Conservation Outdoors

Waterfall Keepers of NC

Mouse Creek Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Kevin Adams

By Emma Castleberry

Late last year, a new group appeared on the regional outdoor scene: Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina. Established on November 23, 2020, the group’s mission is to “promote and advance the cultural, economic, ecological and historical significance of North Carolina waterfalls; to serve as an educator and advocate; and to preserve waterfalls and facilitate their enjoyment in perpetuity.” As executive director Kevin Adams puts it: “We’re not the group to turn to if you want to know how to find a waterfall or if you’re looking for a hiking buddy, but if the trail is free of litter and safe and there’s no environmental damage to the waterfall environment, we could have had a hand in that.” Since the organization’s launch, it has registered nearly 200 members. “The passion and the devotion were already there,” says Adams. “We just established the structure for people to turn their love of waterfalls into action.”

Joey Cagle wades a creek to pick up trash as a Waterfall Keeper. Photo by Amanda Cagle.

Waterfall Keepers hosts an Adopt-A-Waterfall program, in which keepers commit to visiting a specific fall four times a year to pick up trash and report trail conditions. More than a hundred people have already adopted more than 140 waterfalls. Aby Parsons, a group member and volunteer with the Waterfall Keepers, has visited 326 waterfalls. “My spouse and I adopted Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades, which is the waterfall where we got married, and I also adopted another three waterfalls in Cashiers with the friends that I hike with regularly,” she says. “I’ve benefited so much from the hard work that others have put in to document waterfalls and maintain access to them so I wanted to pay it forward by helping preserve waterfalls for others to enjoy. It’s important to me that we keep these places pristine so that wildlife can thrive and others can experience them safely.”

Beyond their natural importance as part of the landscape, waterfalls also provide benefits to the public through emotional and mental well-being. “We know people who have overcome obesity and substance abuse as a direct result of hiking to waterfalls,” says Adams. “Waterfalls have helped people with their depression and marital problems. Waterfalls help people stay healthy, both physically and mentally.” Waterfalls also play an important role in the regional economy—Transylvania County’s slogan “Land of Waterfalls” is one example—and the waterfall and stream environment is also crucial to the ecosystem. “Waterfalls and cascades oxygenate the water, which is critical for fish and other aquatic organisms that are important members of the food chain,” says Adams. “Without them, the mountain ecosystem as we know it would cease to exist.”

On February 20, the Waterfall Keepers will host a clean-up on a stretch of NC 215 as part of the group’s Adopt-A-Highway initiative. This section of roadway runs between Sunburst Falls and Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades and passes the access for several other waterfalls. The organization’s first annual Waterfall Sweep will be on March 20. “This is our flagship event, where individuals all over the state will visit waterfalls and pick up trash,” says Adams. “We’ll also have trucks and special crews to pick up at several sites that need a lot of love.”

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