Linked to the landscape: Community envisions Plott Balsams’ future

The doors opened, and the room filled — with hikers, bikers, ecologists, conservation workers, economic development professionals and Cherokee tribal members alike who were intent on making their voices heard during a public forum last week, which took input on plans that will impact the future of Waterrock Knob and the Plott Balsams.

“What I love is the passion that people bring to conversations like this,” said Leesa Brandon, spokesperson for the Blue Ridge Parkway. “Their love of these places, their hopes for the future and the fact that the (National) Park Service is here hearing that along with all of these other community partners — it makes me really excited for the resource.”

In August 2016, the Park Service announced that land donations from a quartet of conservation organizations would add 5,329 acres to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Waterrock Knob, and that announcement spurred efforts to plan for the future on a regional scale.

While the Waterrock Knob addition will represent the largest expansion of the Parkway in 60 years, it’s far from being the only piece of conserved land along its length. The stretch from Waterrock to Maggie Valley has drawn particular attention from a litany of conservation organizations, with blocks of conserved acreage — as well as undeveloped tracts of private land being eyed for conservation.

Planning for the Plott Balsams won’t be completely focused on future generations and future use, however. A key part of the planning effort will be deciding how to interpret the past — the settlers who scratched out a living in these mountains years ago and the Cherokee people who called them home for millennia before that.

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