Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is located in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. It’s administered by the United States Forest Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. The forest is entirely contained within the boundaries of North Carolina. It is managed together with the other 3 North Carolina National Forests, Nantahala, Croatan, and Uwharrie, from common headquarters that are located in Asheville, North Carolina. The local ranger district offices can be found in Pisgah Forest, Burnsville, and Nebo.

It covers 512,758 acres of mountainous terrain in the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, including some parts of the Blue Ridge Mountain and the Great Balsam Mountains. The elevations reach an excess of 6,000 feet and include some of the highest mountains within the eastern United States. Mount Mitchell, within Mount Mitchell State Park, is the highest mountain located east of the Mississippi River and sits just outside of the boundary of Pisgah National Forest. The forest includes tracts surrounding the city of Asheville and Brevard and some land in the French Broad River Valley as well. Recreational activities include backpacking and hiking among other things. The land and the resources on it are also utilized for hunting, timber harvesting, wildlife management, in addition to the North Carolina Arboretum. It lies in some parts of 12 counties within western North Carolina. These counties are McDowell, Haywood, Transylvania, Caldwell, Madison, Yancey, Burke, Avery, Mitchell, Henderson, Buncombe, and Watauga.

Around 46,600 acres of old-growth forests have been recognized within the forest, with 10,000 acres in Linville Gorge.

It is divided into 4 Ranger Districts: Appalachian, Grandfather, French Broad, and Pisgah districts. The Grandfather and the Appalachian districts are located in the northern mountains of North Carolina and include areas such as the Linville Gorge Wilderness, the watersheds of the Toe and Cane Rivers, Wilson Creek, Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Roan Mountain, and the Big Ivy/Coleman Boundary area. The French Broad Ranger District extends along the Tennessee border from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that lies north of the Hot Springs. The Appalachian Trail passes through this area of the forest.

Bent Creek, Davidson River, and Mills River, 3 main streams and tributaries of the French Broad River, can be found in the Pisgah Ranger District, which is located on either side of the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, along the Pisgah Ridge and the Balsam Mountains. Three long distance recreational trails, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Art Loeb Trail, and the Shut-in Trail pass through this district. The Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses are also included in this district. The Blue Ridge Parkway divides this forest, and numerous National Forest and Parkway trails cross.

As it was established in the year 1916, it is one of the first national forests in the eastern United States. Some of the forest tracts were included in the first purchases by the Forest Service under the Weeks Act of 1911. While national forests had already been made within the western United States, the Weeks Act supplied the authority that was required to construct national forests within the east also. Although tracts in the future Pisgah National Forest were amongst the first purchased under the Weeks Act, the very first to acquire formal approval was the 31,000 acre Gennett Purchase located in Northern Georgia. On the 25th of March in 1921, Boone National Forest was included to Pisgah, and on the 10th of July in 1936, the majority of Unaka National Forest was added as well. In the year 1954, the Pisgah National Forest was organizationally combined with the Croatan and the Nantahala National Forests, jointly known as the National Forests of North Carolina.

American forestry owns roots in what is currently the Pisgah National Forest. The Cradle of Forestry, Biltmore Forest School, can be found in the southern portion of the forest, was the location of the first school of forestry within the United States. It functioned during the late 19th and 20th centuries. The school was initiated and managed by the direction of George Washington Vanderbilt II, the builder of the Biltmore Estate within Asheville. The Forestry Education provided at Biltmore was instructed by Carl Schenk. A native German Shenk was given a referral to Vanderbilt when Gifford Pinchot resigned to manage the newly created Division of Forestry. The Cradle of Forestry and the Biltmore Estate held a chief role in the birth on the United States Forest Service. Today, these lands are a part of an educational and recreational region in Pisgah National Forest.

Currently, there are 3 officially designated wilderness areas that lie within the boundaries of the forest that are a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. These areas are Middle Prong Wilderness, Shining Rock Wilderness, and Linville Gorge Wilderness.

Image Caption: Upper Creek Falls on Upper Creek (part of the Catawba River watershed) in the Pisgah National Forest. Credit: Ken Thomas/Wikipedia