Here are Epic Games’ founder Tim Sweeney’s largest land conservation purchases in NC

October 20, 2021
Nature
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Tim Sweeney, the founder and CEO of Cary-based Epic Games, has become one of the largest private landowners in North Carolina over the past decade. He has bought tens of thousands of acres of land from the Blue Ridge Mountains all the way to the coast, carrying out what he promises are efforts to conserve large swaths of land before they are developed. In the annual reports he files for the three limited liability companies he buys the land through, he lists their purposes as forestry and land conservation. A News & Observer analysis of land records throughout North Carolina show that Sweeney owns at least 56,000 acres of land throughout the state. He has already donated thousands of acres of that land to conservation groups, like the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and the Conservation Fund of North Carolina. He started buying land back around the time of the Great Recession, when real estate prices cratered. But he has remained active. In mid-September, Sweeney was finalizing a purchase of nearly 270 acres of land in rural Chatham County — “part of a nature conservation project focused on the Rocky River and Bennett Flatwoods of Chatham County,” Sweeney told The News & Observer in an email. $2 for 2 months Subscribe for unlimited access to our website, app, eEdition and more CLAIM OFFER Sweeney said he is currently focused on preserving three big conservation corridors in North Carolina: the Roan Highlands, the Foothills of McDowell County and an area around the Rocky River in Chatham County. Conservation corridors are long connections of land that haven’t been crossed by roads or had homes developed on them. These undeveloped land bridges allow rare species and plants to move freely about, something Sweeney has said is critical as rising temperatures force vulnerable animals and plants to migrate. Here are some of his largest land purchases and donations: Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games, has worked with conservation groups to create a biological corridor in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN HIGHLANDS CONSERVANCY Innovation & Technology newsletter Top stories and insider news from the Triangle’s bustling tech sector. SIGN UP This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. ROAN HIGHLANDS In April 2021, Sweeney donated 7,500 acres of mountainous land near the Avery-Mitchell county border to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. The donation was the largest in the conservancy’s 47-year history and one of the biggest ever made to a land trust in the state. Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy plans to manage the land as a nature preserve, according to Jay Leutze, a senior board adviser to the organization. Sweeney first began acquiring the Roan Highlands in 2012 with a plan to conserve a whole mountain ecosystem. It’s one of three conservation corridors he is hoping to establish. The corridor lies toward the southern planning boundary of the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area, a special conservation area designated by the state General Assembly in 2008 to protect a grassy bald in the Roan Highlands range. It’s near the Pisgah National Forest. BOX CREEK WILDERNESS In one of his first major conservation efforts, Sweeney helped protect 7,000 acres of mountainous land called the Box Creek Wilderness. The land is home to more than 130 rare and vulnerable plant and wildlife species, including three moths and a spiderwort species that are new to science. A vulture soars over Box Creek Wilderness in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney bought 7,000 acres in the area and placed a conservation designation on the land. JEFF WILLHELM JWILLHELM@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM Before officially conserving the land, Sweeney spent several years fighting plans for an attempted condemnation by the Rutherford Electric Membership Corp., a local electrical cooperative that wanted to run a power line across it. The effort eventually involved U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who helped start conversations about a donation of the land’s easement to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Charlotte Observer reported. HUTAFF ISLAND Earlier this year, Sweeney spearheaded an effort to conserve an entire barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, called Hutaff Island. Hutaff Island, a two-mile stretch of land, had been one of the few undeveloped barrier islands left off the coast of North Carolina. Because of that, it had become a prime destination for migrating birds, The News & Observer reported. The island sits on the Pender-New Hanover county line, just north of Figure 8 Island. A least tern is shown with one of its chicks on Hutaff Island. Least terns are one of the threatened birds that spend time on the spit of land just south of Topsail Island, which conservation groups announced Thursday will be conserved in perpetuity. Walker Golder COASTAL LAND TRUST Sweeney worked with Audubon North Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to conserve the 1,300-acre island. MOUNT MITCHELL In 2016, Sweeney worked with Fred and Alice Stanback and the Conservation Fund of North Carolina to more than double the size of Mount Mitchell State Park, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported. The land conservation helped extend the park’s boundary from the base of the mountain all the way to its peak. Mount Mitchell is the oldest state park in North Carolina, and its elevation of 6,684 feet makes it the highest peak east of the Mississippi. STONEHILL PINES In 2018, Sweeney bought a nearly 1,500-acre swath of pine forest outside of Pinehurst for $6 million, according to The Pilot of Southern Pines. Sweeney plans to conserve this land as well — though he has yet to officially do so. Tim Sweeney, the chief executive of Epic Games, at the company’s headquarters in Cary, N.C., July 17, 2019. TRAVIS DOVE NYT “I bought this land because it has a nice longleaf pine forest and was available for a reasonable price. I’ll be holding it until I find a permanent nature conservation home for it, which will take years or decades,” Sweeney told The Pilot at the time of the purchase. Before the Great Recession, a developer had targeted Stonehill Pines for more than 1,000 homes, but the plan fell apart when the economy tanked. CANE CREEK MOUNTAINS NATURAL AREA Land owned by Sweeney recently became part of a new 1,000-acre park established in Alamance County. Sweeney sold a 400-acre chunk of land to The Conservation Fund, which recently transferred it to Alamance County’s Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area near Snow Camp. The view from top of Pine Hill in Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area in southwest Alamance County. Richard Stradling RSTRADLING@NEWSOBSERVER.COM The Cane Creek Mountains are what’s known as a Piedmont monadnock, the worn, isolated remnants of ancient mountains that rise above the surrounding countryside. Others in the region include Occoneechee Mountain in Orange County and Pilot Mountain, north of Winston-Salem. MOUNT SHEPHERD Sweeney was part of a group that helped conserve the slopes of Mount Shepherd in Randolph County in 2017, the Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported. Mount Shepherd is part of an ancient collection of mountains, called the Uwharrie Mountains, that stretched across several counties in central North Carolina. Mount Shepherd is one of the highest peaks from the ancient range, according to the Courier-Tribune, with an elevation of 1,157 feet. Funding from Sweeney contributed to the conservation of nearly 300 acres.

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