Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Gorges State Park

Paw Paw Falls in Gorges State Park

Paw Paw Falls in Gorges State Park

On Thursday, January 9, Sierra Club of Western North Carolina (WENOCA) will honor the 20 anniversary of Gorges State Park with a presentation by Bill Thomas. “Sierra Club is choosing to honor Gorges State Park on its 20th anniversary to acknowledge its beauty,” says Judy Mattox, chair of Sierra Club WENOCA. “We are also applauding the community’s victory in saving such beauty.”

Gorges State Park was almost a zone of hydroelectric dams, and Thomas played an instrumental role in protecting the area. He was also integral to the designation of Horsepasture River as a National Wild & Scenic River in the 1980s.

A part of the Lake Jocassee watershed, the land that became Gorges State Park was originally owned by Duke Energy. Duke had plans to use the elevation change across the land to create pumped storage reservoirs, which are filled either by river flow or by pumping from a lake at a lower elevation. “My speculation,” says Thomas, “is that Duke, seeing all the ruckus over the Horsepasture dam proposal, became doubtful of their ability to use the land for more pumped storage projects.”

In 1994, Duke offered the lands for sale to North and South Carolina. “South Carolina acted immediately to purchase the section in that state, but North Carolina spent time trying to figure out how the roughly 12,000 acres offered should be managed,” says Thomas. This turned into a proposal for a state park. Thomas, who has been an active environmentalist for many decades, helped with promotion of the idea and lobbied for the money needed for the purchase. Ultimately, two thirds of the land was used for Gorges State Park and the remaining third became Gameland.

“Gorges State Park is important to me because I have come to love that land, its ruggedness, its numerous waterfalls and creeks, its diversity of plants and flowers and wildlife,” says Thomas. “It is a temperate rainforest, receiving 100 inches of rain per year. It’s easy to see why there are so many waterfalls dropping 1,800 feet in just four miles or so. There would have to be something faulty in your personal makeup not to be awed by this place.”

The presentation will take place at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 1 Edwin Place in Asheville, starting at 7 p.m. For more information, visit

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