HeardTell: The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library

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Social Activism Matters

In 1988 concerned residents, mostly from Black Mountain, noticed mass areas of clear-cutting at the Asheville North Fork watershed. The Asheville-Buncombe Water Authority on a split vote had awarded a contract to remove trees on 51 acres at the reservoir. The panorama of the Asheville watershed provided one of the most majestic scenes from the Blue Ridge Parkway before the clear-cutting. At the same time the Asheville Tourism Development Authority was using a full-page photo of the area taken just before the clear-cutting that appeared in Southern Living and other national publications.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, of the "Asheville watershed and North Fork Lake." Chamber photo by Lou Harshaw. Published 1957 in Asheville City Directory. H492-8

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, of the “Asheville watershed and North Fork Lake.” Chamber photo by Lou Harshaw. Published 1957 in Asheville City Directory. H492-8

Believing that clear-cutting causes erosion and damages the diversity of plant and animal life, area residents formed a group called Citizens Against Clear-Cutting at Asheville Watershed and began circulating petitions opposing the Water Authority’s stand that there was little or no damage to the environment, and that it was necessary to properly manage the forest. The authority also felt mass clear-cutting increased water amounts in the reservoir and allowed for original growth trees to return. Opponents believed mass clear-cutting, besides being ugly, would produce sediment and perhaps bacteria in the watershed, and proposed selective cutting instead. The opponents to clear-cutting saw their role in this issue by taking note of their acronym, “CACAW” the sound the crows make as they fly over the watershed–the new group being the crows keeping an eye on what was going on down there. “We don’t like what we see so we’re warning the public just as crows do their fellows.” (David Watson, spokesperson.) Nineteen acres had already been cut.

CACAW and held a public meeting at Black Mountain Branch Library inviting the Water Authority, Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council. The water authority balked, saying they were doing what was best. Ralph Morris, chairman, declined to attend saying: “They’re making an issue out of something that doesn’t amount to much.” ‘[Asheville Citizen,” May 24, 1988.] Only three commissioners of the three groups attended the meeting.

But a petition of 2,000 area signatures, and the backing of Hugh Morton, owner of Grandfather Mountain added pressure. The clear-cutting was stopped–and eventually the entire 22,000 acre watershed (including Bee Tree) was put in a conservation easement that disallows commercial timbering altogether.

"Asheville Citizen," June 29, 1988

“Asheville Citizen,” June 29, 1988

But only a little after a year of working to stop clear-cutting at the reservoir, the U.S. Forest Service let a contract to clear-cut a 12-acre tract less that a mile to the west of Craggy Gardens in plain view from the visitor center. Once again Monroe Gilmour and the Western North Carolina Alliance stepped in and organized an effort to stop clearcutting on US Forest Service land adjacent to Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The contract had already been let and the Forest Service said they could do nothing about it, “it’s in Washington now.”  Only a week remained before the logging was to begin. It was Halloween, and the  WNCA organized a demonstration at the USFS Headquarters in Asheville with the theme, “the scariest thing on the horizon this Halloween is the US Forest Service.”    The publicity led to editorials in papers throughout the region, one referring to the “US Forest DisService.”   No one wanted clearcutting directly in front of the visitors centers at Craggy Gardens.  The USFS recognized this reality and, to their credit, found a way to cancel the clear cutting.

The Pisgah-Nantahala Campaign: Cut The Clearcutting Campaign was the 1989 effort by the Western North Carolina Alliance to draw attention to clear cutting throughout the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests all over Western North Carolina. Again, the petition drive was central to the campaign. A march down Patton Avenue and a rally afterwards were planned for April 15, 1989. The petition included more than 15,000 area residents. The individual petitions were taped together and then unfurled during the march. It was the length of three football fields and was presented to Bjorn Dahl, supervisor of the national forests in North Carolina. Seeing the document, Dahl replied, “Wow. It’s fair to say the people have spoken.”

clearcutting photo from book-hi res

Photo from “Blue Ridge Commons: Environments Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina” by Kathryn Newfont. Photo courtesy of Western North Carolina Alliance.

Cut The Clearcutting campaign was able to get the contract put on hold and eventually cancelled.  The original petition is housed at the offices of MountainTrue.

Photo of WNC Alliance's 1989 petition against clear-cutting taken by N.C. Room staff 4/2016.

Photo of WNC Alliance’s 1989 petition against clear-cutting taken by N.C. Room staff 4/2016.


Close-up photo of WNC Alliance's 1989 petition against clear-cutting.

Close-up photo of WNC Alliance’s 1989 petition against clear-cutting taken by N.C. Room staff 4/2016. O-160-DS


Photo of Bob Gale of MountainTrue holding the 1989 WNC Alliance petition against clear-cutting. O161-DS

Photo of Bob Gale Ecologist and Public Lands Director of MountainTrue holding the 1989 WNC Alliance petition against clear-cutting taken by N.C. Room staff 4/2016. O161-DS


Cut The Clearcutting was the 1989 effort by the WNCAlliance to draw attention to clear-cutting throughout the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests all over Western North Carolina. That effort led to a change in the U.S. Forest Service 15-year plan such that clear-cutting became the least preferred timber harvest method–rather than the most preferred as it had been before.

Cut The Clearcutting was an affiliate of Western North Carolina Alliance which was founded in 1982. In January 2015, three Western North Carolina environmental and conservation nonprofits joined forces to become MountainTrue. The Environmental and Conservation Organization, based in Henderson County and founded in 1987; Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance, based in Macon County and founded in 2000; and Western North Carolina Alliance, based in Buncombe County and founded in 1982.

Cut The Clearcutting Campaign (CCC) was featured in former Mars Hill professor and Thomas Wolfe Award winner, Kathryn Newfont’s book Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina — available in Pack Library!

Monroe Gilmour, organizer and spokesman for both campaigns recently donated his “Cut the Clearcutting” and “Citizens Against Clear-Cutting at Asheville Watershed”  documentary scrapbooks to the North Carolina Room. MS311.

Do you want to learn more about what social activism was taking place in Asheville during the 1980s and about what Social Agencies came about because of it?

Please join us for the third program in our series

Asheville in the 1980s:  A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It

Social Activism & Social Agencies.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 6:– pm to 7:30 pm

Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, Lower Level

Moderators: Ann Von Brock and Ellen Clarke.

Panelists: Gaylen Ehrlichman, Jeff Fobes, Ed Hay, John Hayes, Deborah Miles

Sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room

All events are free and open to the public.

These programs are comprised of panelists and two moderators, all of whom were involved in their subject area in Asheville during this decade.
All are on the last Wednesday of the month, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm.

April 27: Save Downtown Asheville & the Wrap
May 25: Businesses, Restaurants and Food Stores
June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies
July 27: Arts, Theater & Music
August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings
September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

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