Mountain Mama: Who Guards the Waterfalls?

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“Who guards the waterfalls?” a twelve-year-old boy asked at the meeting last Thursday night with the U.S. Forest Service regarding Big Ivy’s future. The Barnardsville community and other supporters like me answered that question.

We will.

Hundreds of people filled the community room to capacity and another hundred stood outside or circled for parking. The Forest Service’s most recent draft plan for managing Big Ivy for the next two decades designated it suitable for timber production. The three representatives from the Forest Service, including Matt McCombs the District Ranger, emphasized that no site-specific plan is under consideration. Logging the forest is one of many viable outcomes for the area. The Forest Service’s typical response to questions included vague assurances.

“We’ll take that into consideration.”

“This is the 30,000-foot view of future management direction.”

“Gone are the days of clear cutting.”

But the crowd wasn’t relieved by their assurances and called them out on using forest speak. I’m a lawyer. I’ve waded through page-long sentences and am no stranger to legalese. Even to my lawyer-ears, most of the responses for the Forest Service contained references to dense regulations, convoluting to the point of being unintelligible.

Hands shot up in the air. “What are the chances that there will be logging in Big Ivy?”

Another man explained the eco-tourism driven economy in the area, pointing out that many in the crowds earned their livelihood from hosting weddings to renting out cabins to canopy tours. The local economy relies on the forest’s scenic appeal. He asked, “What do you need from us in terms of estimates of the impact of logging the forest on the economy? How can we gather that information for you?”

I’ve visited Big Ivy exactly once when I hiked to Douglas Falls, an impressive seventy-foot cascade of water from the top of the mountain into an idyllic mountain creek. I drove from Asheville to attend the meeting to protect the natural playground where so many like-minded friends come to hike, run, and bike.

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Many commenters reminded me that they were there to not only save a playground, but to save their heritage. They told about gathering food and medicine from the woods. Some moved to the area seeking fresh spring water. Others said their grandparents lived in these hills, describing the intangible quality that makes the forest special, sacred even. One person explained that Big Ivy is the culture and history of Barnardsville, the forest is the spirit of the people. Their greatest wish was to give their own children the opportunity to live in those hills too.

Parents brought their kids last Thursday night, their faces etched with an expression that as a single mom, I recognized – a fierce determination laced with doubt. They wanted to pass along the best parts of themselves – the land – to their children, but lived in the shadow of fear that the place in the world they valued most might be logged. Their legacy and home, the forests and waterfalls, the springs and clean air, the mountain spirit and sense of community, might not get passed on to the next generation.

A baby cried and I overheard someone grumble that parents should have hired a babysitter, but I think bringing kids to a meeting like that is akin to taking kids to church. It’s a message about values and morals, and passing those along, showing their kids what it means to stand up for what matters most in life.

The children seemed to already know they live in a special place, and they spoke about how much they loved the view from their homes and how they visited the forests before they could even walk.

The Forest Service representatives repeated the overwhelming opposition to the current proposal that the crowd imprinted upon them. They also stressed the importance of staying engaged in the process. Even if Big Ivy is safe for now, that’s no guarantee that policies or personnel or priorities won’t change a year or ten from now.

The crowd rallied for wilderness, a designation that would forever protect their sacred forests. The wilderness designation requires Congressional approval, but there are other designations that would bestow a greater level of protection for Big Ivy and the Friends of Big Ivy recommends that the 1 and 2a designations be replaced by 3, 4b, 5 and 6 (wilderness) designations.

If living with the uncertainty of future logging seems intolerable to you too, I can suggest some resources. Contact the District Ranger, Matt McCombs, at 632 Manor Road, Manors Hill, NC 28754, 828.689.9694. Email your concerns to
ncplanrevision@fs.fed.us. Follow Friends of the Big Ivy on Facebook and check their website for future meetings.

The fight for Big Ivy will be on going. Get involved. Stay engaged.

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