MARION, N.C. (WNCN) — A new state natural area in North Carolina is officially open following a Thursday ribbon-cutting including Gov. Roy Cooper.

With three separate land purchases by The Foothills Conservancy and the state Division of Parks and Recreation, more than 6,000 acres of land in McDowell County are now part of Bobs Creek State Natural Area.

“North Carolina is a beautiful place, from the shining coast to right here in the foothills,” Gov. Cooper said at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Bobs Creek State Natural Area will help protect our water quality while providing a space for North Carolinians to gather and enjoy nature.”

In 2017, Gov. Cooper signed House Bill 353 to establish Bobs Creek State Natural Area that is intended to contribute to a landscape network of nature preserves connecting the South Mountains to the Blue Ridge slope.

“The official opening of Bobs Creek State Natural Area is the result of years of hard work and generous donations to the state,” North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid Wilson said. “As the property of the people of North Carolina, this area and its unique ecosystems will be permanently protected. We look forward to future low-impact recreational opportunities, such as hiking or bird watching.”

The state natural area will be managed by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation for passive recreation, water quality protection, preservation of rare plants and diverse natural ecosystems.

“Bobs Creek State Natural Area protects one of the state’s most significant ecological landscapes, benefitting the citizens and local economy in McDowell County and the entire region of Western NC for years to come through future outdoor recreation opportunities,” Foothills Conservancy Executive Director Andrew Kota said.