Places We Are Fighting For: The Craggies

You already know that Buncombe County is the most populous and developed county in Western North Carolina.

But you probably didn’t know that it’s also home to one of the largest old-growth forests in the East.

The Craggies—a section of Pisgah National Forest in the northeast corner of Buncombe County near Barnardsville—is one of the wildest spots in Appalachia. It shelters over 40 rare and endangered species and is one of the country’s most biologically diverse forests. And they are only a short drive from downtown Asheville.

Even if you haven’t visited the Craggies, you’ve probably seen them: it’s the most photographed spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The vistas from Craggy Gardens span the unscarred, unbroken forests of the Big Ivy section of Pisgah National Forest.

The Craggies protects the headwaters of the Ivy River, an important tributary of the French Broad and the drinking water supply for the town of Weaverville. It’s also one of the most popular recreation areas in Western North Carolina—an outdoor oasis for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fly fishing, climbing, trail running, and horseback riding.

Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed in the Craggies, including The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans. Dozens of cascades—including 70-foot Douglas Falls—thunder down its rugged slopes. The Craggies’ scenic and recreational opportunities have also attracted ecotourism, agritourism, and jobs: Navitat Canopy Tours has helped revitalize the local Barnardsville economy, and local family farms, including Dillingham Family Farm and Ivy Creek Family Farm, are highlights of farm tours and tailgate markets. Colleges and universities across the region bring students to the Craggies for education and research in its living laboratories of old-growth forests.

The Forest Service is rewriting its management plan for the entire Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. This plan will govern how the forest is managed for the next two decades.

The local outdoor community believes that Big Ivy and the Craggies are far more valuable as a protected watershed, viewshed, and world-class recreation destination than a timber sale. They believe the Craggies deserve permanent protection from logging.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council have agreed. Both have voted unanimously to support an expanded wilderness and bike-friendly national recreation area for Big Ivy.

Instead of leaving most of the forest open to logging, the Buncombe County and Asheville resolutions support permanently protecting most of the forest for recreation and biological diversity, especially its old-growth forests, rare species habitat, scenic vistas, and pristine headwaters.

A Big Ivy wilderness has overwhelming public support. In 2015, over 300 people packed the Big Ivy Community Center (and at least 100 more were locked out of the meeting due to fire code restrictions) to oppose potential logging in Big Ivy.

And at the commissioners’ meeting in 2016, nearly 200 Big Ivy supporters flooded the chambers and overflowed into adjacent rooms. The public comment period lasted for nearly two hours. Not a single person spoke against wilderness. There were plenty of hippies, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts speaking in support of a Big Ivy wilderness. But they were joined by some the region’s most respected biologists—including UNC-Asheville professor and Smithsonian botanist Dr. David Clarke, Warren Wilson College biologists Dr. J.J. Apodaca and Dr. Liesl Erb, renowned old-growth expert Josh Kelly, and Mars Hill College’s Dr. Alan Smith, who has spent 39 years conducting field research in Big Ivy.

There are places in Western North Carolina where logging may be appropriate. But the Craggies—with its old-growth forests, rare species, pristine headwaters, and panoramic vistas—is not one those places.  The Craggies are far more valuable as an intact forest, a cornerstone of recreation, tourism, and biodiversity in Western North Carolina.

Let’s keep the Craggies just the way they are – wild, scenic, adventurous, and uncut.