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Grandfather Mountain becomes 34th state park

Grandfather Mountain, an iconic state landmark, and 2,600 surrounding acres will become North Carolina's 34th state park in a $12 million deal.

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LINVILLE, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley announced Monday that the state will pay $12 million to acquire Grandfather Mountain, one of North Carolina's signature landmarks and most popular tourist attractions.

The nearly 6,000-foot tall peak and 2,600 surrounding, undeveloped acres will be turned into North Carolina's 34th state park.

"Today, Grandfather Mountain and all its scenic beauty becomes a state park,” Easley said. “This is an extremely important habitat, and we will take good care of it. The dreams of many North Carolinians and Hugh Morton will be met: North Carolina will protect and preserve Grandfather Mountain forever.”

Members of the Morton family, which has worked to develop Grandfather Mountain as a tourist attraction and nature preserve since 1952, said the sale is an appropriate next step.

"This opportunity completes the protection of all of Grandfather Mountain in perpetuity, as it should be for a place of such significance," Crae Morton, president of Grandfather Mountain Inc., said.

"Ultimately, the family is pleased, because the mountain will be better protected and the conservation and education mission will have new means to be improved. If my grandfather were a fly on the wall, he would be pleased, ultimately, because the mountain is No. 1 and the mountain situation will be even more improved."

Grandfather Mountain is home to 73 rare and endangered species, including black bears, the Carolina northern flying squirrel and the Blue Ridge goldenrod. It had been the only private park designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve.

A nonprofit run by the Morton family will operate the park's nature center, seven wildlife habitats and Mile High Swinging Bridge. The nonprofit, with state support, will also maintain a 600-acre conservation easement around the park.

The state will manage the undeveloped acres, including 11 hiking trails that are considered some of the toughest in the Blue Ridge. Nearly another 4,000 acres around the mountain are held as easements by The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

Those involved in the deal praised the cooperation between public and private entities to preserve the mountain against development.

“The acquisition of Grandfather Mountain ... shows again that great things can be accomplished through partnerships and a trust in the conservation spirit of the state’s citizens,” Lewis Ledford, director of North Carolina State Parks, said.

"The opportunity was right that this get done here," Morton said. "It happened to coincide with the state seeking opportunities to protect areas like this. You put those together, plus opportunities to operate the attraction as a nonprofit with all its new potential and you have a convergence of win-win situations."

The purchase money will come from two existing reserve funds – the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund – created to purchase land for parks and preservation.