Outdoors Experts Hold Webinar On Pisgah/Nantahala Forest Plan-Brevard NC
Last updated 6/22/2020 at 1:20pm
The commenting period for the draft Pisgah/Nantahala Forest Plan revision ends on June 29, and local nonprofit MountainTrue held a webinar with recreation experts last Tuesday to discuss the draft plan’s implications on one of Western North Carolina’s most important industries.
Dierdre Perot, of Backcountry Horsemen; Mike Reardon, of Carolina Climbers Coalition, Kevin Colburn, of American Whitewater; and Julie White, of Southern Off Road Biking Association (SORBA) paneled the discussion moderated by Mountain True’s public lands biologist Josh Kelly.
Kelly and the panelists discussed, among other issues, social trails in a sustainable trail network, the lack of resources for trail maintenance, and wild and scenic rivers.
“The Nantahala-Pisgah, if it were a national park, it would be the third most visited national park in the country,” Colburn said. “It’s got a staggering amount of use and it’s just incredibly important to the regional economy that people get out and have really positive experiences in the woods and have a high quality of life. We want the Forest Service to really welcome people to the forest in a sustainable way…and just acknowledge that people are coming, they’re going to keep coming, and to really do what they can to give people as good of an outdoor experience that they can while protecting the resource.”
Each panelist spoke specifically on parts of the draft plan they believe their specific user groups will take issue with.
Issues Facing Equestrians
Perot said that though Backcountry Horseman was happy to be a part of the planning process, there was a potential that equestrians could lose useable trail miles if rules in the draft plan were adopted. Backcountry Horsemen particularly took issue with a proposed rule that would limit horse (and bike) use on only National Forest Service (NFS) designated trails.
According to Perot, many equestrian routes in Pisgah and Nantahala are not specifically NFS designated trails. Backcountry Horseman as a group, however, is active in trail maintenance and volunteering and would like to see flexibility in making sure their current access to trails is not decreased.
Perot said the group was excited about projects already in the works to connect existing trail networks to make new loops trails.
Issues Facing Climbers
Reardon said for climbing to be recognized as an important recreation group by the NFS was promising, but the Carolina Climbers Coalition had some reservations about new rules that might limit access to important climbing areas.
The Carolina Climbers Coalition has created a detailed list of action items on its website for climbers interested in a comprehensive review of their stance on the draft plan. One of the biggest concerns Reardon mentioned was about a new rule that would decommission “non-system trails,” or social trails. According to him, as much as 90 percent of climbing in Pisgah is not accessed through a system trail. The Carolina Climbers Coalition is willing to help maintain sustainability of these non-system trails, but as the language stands now, it’s possible much of them would be illegal under the draft plan’s language. Many of these trails are user-made foot paths to access important forest areas like overlooks or creeks. As the draft plan stands today, these non-system trails would have to be either brought up to standard and made a “system trail” or decommissioned.
Reardon would like to see volunteer stewardship of these non-system trails, so that access to important areas would not be cut-off while users wait for expensive and bureaucratic changes to be made to the trail system.
The coalition also took issue with language that would outright prohibit access to certain ecologically sensitive or unique areas (many of which are popular climbing destinations), without allowing for a flexible approach to give access to the areas while still protecting the important species.
Issues Facing Paddlers
Colburn spoke about how special Nantahala and Pisgah were to paddlers and said he was happy to see several rivers eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, but he noted American Whitewater had hoped for more. Particularly, Colburn said, he was encouraged by the NFS’s apparent commitment to keep hydropower dams out of Forest Service land.
“It’s a NFS acknowledgement that they shouldn’t be actively promoting new hydropower dams or allowing them in these streams, but also to protect the values that keep those rivers special,” Colburn said.
Of the rivers American Whitewater recommended to the NFS for Wild and Scenic designation that didn’t make the cut are the Headwaters of Wilson Creek, Panthertown Valley streams, Tanasee Creek and the North Fork of the French Broad.
Colburn said Wild and Scenic designations are made with facts, not votes and it’s important to bring the NFS data on why a river is rare or special compared to its peers.
Issues Facing Bikers
Under the previous forest plan, White said mountain Biking was not even a popular sport yet in Pisgah and Nantahala, so White said she was happy to see the sport included in this plan.
Like equestrians, SORBA is concerned about losing trail miles if the rule is adopted to only allow Biking on system trails. Many popular Biking routes follow old logging roads and non-system trails in Pisgah and Nantahala, and the loss of those miles would be a huge drawback in SORBA’s eyes. White said SORBA supports recent efforts to add trails in different geographic areas, as currently mountain Biking is highly concentrated in the Pisgah District. White said SORBA was encouraged to see the emphasis put on creating new loops by connecting existing system trails, but said SORBA would like to see even more loop trails made in the future.
Additionally, all panelists expressed support for using possible funding from the newly-passed Great American Outdoor Act to address the maintenance backlog for trails and roads throughout the forests.
Kelly said the lack of resources for trail and road maintenance is “one of the biggest environmental issues on the forest right now.”
“(There are) 2,200 miles of road and over 700 miles of system trails and hundreds of miles of non-system trail,” he said. “And, anecdotally, there is a lot of increased sedimentation that’s probably partially due to the increased rainfall we’re seeing with climate change, but also partially due to a lot of use and not much maintenance funds.”
Perot said Backcountry Horsemen believes there needs to be more data on where the backlogged maintenance projects actually are, as she believes volunteers are willing to help step up to address the issue but needs more information on where to do the work.