Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. That also goes for value. Covering the landscape along a mountain road, trees are lovely to behold and create vistas that draw visitors — and their money — to western North Carolina. Thinned out, they provide prime habitat for many species of wildlife and a valuable source of timber. So the U.S. Forest Service plans to begin logging 212 acres south of Blowing Rock next year, despite the ill will the plan has reaped.
More than 1,000 people commented on the Forest Service’s initial proposal. Watauga County, Blowing Rock and Boone opposed it — an uncommon move for local governments — and passed resolutions supporting a special designation to protect the scenic views that help drive the region’s tourism industry. The Forest Service revised its plan and says it has bent over backward to accommodate complaints.
The harvest will be scattered throughout an 11,225-acre section of Pisgah National Forest, with no clear-cutting allowed. That will increase costs and reduce revenue for whoever wins the bid to cut the trees, says Bob Slocum, executive vice president of the North Carolina Forestry Association, which represents timber companies and related interests. “That type of harvest is what the Forest Service has gone to because of environmental pressure from various groups.”
The trees might be cut in stages over a decade, and those in popular scenic areas are more likely to be spared. “We’re leaving probably twice as many trees as we normally would,” Forest Service spokesman Terry Seyden says.
That might not be enough to appease opponents. At least one, Charlottesville, Va.-based Southern Environmental Law Center, isn’t ruling out a lawsuit that could delay or derail the project. It contends that the plan doesn’t adequately protect views or old-growth trees. Spokeswoman Cat McCue says the group will continue talking with the Forest Service in hopes of avoiding legal action, but that dialogue has gone on for several years. “We are willing to hear from the Forest Service again, but the community is very strongly behind a designated scenic area. And we support that.”
Even before the influx of neohippies, mountain folk had a tradition of doing their own thing. It has long been part of the highland charm. Bumper stickers urge: Keep Asheville Weird, and visitors seem to like the vibe. Downtown Asheville on a Saturday night can feel as lively as uptown Charlotte. But it's not the only place with a freaky streak. In nearby Haywood County, a state trooper discovered a small amount of marijuana in a car driven by the county tourism director. She says it wasn't hers. Even so, this could be an opportunity to plunder Asheville's thunder with another bumper sticker: Keep Our Mountains Smoky.