Revitalizing Redlair: Haywood Rankin’s lifework

North Carolina is fortunate to have a strong network of 22 local land trusts, community-based nonprofits that have compiled an impressive record of land protection; NC land trusts have conserved nearly 429,000 acres in 2,750 locations across our state. CTNC promotes, assists, and represents our local land trust partners so they can preserve more conservation lands in the communities and build greater awareness and support for conservation.

On a sunny day in June, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Catawba Lands Conservancy took a visit to Redlair Preserve located in Gaston County, NC. The preserve is maintained by Haywood Rankin and his wife Sabine, and has belonged to his family for generations.

Haywood’s grandfather first purchased land to grow cotton – a fraction of the expansive property now known as Redlair Preserve. In addition to the family’s old barn, Redlair consists of hundreds of acres of barely-touched forest.

Rankin knows this forest better than any map can tell you, leading visitors through the trees and topography without any hesitation.

While hiking with Haywood and his two dogs, he discusses the Preserve and its significance as a prized and truly natural space and how its’ proximity to Charlotte makes it truly unique.

The Rankin property sits on the South Fork of the Catawba River with Spencer Mountain to the West. It has become a hotspot for plant conservationists to study, as its location creates the perfect environment for two federally-endangered plants to thrive: the Bigleaf Magnolia and the Schweinitz Sunflower. The leaves of even the smallest of the Magnolias live up to their name, measuring about two-thirds of an arm’s length.

But Redlair was not always a spacious untouched nature preserve. When Haywood’s grandfather purchased what was only a small piece of Redlair, there were several other family farms built across the property. Haywood pointed out several locations in the forest where the farming practices of clear-cutting and plowing still remain and how to spot the new growth forest through the species of trees.

Every once in a while you’ll spot a small sign marker with two or three numbers indicating the directions of different trail combinations. As we walked, Haywood cleared the path ahead of us stopping occasionally to move big sticks or logs and even pull up a few invasive plants. Haywood is in a constant ongoing war with several species throughout his property, from Chinese privet to Japanese Stiltgrass.

It is hard to believe that such a space exists so close to urban sprawl. Though Redlair isn’t open to the public, Haywood will occasionally offer guided hikes as well as a tours of the magnolias during their blooming season.

Redlair Preserve is now owned by the State of North Carolina and is one of just 18 state plant conservation preserves in our state, which provides the highest level of protection for a property. Catawba Lands Conservancy holds a conservation easement on the property.

To find out more about this collaboration with Catawba Lands Conservancy and Haywood’s efforts to preserve this expansive property, watch our latest video!