Thursday, February 14, 2008

They're Wrecking It

We're going to destroy it all.

I'm convinced of it. This past weekend my son and I traveled to western North Carolina to camp and go hiking in the Nantahala National Forest near the towns of Cashiers and Highlands. Highlands has been known as an exclusive resort community for many years--decades, in fact.

(The land beyond this falls is private property. I don't know what lies beyond.)

For a long time it was a high income retreat for wealthy southerners, many from the Atlanta area. Real estate in and around Highlands has been at a premium for a very long time. Unfortunately for the bulk of the public, relatively very little of the South is in public hands. Unlike the states in the west, we east of the Mississippi River have had to make do with fewer parks and very little in the way of protected (or even regulated) forests.

(One has to hike past these hideous vacation homes along the ridge of Scaly Mountain to find your way to the summit.)

Highlands and its immediate vicinity is a textbook example of what can and will happen without stiff regulation and protection of forest lands for use by the wider public. As I've said before, every time I look upon the landscape of this part of the nation where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia meet, I am stunned at the sheer physical beauty on display. The highest sheer cliffs in the eastern USA are here.

There are so many waterfalls that some lie still undiscovered in the few pockets of forests that are rarely visited. There are groves of trees that have not been logged in hundreds of years, and even some spots that have never felt the teeth of a saw or the bite of an axe. The land rises abruptly from the Piedmont creating what some describe as a temperate rainforest packed hundreds of species of trees and dozens of types of amphibians.

The water table that has poured forth from this amazing terrain was once the cleanest and purest to be found in the east.

(The Chatooga River, which runs past private property, much of which prevents public access.)

But now, with unbridled development, with much of the land in private hands, it is all being quite literally loved to death by the wealthy elite. Tens of thousands of acres of forests are being plowed under to make way for subdivisions.

Mountaintops and ridgelines are off limits to the public, whom this wealthy elite looks upon with disdain and contempt. Waterfalls are fenced off for the benefit of a few families rich enough to afford to carve driveways to them where they can plant their enormous vacation homes.

(Yet another vacation home being ridge built.)

In short, the stunning beauty of these mountains is falling victim to the whims of a tiny minority of land developers hell-bent on the unintended destruction of that which they advertise as the source of the lure.

One can hike trails that were once in forest and which now meander past the front yards of multi-million dollar mansions. Peaks that could be climbed are now closed to the public and limited to the very damned few who can afford club memberships or the price of a lot within an exclusive development. Waterfalls are kept invisible to most of us and are now the privilege of only the wealthiest among us.
Something needs to be done. The time for conservation easements and half-hearted attempts to reclaim land for the use of the average citizen wishing to hike, to camp, to hunt, to fish, to find solitude is over.

These lands need to be either bought, or there should be a concerted drive to create parklands in this amazing place by use of eminent domain, condemnation, and seizure of property that never should have been private in the first place. If something is not done, then these mountains and valleys and streams and rivers and gorges will become nothing more than small suburban parks within a vast and connected mess of ruined lands.

The time is now. Parks via attrition, or parks by some method more immediate and less palatable for the rich who are wrecking it all.

(A rare bit of public land amidst the sprawl of private developments.)


dogboy443 said...

Bob-thanks for some absolutely stunning photos. Here in the North East, we have not even considered doing any nature hikes due to the 6 inches of snow and ice we've been dealing with this week. Maybe come June we'll actually be able to go out hiking.

HemlockMan said...

You're welcome. That was a good set of hikes. As I've said, we don't get much snow here in the South anymore. Not even very much in the NC high country, which has the highest peaks in the eastern USA. I really feel bad for the ski resorts down here.