By Emma Castleberry
North Carolina has started the official process of adding a 40th park to its state park system. Located on the border of Haywood and Buncombe counties, the 1600-acre Pisgah View State Park will be the sixth state park in Western North Carolina. In April, Republican senator Chuck Edwards (NC–48) introduced a bill authorizing the addition of the park, and it passed unanimously in the House and Senate. “Senate Bill 535 was the necessary beginning to bring the Pisgah View Park and all that it has to offer our region to fruition,” says Edwards.
Since 1790, the large tract of land slated to become Pisgah View Park has been owned by the Cogburn family. In 1941, Ruby and Chester Cogburn opened Pisgah View Ranch to the public and it quickly became a popular vacation destination for families. To this day, visitors enjoy the on-site cabin rentals and amenities like an outdoor pool, tennis courts, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. The Ranch also hosts weddings and other events. “This tract is unique in many ways,” says Edwards. “It sits in the shadows of the most widely recognized landmark in Western NC—Mount Pisgah, and it hosts an extensive range of ecological benefits, including fresh water springs, waterfalls, streams, cliffs, wildlife, vegetation and flora.”
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, which helped to facilitate negotiations between the Cogburn family and the state, has long recognized the conservation value of the land. “As the country and our region develop, there are fewer and fewer large tracts available, so large tracts often translate into conservation value,” says Jay Leutze, chairman of the land protection committee for SAHC. Leutze says that the Cogburns have long been good stewards of their land, keeping a healthy forest and protecting water quality for their guests. “As like-minded people, it was easy to start a conversation,” he says. “In this case, we knew early on that the family’s long-term vision was to protect this place and we wanted to offer options for how we can do that.”
SAHC provided “shuttle diplomacy” for the deal, creating a space for the state and the Cogburns to negotiate the details of this large land purchase. SAHC also committed to raising private funds for the deal. “This gives the state confidence that private dollars are available for this purchase,” says Leutze. “No state dollars can be used until a unit is authorized, so there are lots of leaps of faith. SAHC vouched for the state’s ability to come up with the public dollars to the family, and the state showed good faith by passing Bill 535 in the legislature. That gave the family confidence that everyone was serious.”
Edwards says that SAHC was an invaluable resource for the project. “They have kept all the various interested parties fully informed, they’ve helped us hold negotiations together even when those appeared to be in doubt, they have begun to raise private dollars and apply for grants, and they have provided invaluable counsel and encouragement for me and my staff,” he says. Leutze is also quick to applaud Edwards’ efforts in the realization of the new park. Not only did Edwards provide local support for the bill but he also reached across the aisle for support from NC House Representative Brian Turner—a Democrat. “That was enormously powerful,” says Leutze. “It was a perfect, bipartisan love fest for public land.”
In addition to the conservation value, the economic benefits of this new park for the region and state are clear. The tract is close to Asheville, I-40 and Pisgah National Forest, making it ideal for tourism. “I believe that we will see homes and businesses develop and expand along the periphery of the new park,” says Edwards. “People generally enjoy knowing that they have top-quality outdoor activity near where they live and work. There is no doubt that savvy entrepreneurs will explore how they might serve the visitors to the park in order to provide jobs and make a profit.”
The passing of Senate Bill 535 is just the beginning of a multi-year process. If the purchase continues to progress smoothly, land acquisition will begin late this year and be phased over five years. “Once acquisitions have begun, we will all go to work to seek needed funding,” says Edwards. “Simultaneously, I expect to appoint a group of interested parties and experts to begin to envision and plan for the future of the park.” Fortunately, the amenities and infrastructure at Pisgah View Ranch— roads, cabins, dining hall, barn, pool—leave the property well prepared to become a state park. “This beautiful place that has welcomed visitors for a long, long time is going to welcome more visitors for the future,” says Leutze.