Should people pay to play in Pisgah National Forest?

Patrick Scott walks 380 miles for work.

It’s not every day, but that’s how many miles curve, dip and roll through the Pisgah National Forest. If laid end to end, those trails would stretch from Asheville, NC to Montgomery, Alabama, and Scott, the forest’s Pisgah District trail program manager, must oversee them all.

The undertaking is daunting not just for the miles, but for the rapidly growing number of people who take to the trails to hike, mountain bike, rock climb, run, ride horses and use off-road vehicles.

Annual visitation reaches 4.6 million a year, leaving parking lots overflowing with vehicles and trails rutted and worn, with soil and sediment given free rein to run downill and pollute creeks and rivers.

Rehabbing, rerouting and caring for damaged trails comes with a price tag in the millions and would overwhelm the four rangers assigned to the Pisgah District. Trail work already ranks last on the list of priorities, Scott said.

The cost of upkeep has led again to the idea of paying to play in the forest, something that could affect all users or target uses with the greatest potential for causing damage, such as mountain biking and horseback riding.

“Bikes make ruts in the trail and horses make footprints that fill in with water,” North Carolina Horseman’s Council President Tom Thomas said. “One of our major things is to keep streams clean. To do that, we keep water off the trail.”

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