We work in 11 Wilderness Areas in North Carolina comprising 102,719 acres, and 5 inventoried roadless areas (IRAs) and wilderness study areas (WSAs) managed by the National Forests in North Carolina. Wilderness areas include: Joyce Kilmer Slickrock, Southern Nantahala, Shining Rock, Middle Prong, Linville Gorge, and part of Ellicott Rock on the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest, Birkhead Mountain Wilderness on the Uwharrie National Forest, and we’ve also done limited work in Catfish Lake South, Pocosin, Pond Pine and Sheep Ridge Wildernesses on the Croatan National Forest. In addition, we’ve worked in Snowbird, Lost Cove and Harper Creek Wilderness Study Areas, and the Black Mountain and Tusquitee Bald Inventoried Roadless Areas.
Home to our headquarters in Asheville, we’ve worked with the National Forests in North Carolina since 2012, when we cohosted Wilderness Skills Institute (WSI), fielded wilderness rangers in Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, Shining Rock, Middle Prong, Southern Nantahala and Linville Gorge Wilderness areas, and relocated the lower part of Hawksbill Trail in Linville Gorge Wilderness. Our work in North Carolina showcases our deep relationships with the Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. We co-host WSI with them at the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Center on the Pisgah National Forest annually, providing training to over 100 participants each year. We affectionately call WSI “the two best weeks of the year” and take the opportunity to welcome new folks to the wilderness family, reconnect with friendly faces from past years, and learn the necessary skills to care for these wild places.
We’ve enjoyed a strong field crew presence annually since 2011 across five wilderness areas and five wilderness study areas and inventoried roadless areas. In 2017, we began a large trail restoration project in Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness after the devastating wildfire season in 2016. Since 2017, we’ve completed 40 multi-week hitches in that wilderness, contributing nearly 14,000 hours of service. We’ve cleared over 3200 trees that blocked the trail, built or restored 7.8 miles of trails, and reopened the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest loop trail, making the big old growth poplar trees accessible to visitors again.
2017 Field Crew member, Katie visiting the same trees in her early 20s on the crew as she did on with her family when she was 6 on a trip to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
Some of the most heavily visited wildernesses are on the Pisgah National Forest. The consistent presence of our wilderness rangers in Shining Rock and Linville Gorge over the years has helped visitors reduce their impacts on the land while having an enjoyable and safe experience. These rangers maintain trails, minimize campsite impacts, educate visitors about wilderness, Leave No Trace, bear awareness, and rules and regulations. They also collect wilderness recreation data, invasive species data, and visitor use data. In 2016, we began operating the Linville Gorge Information Cabin, just outside Linville Gorge Wilderness. There, we’ve contacted over 10,000 visitors annually, issued overnight permits, shared information about the wilderness, and hosted community events on National Public Lands Day and National Trails Day.
We began working with national forests across the state on Wilderness Character Monitoring efforts in 2018. This marks the beginning of our Wilderness Specialist program. These wilderness experts work closely with Forest Service staff, completing Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment Reports and the associated Wilderness Character Narratives, helping the land managers in their mission to protect wilderness character. These essential monitoring efforts help unsure the benefits of wilderness will be protected for generations to come.