Put up for sale recently by the heirs of Hugh Morton, the mountain and surrounding wilderness areas will become the home of North Carolina's newest state park—2,601 acres!

A steal at $12 million, Grandfather Mountain is not only a state treasure, it is a national and world treasure. Designated an International Biosphere Reserve, the mountain and its backcountry contain 16 distinct ecological communities and 73 rare and endangered species, including the Rafinesque's big-eared bat, Carolina northern flying squirrel, bog turtle and Appalachian yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Tourists know Grandfather Mountain for its most famous attraction, Morton's Mile High Swinging Bridge. When I was a tot, that bridge scared the daylights out of me, but on my most recent visit, I was able to walk (with trepidation) to the middle before turning back. Another beloved attraction was the late Mildred the Bear. The Morton family will continue to operate the tourist attraction through a nonprofit organization supported by money from the sale.

We have Hugh Morton to thank for his conservation ethic and stewardship of Grandfather Mountain. And we have his heirs to thank for selling to the State of North Carolina, at a bargain, a chunk of land that would make billionaire developers weak in the knees.

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