WNC experts discuss sustainability of outdoor recreation

Head into Pisgah National Forest on any day of the week, and you’ll find activity out on the trails. From hikers standing atop Max Patch bald, enjoying stunning views of Mount Mitchell, to mountain bikers riding beside white pine and mountain laurel on the Foster Creek Trail, outdoors enthusiasts take advantage of Pisgah as just one of Western North Carolina’s hot spots for recreation.

Over 1.6 million acres of national forest across the region beckon hikers, bikers, climbers, rafters and hunters, among others, to enjoy the outdoors. The Pisgah Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to the well-being of the Pisgah Ranger District, estimates that between 3 million and 4 million people visit Pisgah each year, roughly half of the 7 million annual visitors to all national forests in the state.

Recreation tourism is an undeniable driving force of the local economy. Last year, researchers from Eastern Kentucky University found that outdoor recreation in Pisgah and Nantahala national forests generated $115 million in annual spending, supporting jobs and attracting businesses. But as people flock to Western North Carolina to take advantage of the region’s abundant outdoor recreational opportunities, they also bring a human impact to wild places.

Economically and socially, sustainable trail design means sharing stewardship and making trails accessible to everyone. As the Forest Service’s 2016 report on the National Strategy for a Sustainable Trail System explains it, a sustainable trail system should be supported by public and private interests in tandem and invite people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to recreate outdoors.

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