If you poke around this website, you’ll learn that seven nonprofit organizations have joined forces to raise funds to help make Interstate 40 in the Pigeon River Gorge safer for both motorists and wildlife.
Beyond this group of seven, there are several other nonprofit organizations that play a critical role in Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project. Here’s a look at four of those organizations and their significant contributions.
Let’s start with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. SAHC is an Asheville-based land trust committed to protecting wildlife corridors in North Carolina and Tennessee. In 2017, they acquired the 147-acre Stevens Creek tract adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 2022, SAHC acquired an additional 13 acres at this location. These lands are particularly important for elk and other critters that leave the park, helping them thrive in a patchwork of private and public lands.
In 2019, SAHC acquired the 195-acre Wilkins Creek Tract. This parcel is adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest and a concrete box culvert that runs beneath the highway. Subsequently, our research indicated that this was one of our hottest hot spots for black bear mortality. These lands are now permanently protected from development, which means animals near the busy highway may have a better chance to stay safe.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is another key partner. RMEF played a role in SAHC’s acquisition of the 147-acre Stevens Creek tract. Their relationship with the Farmer Family helped make that conservation success story possible. In addition, they have provided nearly $40,000 to support our research. Their generous contribution allowed us to purchase 40 wildlife cameras. In addition, RMEF is currently supporting research being conducted by Warren Wilson College student Aurora Wynne.
Southwings is our critically important aviation partner. This Asheville based organization’s mission is “conservation through aviation.” Southwings’ volunteer pilots have flown Safe Passage Fund Coalition members and other Safe Passage supporters over Interstate 40 a handful of times. This includes flying journalists, researchers, and videographers, resulting in clear and compelling stories that have helped to advance our work. Check out the video associated with a 2019 Asheville Citizen Times article titled “Bringing back historic wildlife corridors to the mountains.” We would not be where we are today without them.
Finally, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation is Safe Passage’s voice in Tennessee. Their staff have been working closely with Tennessee DOT, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), key legislators, and Governor Lee’s staff to advance our vision in the Volunteer State. We couldn’t be more grateful for their partnership and their dedication to our shared cause.