The southern Blue Ridge Mountains, filled with colorful, broad-leaved hardwoods and dense firs, roll on over soft peaks and breathtaking valleys.
Early afternoon sun casts long, late October shadows across the mountains.
Just 40 minutes west of Asheville, N.C., and in a world all its own, Balsam Mountain Preserve feels less like a private community, and more like a national park. Similar to Brays Island Plantation’s land plan where there’s an ongoing agreement among owners, what sets Balsam apart is a land trust – the Balsam Mountain Trust, which was established in 2000 as a nonprofit by Balsam Mountain Preserve.
"One of the main reasons my wife and I chose Balsam was our intense interest in nature,” member Sam Belfore told Balsam Mountain Preserve. “We were striving to find a place where we could live in, learn about, and participate in the beauty of our surroundings."
And they found that place.
Here, residents aren’t just land owners, they’re part of a stewardship, the trust. Out of Balsam Mountain Preserve’s 4,400 acres, 3,000 were set aside as a nature preserve. It’s basically a wonderland of native plants and animals. In the beginning, the trust’s initial role was to manage the preserve, educate members and provide environmental leadership.
Today, the trust has become a regional leader in conservation education. Colleges and universities have been invited to use the land like a live classroom. One of the trust’s most successful campaigns is the Adopt-A-School program. The initiative pairs the trust with local businesses to provide wildlife education presentations at zero cost to area elementary schools.
An on-site nature center really brings things to life. From here, there are guided hikes, field trips, day camps and summer lecture series for Balsam Mountain Preserve residents.
Monthly Trust Talks keep residents up to date with all that’s going on with the trust, as well as guest speakers. Topics this year have included beekeeping, bear awareness and monarch butterflies.
While full-time, on-site naturalists, birds of prey and outdoor research projects are interesting draws, for other potential members the decision to call Balsam home was simpler.
"We had been looking for a place in the mountains for over three years, and visited just about every community imaginable,” member Bill Croswell told Balsam Mountain Preserve. “After 15 minutes, we knew we were home."
Members say they can get here from Florida without ever hitting a stop light.
Founded in the late 1990s, Balsam Mountain Preserve’s vision has always been about preservation. While private community trends have come and gone, the property’s focus on the land and giving back continues to remain strong.
It’s all about staying true to the land.
Even from the golf course, visible roof lines are discreet and homes are built within the lots. Constructed in 2007, the 6,824-yard, par-70 Arnold Palmer design is a mountain classic with dramatic holes. At elevations reaching 3,700 feet, sweeping mountain views distract players, while generous greens reward daring shots.
Balsam’s golf park offers golfers a chance to refine their short game. A hybrid of a driving range and par-3 short course, the golf park features: bentgrass tees, target fairways and greens, short game complex, practice bunker and a 3,500-square-foot putting green.
Beyond the golf course, The Lodge and Restaurant offer members a comfortable gathering spot with a wraparound porch and fireplace, dazzling views, a rustic bar and inspired dishes by executive chef Edwin Bloodworth Jr. Outside, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, onsite camping and trout fishing keep members busy throughout the seasons.
On tap for Balsam Mountain Preserve is the new Doubletop Village. Currently under construction, the property’s new epicenter will feature a members grill, club tavern, great lawn, general store, golf house and 23 single-family cottages.
BALSAM MOUNTAIN PRESERVE
Location: Balsam, N.C.
Websites: balsammountainpreserve.com | bmtrust.org
Patrick Rhyne has spent the last 20 years building luxury and private community brands across the United States, Mexico and Caribbean. He lives in Asheville, N.C.