The changing face of Western North Carolina’s national forests

A million acres of national forests sounds like a lot, and indeed it is. But consider the 8.6 million people who visit the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests every year and those vast green swaths that checker any map of Western North Carolina don’t seem quite so big after all.

Recreation has grown exponentially in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests during the past 20 years, fueled in part by the number of people moving to the mountains precisely for that reason: because they like getting outdoors.

In fact, the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests lead the nation in outdoor recreation. Only White River National Forest in Colorado technically has more national forest visitors — but only technically. Mary Noel, planning officer for the Pisgah and Nantahala forests, is quick to point out that White Mountain counts all the visitors to the myriad ski slopes there, inflating the ranks of national forest users, compared to the Pisgah and Nantahala’s far more broad-based recreation numbers.

Outdoor recreation afforded by the Pisgah and Nantahala, and the quality of life it provides, has proven integral to WNC’s economy, and not just its tourist appeal.

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