Meet the 2019 MountainTrue Award Winners

Meet the 2019 MountainTrue Award Winners

MountainTrue is proud to announce our annual award winners for 2019. These awards are given to MountainTrue members and volunteers who have been outstanding in their commitment to preserving WNC’s natural heritage. Awards will be formally presented at our Annual Gathering on October 23 at New Belgium Brewing Company in Asheville.

The awards are as follows:

Esther Cunningham Award Winner: Katie Breckheimer
This award is given in honor of Esther Cunningham, the founder of the Western North Carolina Alliance, and is MountainTrue’s most prestigious award.

Katie Breckheimer has been a leader in environmental advocacy in WNC for over three decades. She was active with the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO) in Henderson County, and then was crucial to the success of the transformative 2015 merger between ECO, the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA) and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance (JMCA) that created MountainTrue. Not long after the merger, Katie’s natural capacity for leadership and her commitment to our work led her to serve a term as MountainTrue’s Board Chair.

Katie has played a major role in advocacy efforts including green energy, promoting greenways and recycling, and stopping coal ash pollution and expansion of Asheville’s Duke Energy power plant. Katie launched and continues to host Green Drinks in Hendersonville, a monthly social gathering and lecture series on environmental issues. Her passion for and dedication to environmental protection is beyond compare, and has positioned her as a leading voice for natural resources across the region.

Volunteer of the Year for the High Country Region: Chris Souhrada

Shortly after moving to Banner Elk, Chris connected with MountainTrue and immediately became one of MountainTrue’s most dedicated and reliable volunteers in the High Country. Chris has been a long-running water quality volunteer with the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) program. High Country Regional Director Andy Hill calls him “the MVP and anchor of the water quality team who covers for others when needed, goes above and beyond what is asked of him and is always willing to help with other projects like livestaking and non-native invasive removal.” In general, Andy says Chris is just a hell of a guy and we are pleased to award him our High Country Region Volunteer of the Year!

Volunteers of the Year for the Southern Region: Kay Shurtleff and Lucy Butler

Kay and Lucy have both been committed volunteers with MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Office water quality monitoring programs for over a decade. Together they coordinate over 30 water testing sites by collecting samples from all of the volunteers and transporting them to the lab every month. They also participate in and coordinate biomonitoring for water insects in local streams twice per year. In addition to their ongoing commitments to our water programs, they have helped with a variety of other initiatives including Christmas tree recycling, river cleanups, local festivals, and advocacy at public meetings. Southern Region Director Gray Jernigan says “they are two of our most dedicated and reliable members and set the example by being great stewards of our natural environment.” Congratulations Kay and Lucy!

Volunteer of the Year for the Western Region: Charlie Swor

As the former secretary of the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (HRWC) board of directors, Charlie worked hard on the complex and successful merger between HRWC and MountainTrue this past summer. Charlie also participates in our volunteer water quality monitoring program, taking monthly water chemistry and E. coli measurements from Corn Creek. He spearheaded a partnership between Young Harris College and HRWC for management of the Corn Creek riparian corridor, creating a much healthier stream environment and a more pleasant walk on the college’s streamside trail. Charlie float-fishes area rivers on a regular basis and lets us know when he discovers issues that might impact water quality. “Charlie is one of those ‘go-to’ guys when we need help with set-up for an event or really any ‘ole thing,” says Western Regional Director Callie Moore. “If he’s not busy and his wife, Rachel can take care of the kids (thanks Rachel!), he’s there!”

Volunteer of the Year for the Central Region: Erin Gregory

Erin has been a key volunteer for the French Broad Riverkeeper program for the last two years, spending hours each week collecting water samples that have led to the team finding no fewer than three major sewer issues. When French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson and Watershed Outreach Coordinator Anna Alsobrook were out of town earlier this summer, Erin texted them to report an issue and then also contacted the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on their behalf to instigate a quicker response. She has single-handedly created a French Broad River Festival for our Beer Series at The Wedge, including gear builders, outfitters, and other local producers, and she prompted the Asheville Yoga Center to designate MountainTrue their Charity of the Month. We couldn’t do it without you Erin!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist, Josh Kelly, next to a “temporary road” built in 2012 in Nantahala National Forest.

In August, Forest Service staff for Nantahala National Forest made their final decision on the Buck Project. As you may remember, the Forest Service had selected Alternative B as its proposed alternative in April, and we called on you to oppose this project because it would have harvested 845 acres of timber and constructed 9.1 miles of new road – much of that in sensitive places like existing old-growth forests, Outstanding Resource Waters, Natural Heritage Areas, and the Chunky Gal potential Wilderness addition. 


In response, the Forest Service created a new alternative for the project, Alternative G. In the positives column, Alternative G includes understory thinning and controlled burns in the Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens. It also calls for watershed repairs in areas where old roads, culverts and infrastructure are causing erosion and blocking the passage of aquatic organisms. But unfortunately, Alternative G still proposes to build 8.9 miles of road and to harvest timber in sensitive areas.  

Here’s where MountainTrue stands on the Forest Service’s new alternative:

  • We support Alternative G’s inclusion of water quality work and activities in the Serpentine Barrens.
  • While we welcome the reduction of timber harvest by 50 acres to protect old-growth forest and a North Carolina natural heritage area, as well as the .2 miles of reduced road construction, these are very small changes around the margins. This project still does tremendous harm to wild places, soil and water, old-growth forest, and goes against the wishes of hundreds of people that commented on the project.
  • Alternative G would still build new roads and harvest timber in one of the wildest places in North Carolina – the Chunky Gal Addition to Southern Nantahala Wilderness. At over 7,000 acres, this is the largest potential addition to an existing Wilderness in North Carolina, and one of the wildest, most remote, and ecologically healthy places in Nantahala National Forest. Proceeding with Alternative G would surely disqualify thousands of acres of Chunky Gal from management as either Backcountry or Wilderness for at least 20 years. This at a time when there is broad public support for protecting the area in the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan.
  • The 8.9 miles of road construction will have considerable risks for erosion, landslides, and the spread of invasive plants. The Forest Service has over 2,200 miles of roads in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, yet they want to build more in the wildest remaining places. They are proposing a 10-mile roundtrip haul and 2 miles of new road construction to access just 50 acres of timber on Kitty Ridge. The new road would cross rock outcrops and extremely steep slopes, which increases the risk for erosion and landslides. The value of the timber being accessed is likely to be less than the cost of constructing this “temporary” road!
  • In compartment 110, the Forest Service still proposes to build a 14-16 foot-wide “temporary” road paralleling an unnamed tributary of upper Buck Creek. Both Buck Creek and this tributary are known to be native brook trout streams that are already under stress from non-native trout. Road construction will further jeopardize this fragile brook trout population.
  • Alternative G still contains existing old-growth forest with trees over 200-years-old in at least three locations. The Forest Service claims to be working with MountainTrue to exclude these areas from harvest, but still has them mapped inside harvest areas. The simplest solution would have been to exclude those areas from the decision to harvest. What happens if and when there is a disagreement about the location and boundaries of existing old-growth? The decision makes no promises in this regard.

MountainTrue continues to push for a modified Alternative D, which the Forest Service has acknowledged would meet the purpose and need for the Buck Project. We will object to the Buck Project, as this is our last recourse short of going to federal court. The Forest Service has not been responsive to our concerns on recent problematic decisions in the Mossy Oak and Southside Projects, and does not seem inclined to fix the problems with the Buck Project either. 

It’s also come to our attention that those who commented on the Buck Project through MountainTrue’s comment portal received a message from Steverson Moffat, NEPA Planning Team Leader for the Forest Service. While we’re glad that the Forest Service is taking the time to engage with people who comment on their projects, we have a very different take on the Buck Project than what Moffat’s message shared. You can read our response here.

The Forest Service proposed the very flawed Buck Project in early 2018. They have now made changes around the margins of the problem they created and called this a balanced compromise. Any compromise that relies on compromising the health of the land and water is unacceptable to MountainTrue.

Sincerely,

Josh Kelly, Public Lands Biologist for MountainTrue


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Take Action: Protect the Public’s Role in Public Lands

Take Action: Protect the Public’s Role in Public Lands

 

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Protect Old-Growth Forest and Vibrant Ecosystems in the Buck Project

Protect Old-Growth Forest and Vibrant Ecosystems in the Buck Project

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Take Part in the Very First BioBlitz of the Nantahala Gorge

Take Part in the Very First BioBlitz of the Nantahala Gorge

Join MountainTrue, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Nantahala River Lodge for the Nantahala Gorge BioBlitz – a citizen-science program that will pair residents with more than a dozen expert naturalists to document one of the exceptional natural areas of Nantahala National Forest.

What: Nantahala Gorge BioBlitz, presented by MountainTrue, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Nantahala River Lodge.
Where: Nantahala Outdoor Center, 13077 Highway 19 W, Bryson City, NC 28713
When: Meet up on Saturday, June 1 at 9 a.m. at the Big Wesser restaurant at the Nantahala Outdoor Center

The Nantahala Gorge BioBlitz is an opportunity for people who love the great outdoors and want to learn more about the plants and creatures who call Nantahala Gorge their home. Nantahala Gorge is characterized by the unique geology of the Murphy Marble Belt. This soft rack has been carved by the Nantahala River into a scenic gorge that is known to harbor many unique species reliant on calcium – a soil nutrient in short supply in the Blue Ridge. Despite its outstanding character, the Nantahala Gorge has never had a systematic biological inventory and the BioBlitz is likely to turn up new records for the area.

“BioBlitzes are a great opportunity for people connect with and learn about the natural world around them,” explains MountainTrue Public Lands Biologist Josh Kelly. “We’re going to be documenting a broad range of life at Nantahala Gorge, including butterflies, beetles, vascular plants, bryophytes, lichens, birds, mammals, mushrooms, and more.”

Expert hike leaders will include faculty from UNC Asheville, Western Carolina University, Mars Hill University as well as naturalists from the U.S. Forest Service’s Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory,, Asheville Mushroom Club, Tangled Bank Conservation and MountainTrue.

We will lead groups for all fitness levels, from relaxed hikes to vigorous climbs up the side of the the gorge. Participants are encouraged to bring at least two quarts of water, rain gear, sturdy footwear and their own lunches.

This event is free and open to the public. Sign up below.

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Celebrate Earth Day with MountainTrue

Celebrate Earth Day with MountainTrue

As you may have heard, the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced recently that it will order a full cleanup of every coal ash pit in the state! This is truly one of the biggest environmental victories of our era. As if that wasn’t enough, last week Duke Energy announced that it has indefinitely postponed the construction of a 190-megawatt gas-fired peaker plant on Lake Julian, removing it from its list of future projects.

For six years, MountainTrue members kept the pressure on Duke Energy and the state Department of Environmental Quality to clean up the coal ash mess and to move beyond fossil fuels toward more efficiency and renewable energy. You are part of that legacy. Your support held Duke Energy accountable. These victories are an important reminder that your activism can change the course of history.

When you stand with MountainTrue, you fight for our environment. Will you stand alongside MountainTrue this Earth Day?

Whether you’re taking action in the field, making conscious decisions in your daily life that lead to a sustainable future, or making contributions that invest in a lasting impact, we celebrate you for being part of a community that is making a difference this Earth Day.

By donating to MountainTrue, you safeguard public lands, advocate for the common good in the halls of government, protect our waterways, and help build a sustainable future in the face of climate change.

In honor of Earth Day, act locally by making a contribution to MountainTrue today. With your donation, you will be helping to fight for future successes like these.

Thank you for being part of MountainTrue and making this work possible.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.