A student-created exhibit, The Fight for Bluff: A Community’s Effort to Preserve Its Mountain, runs through July 28 in Mars Hill University’s Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies. History instructor Patrick Cash says the display examines public outcry following a proposal to clear-cut Madison County’s highest peak.
In 1996, the United States Forest Service (USFS) announced its plan to harvest timber from 490 acres of woodland on Bluff Mountain, a 4,686-foot summit ten miles south of Hot Springs. The plan also called for 6.9 miles of new roadways extending from Catpen Gap to the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, but locals saw construction as a threat to trout streams and wildlife habitats. So they mobilized.
Ballad singers and banjo pickers organized the Bluff Mountain Festival to raise awareness. Bumper stickers reading “Don’t Cut Bluff” were created. Thankfully, the protests paid off. On May 29, 1997, the USFS decided to reevaluate.
“The citizens of Madison County and the surrounding region were able to save their mountain from destruction,” says Cash. “The final agreement drastically reduced the impact that the proposed cut would have had.”
Inspired, students Digna Bermudez, Jennifer Cardona- Alfaro, Brandon Cheek, Adrienne Enoch, Clay Peregoy and Jamie Whitesides began conducting research last fall. They even tracked down documents and photos from activists Rob and Mary Kelly.
“The students thought the story was encouraging and powerful: a small community and their fight for something they loved dearly,” says Cash. “We’re also blessed to borrow archival materials from activists involved in the fight.”
The Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies is located inside Renfro Library at 100 Athletic Street in Mars Hill. Admission is free and open to the public. Hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m.; and by appointment. For more information, contact Patrick Cash at 828.689.1581.