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RIVERS ELIGIBLE TO BE “WILD, SCENIC.” ?

Excerpted from an article by Park Baker, Staff Writer for The Transylvania Times

“Many local residents will remember the push to save the Horsepasture River from a proposed hydroelectric facility that began in 1984.  The river flows into Transylvania County as it heads towards Lake Jocassee, dropping 1,700 feet over a stretch of four miles.  It is filled with spectacular waterfalls and slides that create a micro-climate like no other.  The Horsepasture was given the Wild and Scenic River designation in 1986 after passionate locals read about Carrasan Power Company’s intention to build a hydro station in a public notice in the Transylvania Times and fought for its protection.  Carrasan had planned to sell the power to Duke Power.

Those involved may or may not remember that there were proposed plans for dams on the Thompson and Whitewater Rivers as well.  Both of these rivers are now eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation, per the US Forest Service in its outgoing Pisgah/Nantahala National Forest Plan revision process.

But without the support and fervor of former Congressman Jamie Clark, the Horsepasture River never would have made it past the “eligibility” stage and into a suitability study. (“Congressman Mark Meadows would have to introduce a bill suggesting classifying the rivers as Wild and Scenic…The Times emailed and called Meadows for comment and received no reply as of going to press.”)   That’s one way a river can become a Wild and Scenic River.

In other cases, the land manager, in this case the US Forest Service, identifies eligibility for inclusion in this inventory by checking off certain characteristics and asking the community if the river has any significant cultural, natural or recreational heritage…Some cultural importance near these waters includes cemeteries and home sites.  Recreationally, kayaking, hunting, canyoneering, fishing, waterfall viewing and photography top the list.

One of the (eligibility) characteristics is whether or not the river is “free-flowing”…Some other factors that contribute to a river’s eligibility include wildlife and their habitat located within the river’s corridor, including the fish.

Geology is also a consideration.  Planners at the Forest Service ask if the river contains unique geologic formations – erosional, volcanic or glacial.

…Both the Thompson and Whitewater are part of the Jocassee Gorges area, named by National Geographic magazine in 2014 as “one of the last 50 greatest places on Earth.”  The 40,000-acre area includes destinations such as Gorges State Park and the Toxaway Game Lands.  More rain falls on this escarpment than anywhere east of the Mississippi River.

Local resident Bill Thomas was a key figure in the conservation of the Horsepasture River…Thomas’ book “Dam It, No.” chronicles the work done to save the river from damming, and explains the process…”A congressman would have to be dedicated…if he wants it to go through.”  The Thompson is just as spectacular as the Horsepasture.  The Whitewater is different in that there’s the big upper falls, and then a long section of fairly quiet river. Then it drops over the lower Whitewater Falls, which is pretty nice.  It’s not as exciting as the Horsepasture, but still, it’s a beautiful country.  Inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Inventory would be two more jewels in Transylvania County’s crown.”

The Whitewater River is the location of Upper Whitewater Falls, the tallest falls east of the Mississippi River.  The Falls drop about 420 feet…just over the state line in SC, the Lower Whitewater Falls drops another 400 feet.  The entrance to the falls, located on NC 281, reopened this year after last autumn’s fires destroyed the stairs leading down to the viewing platform.

Putting these rivers in the public eye is concerning to some (local) folks such as David Whitmire…who grew up exploring and living off these lands, driving down the locally infamous Auger Hole Road and often staying for several nights with friends….I think the Thompson and Whitewater are both good candidates, and I would support asking Congressman Mark Meadows to back this initiative….

…Whitmire said the Davidson River has been eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation since the last (Forest Service) management plan was written.   While he considers the (Davidson)river beautiful, he does not consider it “wild and scenic.”  Whitmire said he is also concerned with doing riparian restoration work, using the plight of the  hemlock as an example, and said he hopes any designation will not hinder any kind of restoration efforts…”

SOURCE:  Park Baker for The Transylvania Times (Brevard, NC)  IMAGE:  Thompson River – rootsrated.com

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