Environment & Conservation

Not far from Charlotte, the Sandhills swamps beckon - and need protection

The Sandhills swamps are a diverse and unique ecosystem.

This month, I spent a couple of days looking at potential conservation projects in Moore County, fighting through dense undergrowth to try to reach a swamp. 

As a result of the impending merger of the Sandhills Area Land Trust with Three Rivers Land Trust, the organization I work for, we’ve begun taking on some projects in the new service area. As a local girl born and raised in Robbins, Moore County is not foreign to me. However, looking at land - especially in southern Moore County - is a new venture.

Watersheds in the Sandhills provide an important source of biodiversity and contribute to the area's unique species mix. Photo courtesy Crystal Cockman. 

The Sandhills are one of the more diverse landscapes in the state, mainly because longleaf pine ecosystems house so many unique and endemic species. The transition area between Sandhills and Uwharries is especially diverse as you may find species found in the coastal plain, Sandhills, Piedmont and the mountains all in one place. 

Conserving land in this transition area is important for species that migrate and especially species that may end up moving permanently as a result of climate change.

Although much of northern Moore County is very similar to the Uwharries, southern Moore County is definitely Sandhills habitat. For conservation of riparian areas, this means we’re looking at Sandhills swamps. Though there are wetlands in the Uwharries, and certainly bogs, there aren’t a lot of what I would call genuine swamps. There are a few in Anson and Stanly Counties, but not quite the same as where I was this past week. 

I’ve been in some thick places, but these swamps are a different kind of thick. My arms and legs show the scratches and scraps of dense underbrush and briers. 

Making it through this brushy area to the swamp in the middle was no easy task. But finding the beautiful wetland and tea-colored black water of the Sandhills was a surprisingly worthwhile experience. A barn owl was our lone greeter, hooting at us several times to get out of his hideaway.

There are some great water resources in the Sandhills portion of Montgomery County and in Moore County, which merit attention from preservationists. Drowning Creek is a fantastic stream with high water quality. Much of this stream still shows you that you are on the dividing line between Uwharries and Sandhills, with longleaf pine mixed among mountain laurel on the same property. 

Rocky outcrops along the stream can even still be found on the same site that has predominantly sandy soils in the uplands. Mill Creek and McDeeds Creek are also high quality waters and feed into Crystal Lake near Vass. This lake in the upper end has a fantastic swamp forest you can paddle through.

The mixing of different plants creates familiar impressions in unfamiliar places. The Sandhills swamps housed another familiar flower we have in the Uwharries in bloom – golden club. It’s a great time of year to explore the diverse landscapes we have access to, from the mountains to the swamps.