Greetings all and Happy Holidays!

As we approach the end of the year and the start of a new one, let’s take some time and space to celebrate our achievements in 2021 and look forward to projects on the horizon for 2022. It was a busy and productive year, with new trail construction, heavy trail maintenance, contracting, visiting service groups, trail planning, environmental survey work, and good old fashioned trail work with shovels, picks, rock hammers, and hazel hoes.

Let’s dive into the good stuff!

2021 Yearly Wrap-up

Stony Knob Trail—The summer of 2021 saw the construction of the new 1.3 mile Stony Knob trail connecting Joel Branch and Horse Cove roads. Funded through a collaboration among The Pisgah Conservancy (TPC), Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority, Transylvania County, the City of Brevard, and The Hub and Pisgah Tavern, this relatively short trail has opened up a host of new options for trail users of all kinds. Linking together Pisgah’s trail and FS road network with the trail systems of Bracken Preserve and Brevard’s Urban Greenway, Stony Knob Trail stands as great step forward in building trail system and community connectivity in the area. This sustainably-built new trail, constructed by the excellent local trail builders at Trail Dynamics, is a great, long-desired addition to our trail system.

Graveyard Ridge Trail—Contouring for 3.4 miles through the stunning Pisgah high country from Ivestor Gap, across the headwaters of Dark Prong below the hulk of Tennent Mountain, to the heights above Graveyard Fields, the Graveyard Ridge trail received long-deferred and much-needed heavy maintenance this year.

Completed in two phases, the first managed by the Forest Service with funding from a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant, and the second managed, contracted, and funded by TPC with a generous grant from the Lastinger Family Foundation, this project was a great achievement, completely transforming a terribly entrenched, overgrown, waterlogged slog into a beautiful trail with positive drainage, restored tread, impressive rockwork, and big vistas of our Appalachian highlands. The work was performed by the professional trail builders of Black Diamond Trail Designs, and in addition to a great hiking experience this project provides for direct benefits to water quality and ecosystem health in this unique high-elevation watershed.

Middle Black Mountain Reroute—Congratulations to Pisgah Area SORBA on their completion of a 2.2 mile reroute on the middle section of the Black Mountain trail. Funded by a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant and supplemented by additional PAS fundraising, this project saw the relocation of a wide, entrenched, fall-line trail to a more sustainable route. Constructed by Singletrack Trails to maintain the unique Pisgah character of this beloved trail, the new route is a beautiful, sinuous line with rock features, flow, and positive drainage throughout. TPC supported Pisgah Area SORBA on this project, providing assistance in building the RFP and contract for the work in addition to funding and contracting the required environmental surveys that are crucial to the implementation of trail projects involving the construction of new trail in the Forest.

Boots on the Ground—The TPC Trails Specialist and Trails/Recreation Technician positions are of central importance to TPC’s mission to provide direct benefit to the Pisgah Ranger District. They are an element that truly sets TPC apart from other organizations supporting our National Forest lands. Through an agreement with the Forest Service, these full-time TPC employees work side-by-side with Forest Service employees both in the Ranger Station and out in the field assisting in trail planning, trail assessment, trail maintenance, maintenance of recreation sites, inspecting contracts, leading volunteers and service groups, and more. Over the past year, TPC employees have worked with FS employees on a wide range of projects.

Here is a list of highlights:

• Repaired a major suspension bridge damaged by TS Fred on South Mills River trail, reopening user access to the majority of trail miles in the Turkeypen area

• Utilized a technical rigging system to reset a large laminated bridge washed off its moorings by TS Fred on the southern part of the Pink Beds Loop

• Performed in-depth assessments of road and trail damage from TS Fred to determine the extent of storm impacts, record data, and apply for emergency funding

• Cleaned up debris and repaired damage from TS Fred flooding at Sycamore Flats and Coontree recreation sites

• Constructed turnpike using riprap pavers over a mudhole at the bottom of Bennet Gap Trail

• Built a locust ladder staircase at the beginning of the Art Loeb trail

• Cleared blowdowns in Shining Rock and Middle Prong wildernesses using crosscut saws and axes

• Replaced a failing bridge with a new white oak footlog on Caney Bottom trail

• Built a large locust cribwall preventing erosion into Starens Branch and preserving trail tread on Sycamore Cove trail

• Used Bobcat trail machine to both re-establish and build new grade dips on North Slope, Buckhorn Gap, and Davidson River trails

• Constructed turnpikes on Exercise and North Slope trails

• Collected GIS data and established routes and flag lines for future trail projects on District.

• Regularly maintained roadside recreation sites along the 276 corridor through mowing, trash collection, and cleaning grills

• Helped lead visiting North Carolina Conservation Corps (NCCC) crew on projects restoring drainage structures and building steps on Sam Knob trail

• Led and worked side-by-side with volunteer groups constructing turnpikes on Barnett Branch and Avery Creek, and building box steps on Moore Cove trail

Graveyard Fields—We reached an important milestone this year in our plan for the full-scale rehabilitation and expansion of the Graveyard Fields trail complex as NEPA environmental surveys are now being conducted in the area. These surveys are critical to all major projects on Forest Service lands, ensuring the preservation of critical species, ecosystem health, and the archeological and cultural heritage of our public lands.

Often little understood by the public-at-large, the NEPA process is a central necessity to all large trail projects involving new trail construction and is typically time consuming, requiring multiple specialists to approve the scope of work, perform on the ground surveys, and receive approval from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and Tribal representatives (TRBO). Thanks to a key agreement between TPC and the FS, TPC is able to contract out environmental specialists to carry out these surveys, solving the problem of limited FS capacity to complete them and reducing the overall timeframe for NEPA surveys. After years of work and collaboration with the Forest Service planning, developing routes, collecting GIS data, and building an overall vision for the project, this moment is pivotal in implementing work on the ground. With its completion, we will be ready to move forward and begin new construction on this important project.

Establishment of the Pisgah Clean-up Fund—In September TPC held a special raffle as a kickoff to establish the Pisgah Clean-Up Fund, a fund focused on clearing trash from our Pisgah’s lands and waterways. And it was quite a raffle item indeed: a banjo donated by Trails Carolina, a local leader in youth wilderness therapy, and signed by local bluegrass legends and Pisgah lovers the Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin. The raffle was a huge success, garnering over $21,000 that will go directly into cleaning and rehabilitating illegal dumpsites on the Pisgah Ranger District. Our first project from this fund is aimed at Tucker Creek, a longstanding and notorious dump in the Balsam Grove area off the Highway 215 corridor. From there, we intend to clean up and tackle dumpsites across the Pisgah thanks to the establishment and continued support of this fund.

Phase One of Black Mountain Trailhead Project—In collaboration with the Forest Service, TPC completed phase one of relocating the Black Mountain Trailhead to a new location beside the Ranger Station which will eventually offer increased parking, restrooms, and new signage upon completion. This phase included establishing the parameters of the parking area, clearing, grading, and spreading crushed stone. In addition to accommodating trail users, this project in the future will benefit local water quality by removing the current parking lot straddling both sides of Starens Creek, removing an unnecessary weir, and restoring the stream itself as well as the riparian area along this part of Starens Creek.

River Rangers—The River Rangers had a very successful 2021 season providing community outreach and education, river restoration, and clean up efforts to the prized waterways of the Pisgah. They created over 35 virtual programs and hosted close to 50 programs in the forest, collaborating with Trout Unlimited, Freshwaters Illustrated, NC Wildlife Resource Commission, National Forests in North Carolina and others. They engaged with more than 5,000 people in person and went viral, reaching over 12 million virtually through their Facebook page, Pisgah River Rangers. In addition to offering this important educational component, they removed more than 330 rock structures from rivers on the Pisgah District, remediated over 50 illegal campsites located too close to vital waterways, and picked up in excess of 1,000 pounds of trash from recreation sites and hiking trails alongside rivers. In the words of Roean Allen, River Ranger crew leader for the last two seasons, “I have been involved with the River Ranger program since its start and, in my opinion, this has been the best season yet.”

Looking Towards 2022—

The coming year is shaping up to be another exciting and busy year for TPC!

Kicking off the year is the inaugural project of our new Pisgah Clean-Up Fund, a community-driven project to clean up a longstanding, particularly nasty dumpsite along Tucker Creek in the Balsam Grove area, as mentioned above. Scheduled for January 10-12, with potential adjustment based on weather, this effort will include the work of volunteers and local contractors to restore this absolutely beautiful stretch of cascades, eddies, and flowing Pisgah water.

Environmental survey work will continue at Graveyard Fields into the new year as we work towards on-the-ground implementation. In 2022 we will continue to work with the Forest Service to identify needs and conduct the Post-TS Fred recovery work, as the Forest Service brings resources to bear on a multi-year process of storm repair and recovery. We are also excited to see Pisgah Pride Day return in 2022 after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently scheduled for Saturday April 30th, Pisgah Pride Day 2022 will be a time to get together and give back in a hands-on way once again, joining forces to provide direct improvements to the Pisgah Ranger District, a resource and home that is so special to all of us.

Here’s to a great 2021 and a great year to come. Thank you greatly for your continued support for The Pisgah Conservancy and Pisgah National Forest.

Have a great holiday and a happy new year!