'Friends' Of Public Lands Share Project Plans


September 11, 2017

A nod to the volunteers who dedicate their free time to local public lands took place at Friday’s Transylvania Natural Resources Council meeting, the first after a summer hiatus.

The council is a group of public land managers, concerned citizens and appointed members who meet to discuss the impacts and needs on public lands in Transylvania County and make recommendations to county commissioners.

Transylvania County is home to three different “Friends” groups, which are connected to DuPont State Recreational Forest, Gorges State Park and Pisgah National Forest, respectively.

Representatives from each group provided a glimpse into some of the long-range goals each had for filling in the gaps in funding.

Sara Landry, executive director for Friends of DuPont Forest (FODF), said her vision for the forest is to have projects fall under three main categories: education, conservation and research.

“Since the forest is changing so much, it makes sense that we change, too,” she said.

Landry said she was currently working on a film about DuPont’s history with TNRC member Kent Wilcox. She said education is of particular interest to her and she hopes to reach forest users before they ever step foot on a trail. Under research, Landry mentioned work being done with the American Chestnut Foundation on the forest and ongoing wildlife studies.

Increasing community outreach is another goal of the FODF. Landry is looking for new volunteers to help with litter pick up, trail work and several fundraising projects.

Former TNRC member Torry Nergart asked Landry if there are any corporate sponsorships for individual trails. Landry said she did not think that would ever happen in DuPont.

Forest Supervisor Jason Guidry echoed Landry and said they were trying to maintain the appearance of the forest and didn’t need any more signage.

Landry said that FODF had 367 members as of Friday and had gained 100 more since she came on as director in April. She said anyone who wants to sign up may do so online.

TNRC chair Lee McMinn asked if the FODF was involved in the hemlock restoration initiative. Wilcox, a FODF member, said they had spent about $5,000 on a beetle release, but since the beetles (that eat the wooly adelgid) were not grown in a certified lab they could not be released in the forest. The DuPont Corporation gave permission to release the beetles along the Little River in the “donut hole,” and then Wilcox joked that the beetles flew promptly into the forest.

Landry also said she was working on a partnership with Holmes Educational Forest, which is adjacent to DuPont.

“One of my passions is getting kids in the forest without a screen,” she said. “It’s really important to raise the next generation of conservationists, and we’re starting to talk about it.”

To become a member or learn more about the FODF, go to http://www.dupontforest.com

Friends of Gorges

Micki and Bob Andrews both serve as president and treasurer of Gorges State Park. Bob addressed the council and said that part of his group’s mission is to grow awareness of the park through marketing and special events. His second major challenge is the successful retention of volunteers.

He said he has a need for a mountain biker on the park advisory committee and that they were working on the logistics with a private landowner for possible mountain bike trail access directly off the Rosman Highway.

“Friends of Gorges has 124 members today,” he said. “We had an initial operating budget of $300 when we started and, today, we expend about $8,000 supporting park activities.”

Activities included hosting more than 5,000 people for the solar eclipse last month, which state park superintendent went very well with no incidents, other than the clouds moving in.

Andrews said the design phase of the new campground was about halfway through. Funding for the campground came from the Connect NC bond, which taxpayers voted in a couple of years ago.

Completion of the campground is expected to be in 2019. It will have around 45 tent camping sites, cabins with everything but running water, a community bathhouse and a number of RV hookups.

Andrews said the park would need additional volunteers when the campground is up and running and that most people with an RV need help parking in it.

Tapping into the Cashiers and Lake Toxaway areas for volunteers is one of his goals as well, said Andrews.

To learn more about the Friends of Gorges State Park, visit http://www.friendsofgorges.org.

Pisgah Conservancy

Carlton Murray addressed the council next about the Pisgah Conservancy.

The Conservancy was started in October 2015 with a diverse group of stakeholders. Pisgah National Forest has three districts — the Ranger, Appalachian and Grandfather — but the Conservancy is focused on the Ranger district exclusively.

“Why did the friends group get started?” asked Murray. “Because of government funding decreasing, while users are increasing. This national forest gets money from the annual budget process, which typically sees a decrease every year. Visitors keep coming and, so far, the impact and service levels have not been noticed by most visitors, but the impact on the resource by those of us who live nearby is very noticeable.”

Pisgah Pride Day has now been held twice. The last volunteer day had 300 volunteers performing various projects, such as invasive species removal, trail maintenance and rerouting, and river restoration.

One hundred and thirty tons of stone were moved to fix the section of the Art Loeb trail leading to Black Balsam.

Murray also gave an update on the Pisgah Conservancy license plates and said they would be ready in three to four months.

“The raffle we had this year raised $25,000 for the organization,” he said. “Those things are adding credibility to us now and are creating new opportunities.”

Murray mentioned a few projects currently taking place, including the Red Spruce restoration project at high elevations and the Butter Gap shelter project.

Lavoe Davis, with the Conservancy, was in the audience and said that Platt Architecture was designing a new shelter.

“Brevard College students use it a lot,” she said. “They came to us and said they want to rebuild it. Platt is going to design something cool, and have a volunteer with a background in engineering who will oversee the construction. Students from BC will provide the labor. Hopefully, that will be a prototype and we will be able to do that all around the forest.”

Murray said the Conservancy also has a River Ranger program in development.

“We want to build on what Trout Unlimited has done for years,” he said. “We are looking at extending all the way to the Parkway, or at least to Pink Beds, and it will have an educational focus promoting ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics, asking people to not move the rocks to cleaning up trash.”


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