The creation of the proposed Grandfather National Scenic Area (GNSA) would attract an additional 1.5 million visitors a year, resulting in the creation of 724 new jobs, while generating an additional $38.4M in annual revenue for Avery, Caldwell and Watauga Counties, according to an economic study released last week by Colorado State University.
The Scenic Area would encompass 25,500 acres of the Pisgah National Forest along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock and would apply scenic protections only to public lands currently managed by the Forest Service. The Scenic Area would stretch across portions of Avery, Caldwell and Watauga Counties and would not affect private property or private property rights.
“Most visitors cite natural beauty and scenic views as reasons they come to this area,” said Amanda Fife Lugenbell, Assistant Director of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority and Visitor Center. “As a tourism-based community, these scenic areas are undeniably important. Protection of these areas would only strengthen the area’s reputation as a travel destination.”
According to the most recent data from the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, tourism currently accounts for $312.09M and 4,190 jobs in the three-county region. A National Scenic Area would increase High Country tourism revenue and jobs by over ten percent.
“This is an economic stimulus in its own right–and it costs taxpayers nothing,” said Hanes Boren, owner of Footsloggers, a popular recreational outfitter located in Boone and Blowing Rock.
The scenic designation requires a congressional act in order to be realized. The Scenic Area proposal, which extends across the 5th and 10th congressional districts, has drawn support from the High Country’s community and business leaders, however Rep. Virginia Foxx (5th Dist.) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (10th Dist.) remain uncommitted.
Democratic challengers Roy Carter (5th Dist.) and Daniel Johnson (10h Dist.) have endorsed the scenic designation, citing benefits to the region’s environment and economy.
“We are confident that the recent economic study will inspire support from political leaders who have the power to see the Scenic Area through to reality,” said State Representative Cullie Tarleton (93rd District). “In this economy, the Scenic Area would provide this region with a huge boost.”
The concept for the GNSA was borne from a controversial Forest Service logging project in the Pisgah National Forest one mile south of Blowing Rock, NC.
In the 1980s, a series of Forest Service logging project left a legacy of scars throughout the Globe Forest clearly visible to Blowing Rock’s residents and tourists. Sediment from the projects also eliminated robust brook trout populations from a number of mountain streams.
In the wake of these unpopular clearcuts, the U.S. Forest Service promised the community that they would not log in the area again. The agency caught the community off guard, however, when they returned in February 2006 with plans to log the beloved Globe Forest yet again.
The Forest Service exacerbated the problem when they neglected to inform the Blowing Rock community, who learned about the project only after conservation group Wild South brought it to their attention in August 2006—one week before the comment period closed.
What followed was an unprecedented response from the community–over 1,800 citizens submitted comments to the agency opposing the project. The Blowing Rock Town Council followed suit and called for the creation of the Grandfather National Scenic Area in a unanimous resolution. The Boone Town Council and Watauga County Commission also passed unanimous resolutions endorsing the Scenic Area.