Laurel Creek Inholding now part of Nantahala National Forest

Laurel Creek Inholding now part of Nantahala National Forest

Laurel Creek Inholding now part of Nantahala National Forest

by Callie D. Moore, MountainTrue Western Regional Director

On June 17, 2020, the U.S. Government purchased a 49.33-acre in-holding at the headwaters of Laurel Creek, in Clay and Cherokee counties, making the land public and part of Nantahala National Forest! The purchase from the Mainspring Conservation Trust closes the loop on a 12-year battle by the former Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, MountainTrue and several other partners to prevent private landowners from building a road through the National Forest and cabins at the top of pristine headwaters of Fires Creek.

The long journey to public ownership began back in 2008 when the Forest Service released a scoping notice for a proposed road-building project in the Fires Creek watershed of Nantahala National Forest in Clay County. Through the scoping letter, we learned that in March 2006 some people had collectively purchased an almost 50-acre inholding (piece of private land completely surrounded by public land) on the rim of the Fires Creek watershed with no vehicular access and they were requesting to build a road to it. The preferred route was following a very old logging road, turned horse trail, for 3.5 miles up the Laurel Creek and Hickory Cove Creek drainages, and then constructing 0.34-miles of new road at the very top.

The potential environmental impact of this project was extreme. Of the 3.84 miles of proposed road, 57% (including all of the new road construction) lies within the Nantahala (geologic) Formation. As was reported in the Environmental Assessment, “The Nantahala Formation is one of many formations known to the North Carolina Geologic Survey as posing a high risk of generating acid runoff because of the abundance of iron sulfides in the rock.” Additionally, there are 13 stream crossings and 1.44 miles (37%) lies within 100 feet of perennial streams.

Fires Creek is classified by North Carolina as an Outstanding Resource Water (ORW). There are only nine ORWs in WNC! Yet, despite this and a state Significant Aquatic Natural Heritage Area designation, as well as the area’s popularity for a wide variety of recreational activities from hunting, fishing and horseback riding to hiking, swimming and nature study, and the potential environmental impacts, the Forest Service continued to favor and would ultimately approve the Laurel Creek route for the road.

Over a 10-year period, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, MountainTrue and our partners advocated for water quality protections related to the road-building activity though comments, objections and appeals. After five revisions to the Environmental Assessment, the final decision included many provisions that made the project cost-prohibitive for the landowners. In 2018, they sold the inholding to Mainspring until the Forest Service could acquire the funds to purchase it.

This is a major victory for clean water, public lands and outdoor recreation. And it’s a victory that would not have been possible without the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Without the requirement for the Forest Service to solicit and consider public input, there would likely be a 4-mile road (open for vehicular traffic only to the inholding landowners and their guests) right beside Laurel and Hickory Cove Creeks in the heart of the pristine Fires Creek watershed! There would probably be private homes up on top of the rim and a superb 3-day backpacking loop permanently severed. Without NEPA, we probably wouldn’t have even known about the project until construction and water quality violations began.

Project partners in alphabetical order:
Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition
NC Wildlife Federation
Mountain High Hikers
MountainTrue (and Western NC Alliance before that)
Southern Environmental Law Center
The Wilderness Society
Trout Unlimited NC Council
Wild South


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.

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly completed most of its work for the 2020 session – and among the flurry of late night meetings and last minute bills that are typical of the end of session, there was some good news for Western North Carolina’s rivers and streams. Legislation approved by both chambers of the General Assembly included two modest but important appropriations: $200,000 to help the Department of Environmental Quality better respond to pollution spills, and $100,000 to MountainTrue to expand our water quality testing efforts focused on E. coli pollution.

Both appropriations occurred because they were on MountainTrue’s legislative agenda, and because we’ve worked closely with our legislators for the past two years to secure them.

The funding for DEQ goes back to a petroleum spill in the Watauga River several years ago that MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper responded to and worked to resolve for months. At the time, spill response by DEQ was delayed because the source of the pollution could not be determined, and DEQ only provided funding to clean up gas tank spills if their source was known. In the absence of any other funds, DEQ did not have the resources to respond quickly, making a bad situation worse.

MountainTrue met with DEQ senior management on the issue, and then began advocating for a state appropriation to DEQ to clean up spills of undetermined origin. After meetings with WNC legislators Rep. Chuck McGrady, Sen. Chuck Edwards and Sen. Deanna Ballard in 2018 and 2019, the funding was included in the legislature’s final budget. Unfortunately, it was not allocated due to disagreement about the state’s spending plan between the legislature and Governor Cooper.

This year, however, the appropriation was included in separate legislation – again with the crucial support of Rep. McGrady, Sen. Edwards and Sen. Ballard. Governor Cooper is expected to sign this legislation into law.

The same bill also includes $100,000 for MountainTrue to expand our water quality testing in the French Broad, as well as other WNC rivers and streams. Our water sampling has brought widespread attention to water quality issues in the French Broad, and the public health impact of bacterial pollution.

E. coli bacteria makes its way into our rivers and streams from sewer and septic leaks and stormwater runoff — especially runoff from animal agricultural operations with substandard riparian buffers. E. coli can indicate the presence of other more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The state’s investment will allow MountainTrue to do more sophisticated analysis and help us pinpoint the sources of E. coli and related pathogens.

We won these victories because you, our members, made it possible for MountainTrue to fight for WNC’s communities and environment in the legislature. We are the only WNC environmental organization with a permanent presence at the legislature – and that’s because of you all! 

As for the rest of the summer, lawmakers are expected back sometime before July 11 to take up some unfinished business, including veto overrides, before recessing for the rest of the summer. They are scheduled to return in early September to address additional funding for the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll keep you posted when there are more updates. Until then, we are grateful to be able to celebrate these victories with you!

Do you have a friend who you think would value our Raleigh Report? Spread the word and help them sign up here!

 

 


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.

June 2020 E-News All Regions

June 2020 E-News All Regions

June 2020 E-News All Regions

6/29/20

The Deadline for Forest Plan Comments is Today!

This is the LAST day to make your voice heard about a plan that will determine how Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest is managed for the next 15-20 years. Make your public comment on the Draft Management Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest here.

Together we can win better protections for old-growth forests and biodiversity hotspots, more responsible timbering practices and better maintained trails and recreation infrastructure in the National Forest. You can check out MountainTrue’s full expert analysis and plan recommendations here, and can also submit your comments through the Forest Service’s online portal or mail them (postmarked by 6/29/2020) to: Plan Revision Team, National Forests in North Carolina, 160 Zillicoa St, Asheville, NC 28801.

 

The Great American Outdoors Act Passes The Senate, Reinvests In America’s Public Lands


Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Kirk Thornton on Unsplash.

In a big victory for our public lands, The Great American Outdoors Act (SB 3422) was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 17 with bipartisan support and a vote of 73 yeas to 25 nays. The bill will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year and allocate $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the maintenance backlogs in America’s National Parks, National Forests, and other public lands.

Though the LWCF has been authorized at $900 million per year, Congress has regularly diverted these funds for other purposes. With this bill, Congress will finally put an end to that practice and fulfill the original promise of the LWCF. Read the rest of our blog post on the bill here.

 

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions


Asheville Design Center volunteers paint traffic barriers for Asheville’s first Shared Streets installation on Eagle and Market Streets, also known as “The Block.”

As more and more Asheville businesses reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic has required them to need more breathing room – literally. To help businesses adapt to indoor capacity limits and social distancing guidelines, the City of Asheville has contracted with MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center (ADC) to create design solutions that allow businesses to use more public outdoor space.

The heart of the design process is to identify a problem, come up with a solution, design it, prototype it and get feedback,” says Chris Joyell, Director of the Asheville Design Center. “And by creating these concepts in conversation with the broader community, we can make sure they meet the needs of our local businesses and are a sustainable design concept for Asheville’s future.” Read more about this work here.

 

Check Out The Results From Our Recordbreaking BioBlitz In Madison County


MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist Josh Kelly observes a plant alongside Pete Dixon of Madison County Natural Heritage, a digital museum that archives Madison County’s natural history. 

Every year, MountainTrue hosts a BioBlitz to document all the species we can find in a given area. This year, we partnered with Madison Natural Heritage, a new program of the Madison County Library, to catalog discoveries in Madison County virtually as part of their digital natural history archive.

It blew us away that a total of 97 observers documented 2,618 organisms and 1,186 unique species, including at least one – a rare fen orchid – that has never been documented in the county! Among these finds were several threatened and rare species (don’t worry, the locations are hidden for those observations). We more than doubled our record species count for past BioBlitzes, had record youth engagement, and couldn’t have done it without our terrific members! Read more about this year’s BioBlitz here.

 

Beating the Heat at Swimming Holes? Stay Safe With Our Swim Guide Results


MountainTrue’s AmeriCorps Water Quality Administrator, Grace Fuchs, hits the river to take water samples for our Swim Guide monitoring program. 

During the summer months when water recreation is in full swing, our Riverkeepers are committed to monitoring bacteria levels in local waterways so people can decide how, when and where to get in the water safely. As we still face restrictions on how and where we can interact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to rivers and lakes for a place to unwind, cool down, and socially distance, making this work more important than ever.

We test bacteria levels at public access points each week, so make sure to check out the latest results for your local swimming hole at www.theswimguide.org or by downloading the ultra-portable Swim Guide app. Now get out there and have some fun!

 

NCDOT Chooses To Improve Existing Highway Through Stecoah Community Instead Of Building New Sections


The Stecoah Gap near Robbinsville, NC. Photo By Don McGowan.

After decades of environmental analysis, public meetings and comment periods on the “Corridor K” project in Graham County, N.C. Department of Transportation officials have decided to improve the existing highways instead of building new road sections. The other five alternative courses of action for the project would have built new sections of highway through existing residential communities, fragmented large sections of National Forest, or both.

The purpose of the Corridor K project is to improve travel between Highway U.S.129 in Robbinsville and the existing four-lane section of N.C. 28 at Stecoah. MountainTrue has worked for years for this outcome in order to limit the impacts of the highway on residential communities and the National Forest. We are thrilled that NCDOT has selected the least damaging path forward!

An Environmental Assessment for the highway improvements is expected this summer. We will advocate for the project to include plans for a wildlife crossing to connect sections of public land across the wider highway corridor. We’ll also let you know when the opportunity to make public comment begins in the fall.

 

Final Forest Service Decision on Buck Project in Clay County Ignores Public Input, Potential Compromise


Public Lands Field Biologist Josh Kelly coring a 231-years-old tree in the Buck Project area. Watch a video where he talks about the project and counts the rings of the core sample here. 

In a decision announced on May 22, the Forest Service committed to charging ahead with plans to log in steep backcountry areas in Buck Creek and the headwaters of the Nantahala River, as well as the headwaters of Shooting Creek draining to Lake Chatuge. The decision would allow timber harvest on nearly 800 acres—the biggest logging project in the Nantahala National Forest in a generation. Hundreds of acres of logging would occur in old, biologically rich and unique ecosystems under-represented in Southern Appalachian forests.

The decision follows a formal objection submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of MountainTrue, The Wilderness Society, and other partners. It also comes after SELC offered a compromise that would have ultimately met everyone’s goals: move ahead with the 465 acres of harvest proposed in Alternative D and launch a collaborative effort to find more acres that don’t encroach on sensitive areas. None of the other objectors voiced opposition to this plan, and one even voiced support. The Forest Service ignored this suggestion and the overwhelming public opposition to this plan.

 

Permit Issued for Cashiers Lake Dredging Project

The NC Division of Water Resources (DWR) issued a 401 Water Quality Certification to Cashiers Canoe Club in April for a lake dredging project that will impact a little over seven acres of wetlands and five acres of open water in Cashiers Lake, part of the headwaters of the Chattooga River. MountainTrue’s initial concerns about the project were largely addressed by DWR and the applicant, including the following: a large reduction in the amount of acres impacted by dredging; separating the dredging and development aspects of the project; and requiring the very low “trout standard” for downstream turbidity (a measure of water clarity that reflects the amount of excess sediment in the water). Also included in the permit requirements is payment for wetland mitigation, water quality monitoring for the duration of the project, and maintaining a healthy amount of flow in the Chattooga River downstream. MountainTrue is not contesting the project.

 

New Rockhouse Creek Self-Guided Hike Available


Philip Moore stands next to one of several large buckeye trees beside the trail on Rockhouse Creek.

While MountainTrue has not planned any group hikes due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19, you can still go hiking with us! I joined MountainTrue’s Outings Coordinator Catie Morris and Forest Keeper Rhys Burns to construct a self-guided hike on the Rockhouse Creek trail in the beautiful Fires Creek Watershed. The final product includes a trail description, points of interest, a little history and photos along the way. Access the hike here.

 

MountainTrue Members Push Back on Beech Mountain Water Grab

Thanks to an amazing response by MountainTrue’s supporters in the High Country, we’ve made a great start in opposing the Town of Beech Mountain’s latest attempt to push through a proposal for a water intake in the Watauga River. This proposal would construct a 7.2 mile pipeline and pump house to withdraw up to 500,000 gallons of water per day from the Watauga during times of drought, and right upstream from the ecologically sensitive Watauga Gorge.

Due to public pressure from MountainTrue members and other community members concerned about the proposal, Watauga County Commissioners stated during a recent budget meeting that they would not entertain any attempts to reclassify the Watauga River to allow for an intake. There was also progress at the most recent Beech Mountain Town Council budget hearing, with Town Council approving a capital project ordinance to fix or replace approximately 16,500 linear feet of existing water line in the Charter Hills Road area. We are grateful to see the Town of Beech Mountain prioritizing their infrastructure and addressing water loss after our repeated requests.

 

Ward’s Mill Dam Will Be Removed in Fall 2020

In a big victory for the Watauga, MountainTrue has helped secure the removal of the Ward’s Mill Dam – a dam in Sugar Grove that was named the highest priority for removal by a partnership of aquatic resource experts in the Southeast.

Removing the dam will reconnect 35 miles of aquatic habitat in the main stem of the Watauga River and 140 miles of streams across the watershed. This will improve cold water habitat for native aquatic species like brook trout, freshwater mussels and the threatened hellbender salamander, and will reconnect genetically distinct populations kept separate by the dam for 80 years.

The dam is scheduled for demolition in early Fall 2020. Its removal would not be possible without the leadership of American Rivers, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, Watauga County Soil and Water Conservation and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

Events Calendar

June 11-30: No Man’s Land Film Festival: Diversify the Outdoors
No Man’s Land Film Festival is offering a “Diversify Our Outdoors” virtual film program featuring films that elevate Black athletes, filmmakers and advocates. All proceeds to this event will be donated to the non-profit organization Outdoor Afro.

July 1, 11:30am – 12pm: MountainTrue University – The State of the French Broad River
Join our French Broad Riverkeeper, Hartwell Carson, for a talk about the history of the French Broad Watershed, his work to hunt down pollution sources and ways you can help keep our river clean.

July 9, 6-7pm: Virtual Green Drinks Featuring Andy Tait, EcoForestry Director at EcoForesters
In his talk, Andy will discuss how forests become degraded due to invasive pests, poor timber management, fire exclusion and climate change, and how “forest stand improvement work” can make degraded forests healthier.

July 10, 7-8:30pm: “Pandemics and Prejudice: How Can Democracy Survive in a Hotter Time?” with Dr. David Orr
The Creation Care Alliance is proud to co-sponsor this presentation by Dr. David Orr, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies & Politics at Oberlin College, about the moral imperative to restore our democracy as well as the urgency of environmental stewardship.

July 11: Virtual Riverkeeper Beer Series Cleanup with Catawba Brewing Co.
Join us for the first virtual Riverkeeper Beer Series Cleanup of the French Broad River by cleaning your local creek, roadway, or neighborhood.

July 26, 2-5pm: Apalachia Lake Paddle
Join us for a socially distant canoe outing on the peaceful Apalachia Lake, which has very little private shoreline development and no commercial recreation facilities. Fishing and swimming are both options along the way, so bring your line if you’d like.


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.

2020 BioBlitz Documents over 1,100 Species

2020 BioBlitz Documents over 1,100 Species

2020 BioBlitz Documents over 1,100 Species

Each year, MountainTrue hosts a BioBlitz to record all the species we can find in a given area. Typically, we gather around 50 naturalists and novices together and document 300-500 species in a day. This year, we were unable to gather in person, so we used iNaturalist, an online app for identifying and cataloguing organisms. 

We were also grateful not to take this on alone. We teamed up with Madison Natural Heritage, a new digital archive featuring the rich diversity of Madison County, and decided to focus within the county to help populate their data set.

We were blown away to find that 97 observers documented 2,618 organisms and 1,186 unique species, including at least one that has never been documented in the county. Also among these finds were several threatened and rare species (don’t worry- the locations are hidden for those observations). We have more than doubled our record species count for past BioBlitzes, and couldn’t have done it without you! We also had record youth engagement, and were able to provide prizes for every student who participated.

Some species to note include the small spreading pogonia, a showy native orchid that is rare in NC. The golden banded skipper is a lovely butterfly that is rare enough to be considered mythical by some enthusiasts who have yet to see one. Moss phlox, also called Mountain Pink, is a critically imperiled species in the state that was willing to let one participants snap a photo of its fuschia flower. Fen orchid is an endangered flower in the state, which had never before been found in Madison county. The hunt also turned up many vulnerable and near threatened species, including the Carolina Mountain Dusky salamander and the Stygian Shadowdragon dragonfly. All of these observations are research grade, and can contribute vital information on population levels for some of these very special species. To check out all the observations, check out our iNaturalist Project

What’s next for this data? Madison Natural Heritage is a new project of the Madison County Library, aiming to engage kids, students, scholars, citizens and visitors in discovering the natural wonder of the county. The data we’ve collected will help to populate their archive of scientific data. To learn more, visit madisonnaturalheritage.org.

A huge, shout-it-from-the-rooftops THANK YOU to everyone who participated and made this BioBlitz so successful. We hope next year we can get together and celebrate in person, but for now, y’all rock!


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.

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions

Asheville Design Center Helps Businesses Face Pandemic With Design Solutions

Asheville Design Center volunteers paint traffic barriers for Asheville’s first Shared Streets installation on Eagle and Market Streets, also known as “The Block,” on June 18.

June 29, 2020

As more and more Asheville businesses reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic has required them to need more breathing room literally. To help businesses adapt to indoor capacity limits and social distancing guidelines, the City of Asheville has contracted with MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center (ADC) to create design solutions that allow businesses to use more public outdoor space.

The first of these solutions, temporary parklets, provides overflow space for businesses by sectioning off adjacent parking spots. The City’s new temporary parklets program allows businesses to use up to three on-street public parking spaces on roads with speed limits of less than 25mph. ADC has designed these to be used for outdoor dining, selling merchandise, and additional space to allow for social distancing. 

ADC is also taking leadership on the City’s new Shared Streets program, which extends the parklet design concept by prioritizing entire streets for pedestrians. “Wall Street provides a good model for what we’re trying to accomplish,” says Chris Joyell, Director of the Asheville Design Center. “The moment you step onto it, there are several design cues that make pedestrians feel comfortable walking in the street and cause cars to slow down and know they have second priority to pedestrians. We want more streets in Asheville to feel that way.” 

True to ADC’s mission, staff and volunteers are designing signs and elements of the temporary parklets and Shared Streets by working hand in hand with community members. In the case of the first Shared Street area launched on June 18 on Eagle and Market Streets, or “The Block”, downtown this meant working with individual business owners, the Block Community Collaborative Business Group, and community elders to use culturally relevant signage and colors. “We went to the YMI Cultural Center with community elder Roy Harris to look at historical documents and art that represented Asheville’s historically Black community,” Chris says. “The community led the vision, and with their guidance, our graphic design intern used fonts, colors and patterns that would all say ‘The Block’ to the people who grew up there.”

Describing this effort, ADC intern Helen Kemper says, “I especially felt connected when walking through the streets with the business owners, gaining their perspective and connectedness to these public spaces. We hope these efforts will help them transform their spaces so that they may feel supported by the community and find success during such trying times.”

MountainTrue Co-Director Julie Mayfield carries a traffic barrier at the Shared Streets installation on Buxton and Banks Streets on the South Slope of Asheville. 


The latest Shared Street installation happened at Banks and Buxton Streets last week, where ADC worked with City staff to redirect vehicles to narrow, slower lanes, and added signs to identify the space as a Pedestrian Priority Zone. Over the coming weeks, ADC staff and volunteers will help implement more Shared Street design elements on Wall Street, Church Street and portions of College Street downtown.

The temporary parklets and Shared Streets will be active until at least October 31. Chris anticipates that the effort will expand outside of downtown, and that it can help more businesses see the value of using shared space design concepts for the long term. “Since we’re providing the temporary design and engineering expertise, businesses can experiment with these parklets and other design concepts now with more support than they’d have if they were going it alone,” Chris says.  “And if they work well, business owners are one step closer to making these innovations permanent. He cites Sovereign Remedies as one Asheville business using the parklet concept year-round for outdoor seating, with great success. 

ADC volunteers are also working on a guide book to make implementation of the parklets as easy as possible for business owners, creating clear blueprints and lists of materials needed for construction. To get started on the process, register for your parklets here.

“The heart of the design process,” Chris says, “is to identify a problem, come up with a solution, design it, prototype it and get feedback. And by creating these concepts in conversation with the broader community, we can make sure they meet the needs of our local businesses and are a sustainable design concept for Asheville’s future.”


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.

Support Backcountry Recreation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan

Support Backcountry Recreation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan

Support Backcountry Recreation in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan

Help protect our forests and our backcountry areas by submitting your public comment today. The deadline for public comment is June 29, and this is our last significant opportunity to win better protections and influence how our public lands are managed for the next 15-20 years.

There’s no better way to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization than to head out into the backcountry. The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests provide us with a myriad of ways to get away and spend time in the wild such as hiking and backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, camping and whitewater kayaking.

These are wonderful pastimes that so many people in our region enjoy as ways to keep fit and clear our minds from the stress of everyday life. Our abundant backcountry areas are also an incredible economic resource for local businesses because people travel here from around the country and the world to vacation in our national forests. More than 10 million people visit our national forests every year, many of them for backcountry recreation pastimes. The Outdoor Alliance estimates that paddling, climbing and mountain biking generate $83.3 million in visitor spending. If it were a national park, it would be the third most visited park in the country.

To keep the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests an amazing place for backcountry recreation, the next management plan must protect our wild and special places and ensure that trails and other recreation resources are well maintained in the next forest management plan. Here are our recommendations:

1. Protect old-growth forests and Natural Heritage Areas.

The old-growth forests of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests are hot spots of biodiversity and wonderful places to hike through and observe nature. Unfortunately, they are also very rare. Less than 1% of forests in the Eastern U.S. are believed to be in old-growth condition, but in the Blue Ridge Mountains, up to 3% may be existing old growth. Approximately 9% of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests is known to be in old-growth condition; however, not all of these rare forests are currently protected.

Our recommendation is for the Forest Service to place all of the established old-growth — plus areas identified by ecologists and conservation experts — in the Designated Old Growth Network and into protective management areas to prevent logging, as recommended under Alternative C. However, any restrictions to adding old growth stands that have yet to be identified to the Designated Network should be lifted.

Similarly, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program Natural Areas were identified by biologists with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, and contain the best examples of natural communities, species diversity and rare species in North Carolina. These areas are very beautiful and represent the best examples of ecosystems and biological diversity in our landscape. Our recommendation is to also place these natural heritage areas in management areas where they will not be used for timber rotation, and instead be managed to restore, maintain, and enhance their natural qualities.

2. Extend Wild & Scenic Rivers protections to more of our forest’s classic paddling rivers and streams.

Western North Carolina is home to an incredible array of rivers and streams that are paddling classics and draw whitewater kayakers from around the world. However, only three streams in our region are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Draft Plan recognizes nine additional streams as eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, bringing interim protections to a total of 12 streams across the Forest.

MountainTrue recommends that the North Fork of the French Broad River (6.5 miles); Panthertown Creek, Greenland Creek, and the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River (totaling 8.6 miles); the East and West Forks of Overflow Creek (totaling 5 miles); and nine additional miles of Fires Creek, also be found eligible for Wild and Scenic designation.

3. Expand protections to more of our wild places.

Wilderness Inventory Areas (WIAS) comprise the wildest and most remote places in Nantahala and Pisgah and, by extension, some of the wildest places in the East. WIAS were identified during this planning process because they were large (generally greater than 4,000 acres) and had very few roads. Smaller WIAs are adjacent to existing Wilderness Areas and comprise part of a larger wild landscape.

About 350,000 acres of WIAs were identified in the planning process, which is a testament to the ruggedness of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the wild character of the Nantahala and Pisgah. In the draft plan, the maximum amount of Recommended Wilderness identified from the WIAs is 126,000 acres. The remaining areas are allocated differently in the three Alternatives. MountainTrue recommends placing all Wilderness Inventory Areas into Management Areas that are “unsuitable” for timber rotation, and road construction should be limited to maintain their wild and remote character.

4. Expand and maintain the trail system and recreation infrastructure by partnering with recreation groups.

Due to lack of federal funding the Forest Service, the majority of trail maintenance these days is performed by organized, trained volunteer groups. There is huge demand for new trails and facilities but barely enough funding to maintain what already exists. That demand has resulted in the creation of an informal network of user-created “social trails” that range from informal paths which lead to places like scenic views, fishing spots, climbing areas, swimming holes, boater put-ins and other destinations to longer old roads and trails that are well-worn and well-known treads. The draft plan takes a binary approach to trail maintenance: maintaining the official trail system and shutting down user-created trails. Because the Forest Service doesn’t have the budget or resources to significantly expand the official trail system, this would cut off access to many river access points, climbing areas and beloved mountain biking trails.

Maintaining our trail system to prevent erosion is important, but MountainTrue supports a more recreation-friendly approach. We join recreation user groups in calling for a comprehensive trail inventory to see which trails are most needed by mountain bikers, horseback riders, climbers, anglers and other trail users. The Forest Service should add those priority trails to the official system, and partner with user groups to ensure that they are maintained and made sustainable.

Help us keep the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests wonderful natural places for all of us to play and enjoy the great outdoors. Comment today!


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.