The Transylvania Times -

Mountain Bikers Could Face User Fees - Pisgah Forest, NC

 

November 27, 2017



Pisgah National Forest head ranger Dave Casey announced proposals for user fees for both mountain bikers and equestrians during the most recent Transylvania Natural Resources Council (TNRC) meeting.

The proposal comes after further budget cuts and increased outcry from other forest users, such as sportsmen, who already pay for access. The fees are still proposals at this point and will likely be included in the forest plan revision process that is ongoing.

How the Forest Service plans to enforce these fees remains to be seen. Casey said that if the proposals become reality, it would be a “game changer” for Pisgah.

During the meeting, Casey announced the proposals in response to Lori Roberts, chair of the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), who gave a presentation to the council concerning the tasks of the TDA, the effects of advertising Brevard and Transylvania County as an outdoor destination, and how her budget paled in comparison to Asheville’s monster marketing budget.

TNRC member Kent Wilcox said that user fees were a real need and the time for discussion is now.

“They implemented user fees at Sliding Rock and they didn’t stop going there,” said Wilcox.

A big part of Roberts’ concern is that when the city of Asheville advertises the fun sites to visit, it often markets places like Sliding Rock, which is located in Transylvania. Roberts said that the number of visitors to the area needs to be spread out throughout the county and across the public lands.

“Our hands are tied to a great extent,” she said. ‘We are a weevil compared to Asheville’s Tyrannosaurus Rex. They are spending millions of dollars and were named the number one tourist destination in the country last year. They have built 2,000 new hotel rooms, with 1,500 more online.”

In Brevard, Roberts said there has been exponential growth, with AirBnbs topping 477 rentals and more hotel rooms in the county planned. She said she is aware of a 100-room project she expects to be completed by the end of 2018 and she anticipates “someone” to turn the old courthouse into a five-star establishment if it is allowed to happen.

Concerns about former N.C. Rep. Chris Whitmire and his blockage of user fees at DuPont State Recreational Forest were voiced, but Whitmire’s concerns were the double taxing of locals who already pay for access to DuPont.

“I know it’s free and public lands, but I don’t think anybody would mind paying a little bit if they knew the money was going back to sustain those resources,” said Roberts.

TNRC member David Whitmire said he appreciated the sustainability campaign the TDA recently rolled out.

Roberts said the TDA’s advertising budget is about $320,000, compared to Asheville’s, which is between $3 million and $6 million.

TDA meetings are open to the public and are held at 8:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of every month in the Chamber of Commerce building.

Wildlife Presentation

Whitmire introduced Ryan Jacobs, a wildlife forest manager with the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC).

Jacobs spoke to the TNRC about the work his agency does and its involvement in the forest plan revision process.

Jacobs said the NCWRC was created by the General Assembly in 1947 as an agency to help sustain and serve the wildlife resources and is the regulatory agency as it pertains to fish, wildlife and boating.

“There are some real challenges to managing public lands, especially these days,” he said. “There are three challenges — how do you identify the needs to manage the land and how do you focus the management, how do you prioritize and, finally, how do we manage our resources for multiple use?”

Jacobs said the NCWRC has a memorandum of understanding to cooperatively manage the national forests with the U.S. Forest Service.

Jacobs said that as far as forest diversity is concerned, there is very little to be found. In 1.1 million acres of forestland, the Forest Service is only cutting 800 to 1,000 acres on average, which, he said, is not enough to achieve the need for young successional forests, which will help the wildlife population.

Other ways to manage wildlife populations were also discussed.

Jacobs said that in terms of the bear population, for example, the older more closed canopy trees were serving the bear populations better, and that bears were adapting to urban life pretty well.

“Just look at Asheville, there are bears everywhere and they are moving places where they are not getting hunted,” he said. “We have bear sanctuaries, where they are not allowed, and lots of private land where they are not being hunted.”

Casey asked if there were any thoughts on reducing the number of bear sanctuaries.

Jacobs said the wildlife commission had already started issuing permit hunts within the sanctuaries, such as one near Mt. Mitchell, Camp Daniel Boone and one more sanctuary, mainly to try and stem the number of bears.

Bear numbers are increasing, according to Jacobs. Looking back at data from 20 years ago a sow bear may have one or two cubs, but they are now getting reports of sows having three or four cubs.

Jacobs said a lot of it has a lot to do with the amount of garbage they are getting into and other additional food sources.

Jacobs touched on managing the forest for users and recreation also.

He quoted a survey for outdoor recreation trends in 2010 that said fishing and hunting are less popular and have been declining.

His conclusion is that the demand for the wildlife is still there, but the focus has shifted from hunting to simply viewing.

He said the percentage change in birding from 1982 to 2001 was a 50 percent increase in participation.

Looking at other forest users, increases in Hiking, Biking and trail running were increasing annually on public lands nationwide.

Jacobs said the future of public land management needed to use the best available science possible and that he had total confidence in local public land managers.

TNRC member Mark Tooley said he hopes that someone from the NCWRC was available to serve on the TNRC council. Jacobs replied he has someone in mind.

TNRC member R.K. Young asked if there was any data on the degree to which invasive species are degrading the conditions in the forest.

Young said invasive species continue to be sold to homeowners for landscaping and that it is a serious issue.

Jacobs said the issue of invasive species and pests is a huge one, but he could not cite any specific data off the top of his head.

He said the issues ranged from Emerald Ash Bore to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid and that there was more information out there.

Whitmire said that for deer, in particular, the spread of rhododendron and mountain laurel have caused more habitat loss.

For more information about the NCWRC, visit http://www.ncwildlife.org.

 
 

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