By Calie Brummer
It all began with a hike to Sam Knob in Pisgah National Forest. John Cottingham was on an annual camping trip with a group of friends when he noticed severe erosion crumbling a steep part of the trail. The group, looking down at the eroded mountainside, realized that there was a need for protecting the integrity of these trails. That conversation planted a seed, and in October 2015, the Pisgah Conservancy came together with a mission in mind: to help protect and preserve Pisgah’s forests, rivers and trails.
Pisgah Conservancy, a nonprofit, is dedicated to the betterment of the Pisgah Ranger District, a tract of Federally owned land spanning from Asheville south and west along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 162,000-acre region is filled with backcountry trails, scenic roads and historic points of interest. While the area is well-loved by hikers, bikers and fisherman, a lack of funding has left many trails and amenities in need of attention. The Pisgah Conservancy stepped in to protect the richness of the land and preserve the beauty for future generations.
“The Pisgah Conservancy—which was just an idea not too long ago—is off to a good start,” says Cottingham, the organization’s executive director. “We are already making significant contributions to protect Pisgah’s forests and rivers, and we look forward to building on that in the years to come.”
The lowest point of the Ranger District lies near the North Carolina Arboretum and the highest point is at Richland Balsam at 6,410 feet. One of the most popular attractions in Pisgah is Sliding Rock, which cascades 60 feet over a smooth rock into a chilly pool. Hikers can slide down the rock at their own risk into the cool water below. For the traveler, the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is a tried-and-true favorite. The 79-mile scenic loop weaves through the Ranger District, offering beautiful views of the lush forests and scenic overlooks.
To further their mission, the Pisgah Conservancy hosts an annual Pisgah Pride Day, which is a broadbased volunteer workday in the Pisgah Ranger District. The Conservancy has held two Pride Days so far, with hundreds of volunteers in attendance, and expects the day to become an annual event beginning in early May, 2018. The nonprofit sponsors Pisgah Pride Day with the support of numerous forest user groups, local businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations and individuals who are passionate about preserving and protecting the forest land. “Pisgah Pride Day has already had a significant impact on the condition of our trails, rivers, and forests,” says Dave Casey, ranger for the Pisgah Ranger District.
Another project the Conservancy is focusing on is a license plate campaign, which was approved by the legislature in July, 2017. The group submitted more than 600 individual license plate applications, and they expect the new plates to be sent to applicants in late 2017. These custom plates will soon be available to all motorists throughout the state.
The Pisgah Conservancy thrives on the support of its members through donations and gifts of stock. Funding from members supports the preservation and maintenance of trails, and helps protect valued waterfalls, rivers and forest areas.
“We are gratified by the outpouring of support from the community and look forward to having others join us by volunteering or making financial contributions. With everyone’s help we can leave a legacy in Pisgah that we can all be proud of,” says Cottingham.
To learn more about the Pisgah Conservancy and how you can help support its efforts, visit pisgahconservancy.org.