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State Buys Occoneechee Mountain to Keep It the 'Land of the People'

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HILLSBOROUGH — At a time when it seems there is so much growth and development, there is one spot near the Triangle that will never be touched. Occoneechee Mountain, located just south of Hillsborough, is the newest addition to theNorth Carolina park system.

Tuesday was a special day on Occoneechee Mountain, and a special day for Virginia Cates Bartow, whose family used to own the land.

"It's always been in the family, and I can't think of a nicer thing ever happening than to have it preserved for our grandchildren as we enjoyed it," Bartow said.

At the urging of theEno River Associationand the Nature Conservancy of North Carolina, the state purchased a total of 124 acres to preserve the land as a state Natural Area.

"It's a Natural Area so it's going to remain pretty much as it is," says park superintendent David Cook. "We'll have hiking trails, there will be fishing in the ponds and the river. There's scenic overlooks and opportunities for picnicking."

What makes the mountain so unique is all of the rare plants and animal species there. At 867 feet, it also is the highest point in North Carolina fromOrange Countyto the coast.

Tuesday, the overlook was the site of a Native American blessing by a member of the Occoneechee tribe.

"We have never gone anywhere. We are here and we live in peace," says Occoneechee Indian John Blackfeather. "This is the land of the people."

This is just the beginning for the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area. The state hopes to acquire more land, for a total of 250 acres. The Natural Area is open during regular state park hours.


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