Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) has introduced legislation to improve access to Catawba Falls and the Pisgah National Forest in McDowell County. The bill, H.R. 1002, would adjust the boundaries of the Pisgah National Forest to include a total of 301 acres of additional land: 213 acres that the federal government has previously obtained, and an additional 88-acre tract of land now owned by a private landowner.

Visitors currently must pass through a steep and rugged wooded area to reach the falls, and the difficulty of access often leads hikers to trespass across the privately held property. The bill requires that any federal acquisition of the smaller, privately-owned tract be based on willingness from both the seller and the buyer and the federal government would not use eminent domain. The legislation would allow the Forest Service to use existing Land and Water Conservation Funds for the acquisition of the 88-acre tract. The McDowell County Board of Commissioners unanimously supports efforts to ensure access to Catawba Falls by acquiring the additional tract, and sportsmen and conservation groups are also in favor of the legislation, according to a press release from Shuler’s office.