Sam Hobgood grew up visiting – and now lives – among the woods and waterways that ran for generations through his family’s land in Orange County.
“He was born and raised in Fayetteville, but this is where his great-aunts and uncles lived,” Hobgood’s wife Lynn said.
“This is where they came during holidays – for the hog killings and Christmases and summer vacations,” she said. “The farm is a real treat for the extended family – not just us, but the cousins and other family members that come up and enjoy the property as well.”
Last month, the Hobgood family sold 22.6 acres and donated another 19 acres to the Eno River Association – land that lies adjacent to the association’s 180-acre Confluence Natural Area off Highland Farm Road. The area provides drinking water to over half a million Triangle residents and businesses.
It’s now part of over 7,170 acres that the nationally accredited land trust has protected for public parks and natural resources conservation on private land in Durham and Orange counties.
“We are excited to secure these beautiful tracts of land for the protection of the river,” association Executive Director Robin Jacobs said. “We are very grateful to Sam and Lynn Hobgood for working with us to make this expansion of our Confluence Natural Area possible, and for their generous donation of the conservation easement on the East Fork Eno River.”
The confluence lies southwest of Lake Orange, at the meeting of the East and West forks of the Eno River. It’s a Nationally Significant Natural Heritage Area, covered with hardwood forests, fields and wetlands.
It’s also home to several rare, endangered and threatened aquatic and plant species, including the Atlantic pigtoe mollusk, creeper mussels, the Neuse River waterdog, yellow giant-hyssop, and three rare orchid species that have not been documented before in Orange County.
Falls Lake lies 33 miles to the southeast, at the end of the Eno’s winding route through Orange and Durham counties. The Eno joins the Flat River at Falls Lake, providing a vital source of water for Hillsborough, Durham, Raleigh, and other Wake County communities.
The association had been talking with the Hobgood family for several years about preserving the land, Lynn Hobgood said. While the family will retain ownership of the 19-acre parcel and can use it for recreation, they agreed not to build or develop on it or use it for timber or agriculture.
It’s a small part of the roughly 200-acre family homestead north of Highland Farm Road. A farmer leases some of the land to grow soybeans and corn, and another section is part of a county timber forestry program, Lynn Hobgood said, but most has been left to nature.
“We’re in it to conserve it as well and make sure the wildlife stays intact and protected,” she said. “We’ve got two boys. We hope that they understand what we’ve done and they appreciate it just like we do, and they can move forward like we have.”
The association paid $377,980 for the 22.6-acre tract, including transaction costs and stewardship endowment funding to ensure the property is at least monitored on a regular basis.
The money included $121,200 from the Orange County Lands Legacy Program, $97,095 from the City of Raleigh’s Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, $138,250 from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and $21,345 from the Triangle Community Fund.
The donated 19 acres won’t be open to the public, Jacobs said, but the confluence is open during Eno River Association events and will be made more public in the next few months. They also plan to expand a long-running science and nature summer day camp at Eno River State Park, she said.
The association and its many volunteers also have removed aging structures on the property, planted trees, and added an open-air pavilion with bathrooms and a large fireplace built with stone from a old home foundation.
Association President Alanna Howard said members are “happy to end the year with such positive news” about the latest additions.
“This land acquisition and all ongoing land protection efforts not only help with water quality, but also provide special places like the confluence for the community to get outside and connect with nature and the river,” she said. “We greatly appreciate the support of our partners who helped make this project possible.”