North Carolinians celebrate public trail access to Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls in North Carolina.

Citizens throughout North Carolina celebrated last week after the U.S. Forest Service purchased 88 acres which allow public access to the stunning Catawba Falls in the Pisgah National Forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Forest Service acquired the land from Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina using Federal Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). Secured by U.S. Congressmen Heath Shuler (D-NC, 11th District) and David Price (D-NC, 4th District) in legislation signed into law. The bipartisan support also came from NC senators Republican Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

The Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a program that provides matching grants to state and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities.

Representative Heath Shuler speaking at the media conference<br />
and celebration. “Acquiring this tract has been a priority for North Carolina’s National Forests for more than a decade,” said Marisue Hilliard, supervisor of N.C. National Forests. “We thank Foothills Conservancy, Congressmen Shuler and Price, and Senators Hagan and Burr for supporting this acquisition and the boundary expansion.”

Foothills Conservancy, a regional land trust, made the expansion possible by acquiring the land with a combination of loans and a donation by N.C. philanthropists and conservationists, Fred and Alice Stanback.

National and local supporters, including The Wilderness Society, helped advocate for funding for the Forest Service to acquire the land.

The Wilderness Society’s Pat Byington was a fierce advocate for the Catawba Falls Tract. Through spreading awareness, Byington was one of many local and national organizations that jumped on board to make these falls available to North Carolinians. Byington specifically helped advocate with elected officials in Washington for funding with this project.

"By joining forces and working closely with our partners, we have made Catawba Falls — a true North Carolina natural wonder — accessible to all," Byington said.

The acquisition was made official in March. Rep. Shuler was featured at a media conference and celebration in Old Fort. Several North Carolina media outlets, including The Asheville Citizen-Times and Asheville’s ABC affiliate — WLOS-Channel 13, covered the event.

From left to right: Tom Kenney, Pat Byington, Jay Leutze and Susie Hamrick Jones.Byington was there for the important occasion, and he also had the opportunity to shake Shuler’s hand and thank Senators Hagan and Burr’s representatives. Susie Hamrick Jones, executive director, and Tom Kenney, land protection director, were there on behalf of Foothills Conservancy.

“We hope that the Land and Water Conservation Funds that have come to North Carolina’s National Forests this year for Catawba Falls and for a Uwharrie tract herald a new day of funding support for other strategic additions to North Carolina’s national forests and parks,” Kenney said.

Catawba Falls in North Carolina.
Representative Heath Shuler speaking at the media conference and celebration.
From left to right: Tom Kenney (Foothills Conservancy), Pat Byington (The Wilderness Society), Jay Leutze and Susie Hamrick Jones (Foothills Conservancy).