Corridor K Should Be A Model for Future Highway Projects

Corridor K Should Be A Model for Future Highway Projects

Corridor K Should Be A Model for Future Highway Projects

MountainTrue has been working for decades, through our participation in WaysSouth, to ensure that the Corridor K highway expansion project met local needs to improve safety and reliability without compromising our rivers, forests and mountain heritage. Responding to community concerns, the North Carolina Department of Transportation put forward a final proposal for Corridor K on Thursday, March 25 that is excellently designed, and economically and environmentally sound.

The proposal outlined in the Final Decision Notice and Environmental Assessment is good for our communities and businesses. The project will improve the flow of traffic by widening the existing highway and adding strategically placed passing lanes so that only a minimal segment will have to accommodate four lanes. The new design should cut response times for ambulances, fire trucks and police by improving the Highway 143 route from Stecoah Valley to Robbinsville. It avoids unneeded impacts to residential communities, including Stecoah Heights. And it brings sidewalks to Robbinsville and a new greenway to Stecoah.

The Department of Transportation listened to stakeholders when environmental concerns were raised and balanced these community improvements with environmental stewardship by reducing the overall footprint of the road project and adding in some much-needed wildlife and recreation infrastructure. Most importantly, the department dropped plans for carving a new four-lane highway through intact forests and steep mountains, instead making effective improvements to an existing corridor.

The new Corridor K project will totally encapsulate acid-producing rock where necessary to protect local streams, rivers, lakes and aquatic ecosystems. The project also includes a new land bridge, initially proposed by WaysSouth, over the four-laned segment near Stecoah Gap. By creating a land bridge overpass above the highway, the critical wildlife corridor through the mountain pass will actually function better for wildlife than before the improvements. This overpass design also better preserves scenic views as well as the character and hiking experience of the Appalachian Trail.

It took a long process to get here, but the North Carolina Department of Transportation should be recognized for listening to the concerns of local residents and businesses, implementing a collaborative and transparent process with all stakeholders, and coming back with a proposal that incorporates many of the best design ideas put forth by WaysSouth and the community.

This was not business as usual for the state’s transportation planners. Department staff and their planning and design consultants deserve high praise for their creative and collaborative approach. MountainTrue and WaysSouth’s hope is that this serves as a model for future highway and road improvement projects.


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.

March 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

March 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

March 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

Rethinking Smart Growth. Reclaiming Community Design’s Radical Roots


A few months before the pandemic set in, Asheville Design Center Director Chris Joyell had a meeting with a community group in the Emma neighborhood in Buncombe County that challenged many of the assumptions he held regarding Smart Growth development and the role of Design Centers. Over the past year Chris has given this issue much thought, and one result is this article, “Rethinking Smart Growth.” In this piece, Chris explores the historic role Design Centers have played in the US and examines how, despite good intentions, Smart Growth initiatives can threaten many of the communities that Design Centers were created to serve. Read more.

Massive Public Comment Sign Ups Lead To Several New Hearings on Duke’s Energy Plan

You signed up, and the NC Utilities Commission noticed! So many people signed up to make virtual public comment on Duke’s proposed new energy plan that the NC Utilities Commission canceled yesterday’s original hearing to schedule several more opportunities for public comment. Final tallies show that over 200 people signed up for the original hearing date. This is a huge victory, and shows that the NC Utilities Commission is aware of how much public pushback there is against Duke’s proposed plan.

To recap: Duke is required to submit a long-term plan to the NC Utilities Commission detailing how the company plans to source energy over the next fifteen years. Duke released a proposal toward the end of 2020 that is bad news for the climate: proposing the construction of up to 13 new gas plants, overinflating the costs of renewable energy and battery storage, and proposing less renewable energy 14 years from now than what is already the national average. Thank you to everyone who showed power in numbers by signing up, and we hope you’ll join us in building momentum for the NCUC to require big changes to Duke’s plan.

If you registered to speak at the public hearing that was originally scheduled for March 16, make sure to respond to the email from the NCUC to confirm your attendance for a future hearing. Thank you!

High Country Regional News

For Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties

MountainTrue University About Sustainability in the High Country | April 7 at 12pm

Join us for a High Country sustainability discussion with George Santucci. You may know George as the long-time Director of the New River Conservancy. George has brought his decades of environmental experience to his new role as Sustainability and Special Projects Director for the Town of Boone.

Join us for an informative discussion about how MountainTrue and the Town of Boone have partnered to address energy use, climate change, stormwater and microplastics pollution. Learn more.


Avery County Clean Sweep on Beech Creek (March 20, 27 and April 7)


Litter is on the rise, with personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, single-use plastics and tires showing up far and wide in our watershed. In response, Avery County Clean Sweep is a collaborative grassroots effort to clean up the roadways and public spaces across our community, with a focus on the Beech Creek Area in Avery County. We’re joining the Grandfather Stewardship Foundation, Avery County Sheriff’s Office, Avery County Emergency Management and countless other organizations to help take back the beauty of this area.

We love to see the hard work of our volunteers, and we hope you’ll share your cleanup photos on social media with @mtntrue and @wataugariverkeeper. We can also provide bags and gloves so that you or a small group can participate safely. There will be prizes for the most trash collected! Sign up here.


Last Live Staking Day: March 20

Photo By Moss Brennan

Missed our other live staking workdays? No worries, we still have one more! Sign up and come join us this Saturday to plant native tree cuttings at Valle Crucis Community Park. Thank you to our wonderful volunteers who have helped us plant thousands of trees this season. Sign up here.


Looking For Other Opportunities To Volunteer?

Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) Sampling at the Wilbur Dam on the Watauga River.

We also have year-round opportunities to get involved with MountainTrue’s High Country Office. Our Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) is a monthly water chemistry sampling program that relies on volunteers, and our microplastics program needs volunteers to take monthly water samples and do small trash inventories at various locations throughout the Watauga Watershed. If you are interested in becoming a regular volunteer for either of these programs or would like more information, please contact our High Country Water Quality Administrator Hannah Woodburn at hcwqa@mountaintrue.org.

Now is also an excellent time to join our Headwaters Giving Program. You can make a tremendous impact with a small, recurring monthly donation. Invest in our future, pay your river bill and help support our ongoing programs today. Make your river gift here.

Southern Regional News

For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties

Round Two: Asphalt Plant Proposed for East Flat Rock Reapplies for Rezoning


SE Asphalt has submitted a new rezoning application in Henderson County to build an industrial asphalt plant at the intersection of Spartanburg Highway (US-176) and US-25. This location is across the street from a low-income mobile home park and surrounded by hundreds of single-family homes, small farms and the Green River Game Lands. The site also drains directly to Laurel Creek, which flows into the Green River.

Last year, MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and hundreds of local residents organized with Friends of East Flat Rock to successfully oppose this rezoning and the construction of the new asphalt plant. Now we’re asking the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to protect communities and the environment by standing by its existing zoning rules and denying the application.

Henderson County will host a Community Compatibility Meeting on Tuesday, March 30 at 4pm in the East Henderson High School Auditorium. Then on April 15, the Henderson County Planning Board will hear the application and make a recommendation to the County Commissioners at its meeting in the same location. Mark your calendars and show up to make your voices heard! Learn more here.


Green River and Lake Adger Spring Cleanings are On for April 10!


Join MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and Liquidlogic Co-founder Shane Benedict for the 11th Annual Green River Spring Cleaning!

For obvious reasons, we’ll need to take additional precautions to keep everyone safe and healthy this year, including wearing masks in parking lots and anytime you can’t maintain six feet of distance, avoiding large groups and shuttling with household groups. We’re asking folks to provide their own boats or to clean up from the land, and to manage their own day-of logistics in terms of location, time, and shuttle if necessary.

Post your photos to social media and we’ll send prizes to the best, biggest, weirdest, and most trash finds! Pre-register for the Green River cleanup here and the Lake Adger cleanup here to stay connected and get updates about available supplies and trash disposal.

Sign up for the Green River cleanup. 
Sign up for the Lake Adger cleanup.


Partner Organization Spotlight: SouthWings

MountainTrue’s Broad Riverkeeper, David Caldwell, was introduced to SouthWings in 2017 during the effort to make Duke Energy excavate its unlined coal ash pits in Cliffside. The views from above were telling, showing the huge volume of coal ash and its proximity to the Broad River. Images gathered during flights with SouthWings informed our advocacy efforts, which ultimately helped secure a state order requiring Duke to excavate and move all of the company’s coal ash in North Carolina to lined landfills safely away from water.

Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell (left) with SouthWings pilot Peter Stauble (right) discussing their flight plan before takeoff.

Later flights with SouthWings pilot Peter Stauble revealed some beautiful views of the watershed, from the headwaters near Chimney Rock down to South Carolina’s Big Bay. But other less beautiful views from the plane included runoff and sedimentation from development sites, huge piles of uncovered poultry waste from factory farms and numerous industrial facilities. These flights give us the information and images to better protect our watershed by investigating pollution sources and implementing strategies to fix them. Thanks for your great work, Peter and SouthWings!

Western Regional News

For Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in NC, and Towns and Union counties in GA

Virtual Watershed Gala Honors David Liden, MountainTrue History

David Liden (center) received the 2021 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award from MountainTrue Western Regional Director Callie Moore (left) and Hiwassee Watershed Advisory Council Chairperson Jason Chambers (right) at the John C. Campbell Folk School gardens before the online event.

Although we missed the human interaction of the traditional in-person event, the 2021 virtual Watershed Gala was fun and familiar in its own way. We celebrated our accomplishments over the past year and honored the Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award winner just like we always do. We also had conversations in small virtual groups and smiled and laughed – without masks – like we’ve done at past Galas. Yes, it was different being on Zoom, but the 42 participants learned a lot about the founding and early history of the movement that continues today as MountainTrue from David Liden, this year’s award winner and a person who was in the center of it all.

Thank you to all who contributed and participated to help make the virtual Gala successful! We plan to be back in a ballroom in 2022, but our silent auction may be a little different in future years as we strive to continue to involve all of MountainTrue in the event.

If you missed the Gala this year, you can still watch the video highlighting our western region 2020 accomplishments here!


MountainTrue Trains 17 New Volunteers for the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream Program

Union County, GA resident Clare Johnston demonstrates how she collects a bacterial sample during a recent AAS volunteer recertification workshop.

Seventeen new water quality monitoring volunteers are being added to the ranks of the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS) program this month in the Hiwassee Watershed! For more than a decade, volunteers have been sampling water chemistry and E.coli at more than 40 locations across Towns and Union counties in North Georgia and Cherokee and Clay counties in WNC as part of Georgia AAS. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, MountainTrue provides supplies and monitoring equipment free of charge at five locations across the watershed so that volunteers can help us keep tabs on water quality regardless of their financial situation.


Reminder: Blue Ridge Paper Permit Hearing & Comment Period Coming Up in April


Blue Ridge Paper Products has a long history on the Pigeon River in Canton. It has provided good jobs for decades, but historically it has also caused massive negative impacts to water quality and aquatic life in the Pigeon River. Because of pressure from the public, environmental groups, states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there have been significant improvements in the quality of the plant’s discharge and a reduction of the amount in the river.

Now that river conditions are better – such that rafting and other water-based recreation is thriving – we want to ensure that strong protections stay in place and that the facility’s new permit will drive continued improvement, particularly with regard to water temperature. Visit our Help Make the Pigeon River Healthier page to learn more, submit comments, and/or sign up to attend the online public hearing set for April 14!


Winter Tree Identification Workshop with Tony Ward this Saturday

 A heart-shaped leaf scar on a young hickory tree. Leaf scars can help you identify native trees in winter.

Join Tony Ward, MountainTrue’s Western Region Program Coordinator, this Saturday at 10am for a relaxing 1.2-mile loop trail hike along the lake shoreline at the Lake Chatuge Recreation Area. This trail features a wide variety of native trees perfect for identification. During this hike, Tony will discuss how to identify trees in our area in a way that is accessible to all skill levels of tree identifiers.

The cost of the workshop/outing is $10 for MountainTrue members and $20 for non-members. The non-member ticket includes a year-long membership, so you’ll enjoy reduced rates on other events and outings for a full year afterward. Register today!

Events & Volunteer Opportunities

Note: All attendees at in-person events are required to follow our COVID-19 safety guidelines.

March 20, 10am-2pm: Live Staking Workday In Valle Crucis
Fight sediment pollution, erosion and climate change with Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill by planting live stakes along streams and river banks. Sign up here.

March 20, 10am-12pm: Western Region Winter Tree ID Workshop
Join MountainTrue’s Western Region Program Coordinator, Tony Ward, for our Winter Tree ID hike at Lake Chatuge. The 1.2-mile loop trail at the Lake Chatuge Recreation Area Trail offers a tour along the lake shoreline and has a wide variety of native trees perfect for identification! Sign up here.

April 7, 12-1pm: MountainTrue University: How Local Governments Are Responding To Climate Change
Join us for an informative discussion with George Santucci, the Sustainability and Special Projects Director for the Town of Boone, about how MountainTrue and Boone’s local government have partnered to address energy use, climate change, stormwater and microplastics pollution. Register here.

April 10: Spring Cleanings on the Green River and Lake Adger
Join MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and Liquidlogic Co-founder Shane Benedict for the 11th Annual Green River Spring Cleaning! We’ll send prizes to the best, biggest, weirdest, and most trash finds.

Register for the Green River cleanup (10am-4pm).
Register for the Lake Adger cleanup (9am-5pm).

April 11, 18, 23 & 25: Paddlers For Hemlocks Workday
Join the Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce (PHHAT) as we work to protect hemlock trees along the Green River from the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid. PHHAT works in areas that are only accessible by boat in the Green River Game Lands.

Sign up for the April 11 workday here.

To sign up for the workdays on April 18, 23 or 25, email gray@mountaintrue.org.

April 22, 9am-12pm: Bearwallow CCA Spring Hike
This easy-to-moderate trail climbs one mile through the lovely mountain forest and opens up onto a large grassy field at the top. This spectacular summit will be the site for some guided reflection before looping back down the mountain. Sign up here.

May 7, 10am-3pm: High Country Wildflower Hike
Join MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist, Josh Kelly, as he leads us on a hike to explore the wildflowers found in Elk Knob State Park. The hike is on the Summit Trail, a moderate, four-mile out and back trail that offers spectacular views of Mount Jefferson, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell and more! 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.

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

In the North Carolina General Assembly, every legislator’s vote counts the same.

But not all legislators are equal.

You don’t need to be a political scientist, for example, to know that in a Republican-controlled legislature, most GOP members are going to have more influence than their Democratic colleagues. But beyond party affiliation, seniority and committee assignments can tell you a lot about who can get what done in Raleigh.

So to help you keep track of WNC’s delegation, here’s a quick rundown on some of our region’s most senior members and the gavels they wield among the legislature’s several dozen legislative committees.

Dionne Delli-Gatti

But first – some good news. Last week Governor Roy Cooper announced that Dionne Delli-Gatti will replace Michael Regan as Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality. Regan is now awaiting Senate approval of his appointment as Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Delli-Gatti’s selection is welcome news for those of us concerned about clean air and water. A seasoned environmental professional, she most recently served at the Environmental Defense Fund as the Director of Southeast Climate and Energy following six years at the Atlanta EPA Regional office as Congressional and Governmental Liaison. Her environmental experience includes government service at the Ohio EPA and the City of Dallas. Kudos to Gov. Cooper for selecting Delli-Gatti, whose appointment must be confirmed by the North Carolina Senate.

Get the Raleigh Report in you email inbox

The MountainTrue Raleigh Report covers environmental politics and policy, with a focus on the issues that affect Western North Carolina.

Now let’s take a look at who is doing what on the environment and other issues among WNC’s legislative delegation.

On the environment, the conversation about WNC’s delegation has to start with Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County. Now in his third term, Edwards is the senior chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees all natural resources spending. He also co-chairs the committee that oversees most agriculture and environmental policy in North Carolina. Edwards is a proven leader and champion of several causes benefitting WNC’s environment, including being the force behind creating a new state park in Buncombe County and helping MountainTrue with several key clean water initiatives.

For depth and breadth of influence in the legislature, it would be hard to match Sen. Ralph Hise (Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties). After five terms in office, Hise is one of three co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee, giving him a say in virtually every part of the state’s $24 billion budget. Hise’s familiarity with health policy and spending also makes him a key voice on health and human services issues.  As chair of the Senate’s Redistricting Committee, he will play a central role in redrawing both legislative and Congressional districts this year.

If you have an interest in Western North Carolina public schools and universities, then get to know Senator Deanna Ballard (Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga and Wilkes counties). While just in her third term, Ballard is now the Senate’s key policymaker and appropriator on education – which easily accounts for well over half of the state’s annual spending.

With the departure of former Representative Chuck McGrady to retirement and former Rep. Josh Dobson – now North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner – WNC’s delegation in the state House lost a great deal of influence. The rest of the delegation’s lack of commensurate seniority means it will take a few years for the West to beef up its political muscle in the House. In the meantime, Rep. Tim Moffitt (Henderson County) helps lead the House ABC Committee – which oversees alcohol laws. Rep. Mike Clampitt (Haywood, Jackson and Swayne counties) chairs the House Federal Relations and American Indian Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jake Johnson (Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties) is the co-chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Information Technology.

Among Western North Carolina’s other legislators, members with assignments on important environmental committees include Wildlife Vice-Chair, Rep. Brian Turner (Buncombe County), and committee members Reps. Mike Clampitt, Karl Gillespie (Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties), John Ager (Buncombe County), Mark Pless (Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties) and Jake Johnson; Brian Turner and John Ager both also sit on important environmental and agriculture appropriations and policy committees; Rep. Clampitt is a member of the House Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Committee; Sen. Julie Mayfield (Buncombe County) is a member of the Senate’s Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Committee. Rep. Pickett is the vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee and Representatives Moffitt and Pless are members of the House Transportation Committee; Senator Julie Mayfield a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.


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.

February 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

February 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

February 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

WNC Loses an Environmental Champion: Remembering Norma Ivey


By Bob Gale, Ecologist & Public Lands Director of MountainTrue

MountainTrue and Western North Carolina lost a wonderful person and forest protection advocate on January 29. Norma Ivey served on the staff of MountainTrue (known then as the Western North Carolina Alliance) from 1996 to 2009, and upon retiring, she received the organization’s highest honor: the Esther Cunningham Award.

Norma was a champion of old-growth trees, having assisted with a 7-year study that located 78,000 acres of previously unknown old-growth forest in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Later research increased this to about 100,000 acres.

In her time with MountainTrue, Norma served as Community Organizer working in our Asheville and Franklin offices. She assisted with a variety of issues, including timber sales of concern, relicensing of Western NC dams by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, clean air issues, and community greenways. Norma was also an artist and crafter who created beautiful handmade pottery. Though she had advanced Alzheimer’s disease, it was Covid-19 that ultimately took her life.

Norma will be greatly missed by MountainTrue and by so many others in these mountains that got the chance to meet her. We will share a tribute with more details about her work and life in our upcoming spring print newsletter.

 

A Moment in Black History: The Memphis Strike as a Precursor to the Environmental Justice Movement

The Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike is a little discussed moment in the final chapter of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, and a precursor to the development of the Environmental Justice movement. Almost a year after making his famous 1967 speech at Riverside Church where he proclaimed the need to declare “eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism,” and while he was in the midst of developing the Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King travelled to Memphis. He came to Memphis to march in solidarity with Black sanitation workers who, in addition to suffering from low and inequitable pay, were forced to do dirtier and more dangerous work with greater health and safety risks than their white co-workers. As Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance told Grist in 2019. “You don’t get more environmental justice than that. All the environment really is is where you live, work, play, or pray.”

Dr. King returned to Memphis and delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3 calling on a Black economic boycott of white power structures, and was assassinated one day later as he stood outside his balcony at the Lorraine Hotel on April 4.

 

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

While we see it everywhere, mass-produced plastic has only existed since the 1950’s. Since then, the amount of plastic created has increased from 1.5 million metric tons produced worldwide in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018. Not only does plastic production create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but it breaks down into tiny pieces called microplastics that harm wildlife, ecosystems and humans.

In our most recent blog post, our High Country Water Quality Administrator Hannah Woodburn explains that while personal change is important, our consumer choices alone are not enough to spark systemic change. Check out Hannah’s post to learn more about the history of plastic pollution, ongoing legislation to combat the issue and our sampling program to identify microplastics in WNC’s waters. Read more. 

 

Take Action: We Have Power in Numbers To Fight Duke’s Energy Plan

Duke Energy’s latest Integrated Resource Plan – the plan Duke is required to submit to state regulators showing how it will create energy over the next fifteen years – takes the company way off track for meeting any serious climate goals. Duke’s IRP outlines plans to keep burning coal for decades, build up to 13 new gas plants, and make customers pay $900 each for fossil fuels we’ll never even use.

Here’s the good news: MountainTrue is working with a coalition of climate and clean energy advocates all across North Carolina to fight Duke’s plans, and we think there is a real chance we can send them back to the drawing board to adopt a new plan that will meet climate goals. It’s the same power in numbers strategy we used to get state regulators to order a full cleanup of every Duke coal ash site in North Carolina two years ago.

What’s more, cities all over the state are now intervening in Duke’s plans to make sure they don’t keep us from meeting our local climate commitments.

Tell the NC Utilities Commission: Don’t let Duke wreck North Carolina’s climate. Send this IRP back to the drawing board.

Clean Water Auction Fundraiser Online This Year

Due to the ongoing pandemic, MountainTrue’s western regional office was unable to hold our annual fundraising gala and auction in person this year. Both events are happening online instead.

The auction is now open and runs through February 25 at 9 pm. We invite you to check out the wide variety of items up for bid, including guided outdoor adventures, beautiful artwork, restaurant gift certificates and more. All proceeds benefit our clean water work!

Note: Anyone can view the items, but in order to place a bid, you’ll need to create a simple account with 32auctions by providing your name, email address and creating a password. Credit card information is not required to place bids. Check out all our auction items.

Photo: “The Mountains are Calling”, donated by Class Act Glass in Young Harris, GA, is only one of the more than 50 items up for bid in the Clean Water Auction Fundraiser.

High Country Regional News

For Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties

Algal Bloom in the Watauga River


During the month of January, we saw new algae growth along the Watauga River – an unusual occurrence for this time of year. Thank you to all of the anglers, guides and concerned community members that brought their algae sightings to our attention.

You might recall that last summer, we began a nutrient and chlorophyll study on Watauga Lake to monitor algal blooms, which form due to an excess of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. While not all algal blooms are toxic, the harmful ones release toxins that are linked to human illnesses and have even been shown to lead to death in dogs.

We reported the recent bloom to the NC Wildlife Commission and the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The newly formed Algal Bloom Response Team from the Division of Water Resources quickly responded and collected additional samples, and we are now awaiting results. This year the Watauga River had high levels of E. coli and nutrients, which could have contributed to the algae growth. We will continue to source track and monitor pollution levels in the Watauga River.

 

Macroplastics and Microplastics Roundup


Thank you to all our new volunteers who braved the cold to collect the first round of micro and macro plastic samples! Our volunteers collected a total of 318 pieces of trash in the last week of January. Our water samples are now being filtered in the lab, and microplastics have been identified in the Watauga River.

Want to learn more? The virtual training is on the MountainTrue University page of our website here.

 

Sign Up For Our Next Live Staking Opportunities!


Are you looking for a socially-distanced way to create immediate change in our community? Come plant live stakes with the Watatuga Riverkeeper!

Live staking workdays help to combat sediment erosion in our local waterways. Sediment is a major polluter in our river basin, clogging fish and aquatic habitats, increasing water temperatures, and transporting toxic substances. As these stakes grow into trees, they stabilize the banks of the Watauga river and reduce the amount of sediment entering the river, while also helping to fight climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Come plant with us! Sign up here.

To see the recent coverage of our live staking work days in the Watauga Democrat, click here.

Southern Regional News

For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Cleanups


To celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., MountainTrue staff joined the City of Hendersonville’s Environmental Sustainability Board to clean up Dr. MLK, Jr. Park on the grounds of the Henderson County Courthouse. There were also several member-led cleanups across the region, and we particularly enjoyed supporting the cleanup of an illegal dump site near the Green River where we pulled out a large chest freezer, gas grill, computer monitor, TV, tires and more!

 

Meetings with State Elected Officials Kick Off Legislative Advocacy

MountainTrue staff have been gearing up for the 2021 session of the NC General Assembly by refining our legislative priorities and meeting with state elected leaders across WNC. Locally, we’d like to thank Sen. Chuck Edwards, Rep. Tim Moffitt and Rep. Jake Johnson for taking the time to meet with us as the session began, as well as former Rep. Chuck McGrady (and Esther Cunningham Award recipient) for his ongoing advice and years of service. As the legislative session progresses we look forward to continuing those conversations, meeting with other elected leaders and building common ground for ways to protect and enhance our natural resources in WNC. For more details about MountainTrue’s legislative priorities and to sign up to receive the MT Raleigh Report, click here.

Western Regional News

For Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in NC, and Towns and Union counties in GA

Black History Month: Racial Equity and the Environment

George Washington Carver was an African American scientist and educator. Carver is famous for many inventions including a number of uses for the peanut.

During Black History Month in February, we are encouraged to learn more about the achievements of African-Americans and to recognize their central role in US history. It is also a time for celebrating the diversity of our communities, and examining the systems that perpetuate racial inequality in ways that may be difficult to see or understand on the surface. This past year has been a time of reckoning and challenge for many of us as some of those systems have been exposed.

As you may have read in an earlier e-newsletter, MountainTrue has been evolving toward a wider focus. Yes to protecting forests and rivers, advocating for more sustainable development and clean energy, but we are also thinking more broadly about how we can help foster communities where people are truly healthy. This means communities that are free from racism, and where there is equity in the social determinants of health: housing, transportation, education and jobs.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings is “all this is simply to say that all life is interrelated.” His words serve as a reminder that we cannot isolate our work in silos or boxes. Racial justice is central to environmental justice, and the two cannot be separated. As we continue to strive for equity in our work, we remember the words of another great Black civil rights leader, the late US Congressman John Lewis: “It is our responsibility to leave this planet cleaner and greener. That must be our legacy.”

Read more about MountainTrue’s commitment to racial equity here.

 

Don’t Miss the Watershed Gala – One Week From Tomorrow!


Watch a video of our 2020 accomplishments, help honor this year’s Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award winner David Liden, hear and share stories of adventures (indoors and out!) in our region and celebrate clean water with us on Thursday, February 25 at 6 pm.

Using Zoom is very easy. You can even participate using a Smartphone. Register today!

Events & Volunteer Opportunities

Note: All attendees at in-person events are required to follow our COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Feb. 20, Mar. 6 & Mar. 20: Live Staking Workdays In The High Country
Fight sediment pollution, erosion and climate change with Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill by planting live stakes along streams and river banks.
Feb. 20 Workday in Sugar Grove.
Mar. 6 Workday in Sugar Grove.
Mar. 20 Workday in Boone.

Feb. 25, 6-7:30pm: Virtual Watershed Gala
The 13th Annual Watershed Gala will be held virtually via Zoom meeting this year. We hope you will join us for a delightful evening of laughter, fun and camaraderie … and to help honor this year’s Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award winner! Register here.

March 3, 11am-2pm: Island Park Non-Native Invasive Plant Volunteer Work Session
MountainTrue has joined forces with the Tuckasegee River Alliance to help eradicate non-native invasive plants at Island Park in Bryson City. Learn how to identify and control non-native invasive plants with MountainTrue staff while you help bring the native plants back to Island Park! Sign up here.

March 6, 12-4pm: Winter Tree ID Workshop Hike
Join MountainTrue’s very own Public Lands Field Biologist, Josh Kelly for our Winter Tree ID Workshop Hike at Big Laurel Creek Trail. This hike is open to all skill levels of aspiring tree identifiers! Sign up here.

March 11, 12-1pm: MountainTrue University: A History of Environmental Extraction and Activism in Appalachia
Our AmeriCorps Water Quality Administrator, Grace Fuchs, completed her thesis work at Ohio University on the social and environmental impacts of fracking in Appalachian Ohio.

In her talk, Grace will define the cultural and geographic boundaries of Appalachia; look at the environmental impacts of the timber, coal, and fracking industries in the region; and present a historical analysis of Appalachian activists who have fought long and hard to protect their communities in the face of cultural and ecological destruction. Sign up here.

March 13, 7:30am-9:30am: Winter Bird Watch on Lake Chatuge
Get outside with us for our 15th annual Winter Bird Watch at Lake Chatuge! We typically see 18-25 different bird species on this trip, including small songbirds, larger birds of prey and wintering waterfowl. Sign up here.

March 20, 10am-4pm: Signs of Spring Hike on the Green River
This is a great late winter hike that offers continuous views of the Green River, from its quiet stretches to its most intense rapids. We’ll also pass through healthier eastern hemlocks stands, and are likely to spot early wildflowers and migrating warblers. 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.

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

By Hannah Woodburn, High Country Water Quality Administrator of MountainTrue

While we see it everywhere, mass-produced plastic has only existed since the 1950’s. Not only does producing plastic create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but our air, food and water systems are becoming increasingly contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic – called microplastics – that are a concern for ecosystem and human health.

Microplastics are defined as being smaller than 5mm and enter our freshwater systems through runoff and industrial processes. They can be purposefully designed to be small (think microbeads), or they can be fragments of larger items like tires, fishing line, water bottles and synthetic clothing.

So How Did We Get Here?

The amount of plastic created worldwide has increased from 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018. Plastic materials are derived from ethane, a natural gas product, and are extracted using a method called fracking. Every stage of plastic production results in greenhouse gas emissions, releasing a variety of pollutants during the process. Further, the US is the top producer and exporter of ethane in the world, and our plastic production is currently projected to double by 2050.

While plastics do represent a milestone in technological and chemical development, between 26-40% of all plastics are made with the intention to be single-use items – like food packaging, bottles, cups, plastic bags, housewares and cosmetic packaging. This poses a great environmental concern, especially when only 6.6% of all the plastic produced in 2018 was recycled and only a small portion of plastic can actually be recycled in the first place: items marked 1, 2, and sometimes 5.

Left: Sampling for microplastics at the MountainTrue lab. Right: This tiny red fiber that showed up in our microplastics sampling is smaller than .5mm, and likely from a piece of fishing line or synthetic clothing. 

How We Sample For Plastics

MountainTrue has started sampling for plastics on the French Broad, Green and Watauga Rivers, and will begin plastics sampling on the Hiwassee River this spring. For the macroplastics portion, we ask volunteers to collect trash and record how long they were there, what types of plastic they find, what brands are most prevalent, the number of pieces collected in total and how much time the volunteers sampled for.

To assess the presence of microplastics, which are often too small for the naked eye to see, volunteers take a water sample at each site in a one-quart glass jar and bring them back to our lab. We then process the water samples via vacuum filtration, look at the filter paper underneath a microscope and record the number of microplastics found in each sample.

What Can You Do?

Personal change is important, but our consumer choices alone are not enough to spark systemic change. We cannot “recycle” our way out of this issue.

We need to ask our legislators to help protect our communities and ecosystems from single-use plastics. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was introduced to Congress in 2020, but did not make it to a floor vote. However, this bill will be reintroduced this month, and it provides a comprehensive plan to eliminate single-use plastics at a federal level. We encourage you to take action and sign the petition asking President Biden to be a #PlasticFreePresident here.

#PlasticFreePresident Action Items That President Biden Can Take Without Congress:

1. Use the purchasing power of the federal government to eliminate single use plastic items and replace them with reusable items.
Suspend and deny permits for new or expanded plastic production facilities

2. Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions

3. Advance environmental justice in petrochemical corridors

4. Update existing federal regulations to curtail pollution from plastic facilities by using best available science and technology

5. Stop subsidizing plastic producers

6. Join international efforts to address global plastic pollution

7. Reduce and mitigate the impacts of discarded and lost fishing gear

 


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: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

The North Carolina General Assembly is back in action for its 2021 session – and MountainTrue is ready with a list of suggestions for legislators to protect Western North Carolina’s natural resources.

In recent weeks, our staff have met with legislators from across the region to educate them about our 2021 legislative priorities and to hear about their To-Do lists for the session. Thanks to Senators Deanna Ballard, Chuck Edwards and Kevin Corbin, as well as Representatives Jake Johnson, Tim Moffitt, Mark Pless, Karl E. Gillespie and Ray Pickett for taking the time to meet with us. We’ll also meet with other members of the WNC delegation through the early weeks of the session.

Some of MountainTrue’s priorities for 2021 include:

Water Quality Solutions

  • Increase funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC’s waters. Allocating more money to help local Soil and Water Conservation Districts help farmers with fencing and other pollution control efforts will keep agricultural waste out of rivers and streams.
  • Address failing septic systems. Failing septic systems are another major source of bacteria. Reinstating the Wastewater Discharge Elimination (WaDE) program will help reduce this pollution. Before it was cut several years ago, WaDE visited 13,379 WNC homes and identified 2,016 sources of water pollution in WNC – mostly from leaking and failing septic systems.
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. Stormwater is the third largest source of bacteria in NC’s waters. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution.  Like the cost-share program for farmers, existing CCAP funds are insufficient to meet the demand for assistance.

Improving Access and Quality of Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation is a $28 billion business in North Carolina, and WNC’s outdoor industry accounts for thousands of jobs in our region. Improving access to our region’s wild places builds support for their protection and helps our economy. That’s why we support the following investments: 

  • Expanded public access and improvements to the Watauga River and French Broad River Paddle Trails 
  • Improvements to public access and trails for a popular recreational area on the Green River Game Lands in Henderson and Polk counties
  • Dam removal and improved fishing access on the Watauga River
  • Trail improvement and other investments to improve outdoor recreation on the Tuckasegee River in Swain County
  • New public access for float boats on the Valley River in Cherokee County
  • Expanded funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund as well as the North Carolina Land and Water Fund (formerly known as Clean Water Management Trust Fund) to help preserve the health of critical watersheds. 

The General Assembly will now be in session every week through mid-summer. Stay tuned for updates from us on how our region’s waters, recreation spots and communities fare at the legislature in the coming months.

Speaking up for WNC’s environment in Raleigh is central to MountainTrue’s mission – that’s why we are the only WNC environmental organization with a year-round advocate in the capitol. Your support of MountainTrue is key to our success, so thank you for making our state policy 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.