The 45th Anniversary Celebration for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy was held at USA Raft in Unicoi County. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) held its 45th Anniversary Celebration at USA Raft on May 16.

“This is the first year that the celebration has been held in Erwin,” USA Raft Owner and SAHC member Matt Moses told The Erwin Record.

According to SAHC Donor Relations Manager Pauline Heyne, SAHC protects the area’s natural land.

“We are a non-profit land trust,” Heyne said. “What we do is permanently protect our natural and beautiful and natural areas. Places that have clean water, high elevation habitats, and scenic views will be protected forever.”

Heyne explained that SAHC was born in the 1950s when the Appalachian Trail was rerouted. “We realized we could do better, and the SAHC was formed to protect the natural beauty of the area,” Heyne added.

According to Heyne, awareness is the strongest need for the conservation group.

“Knowing what conservation can do for us, our community, and future generations is level number one,” Heyne said.

The May 16 event, which featured the annual Stanley A. Murray Award for Volunteer Service, kicked off at 5 p.m. According to the SAHC, in 1989 the Stanley A. Murray Award for Volunteer Service was created to honor persons who have made outstanding volunteer contributions to the work of SAHC emulating the lifelong dedication of our founder, Stanley A. Murray. This year the SAHC honored the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club for its extraordinary volunteer help over the years, particularly in 2018 managing Golden-winged Warbler habitat around our Grassy Ridge “Birdhouse” property.

The event was catered by Southern Craft Barbecue out of Johnson City.  ETSU Old-Time Ramblers performed on the main stage. There were numerous vendors and recreation training sites set up for the event. Standup paddleboarding and One Wheel lessons were available for those who attended. There were self-guided hiking tours and fly fishing demos available for those that attended.

Michelle Bouton of HERBalachia, took a group of more than 10 on a plant walk to discover and discuss plant species and their benefits to nature and to humans.

Scott Fisher from Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute (NOLI) was on hand to explain the numerous ways that the public could enjoy the outdoors and the outdoor recreation that Unicoi County contains.

Moses said he was proud to host the event and hopes to again in the future.

“It’s great for this group to be outside and to be able to see what good they are doing,” Moses said. “We are excited to host it.”

For more information or to donate to SACH, please visit appalachian.org. For more information of upcoming events or to book a cabin or rafting trip, please follow USA Raft’s Facebook page.