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Stories of the Land: Flowing into the Future
"I’ve always been fascinated by waterfalls. There’s something about them that excites our senses far beyond most other natural subjects,” said Kevin Adams, acclaimed Western North Carolina outdoor photographer and author.
“Some say it’s the sight of moving water, some the sound.”
Adams also suggested that many enthusiasts — known as “waterfallers” — cite a theory that negative ions created by falling water provide special emotional stimulus and feelings of tranquility.
“You won’t find many mainstream scientists supporting such notion,” he conceded.
“I suspect it has something to do with the fact that waterfalls affect four of our senses. We feel the cool spray. We smell the freshness. We hear the falling water. And, of course, we see the beauty.”
As a child, Adams’ family vacations were always to the North Carolina mountains in search of waterfalls. Adams, now 55, first got hold of a camera as a birthday present from his wife, Patricia, in 1985.
“Since I give everything I have or nothing at all, that camera was going to sit on a shelf and collect dust, or it was going to change my life,” Adams said. “You can guess which one happened."
In the three decades since, Adams has been seeing — and capturing — the beauty of those falls he first saw as a child from behind the lens of a camera.
After seeking out and shooting more than 1,000 waterfalls in WNC during that time, Adams became the preeminent waterfall expert and photographer of our region. He recently released the third edition of his book “North Carolina’s Waterfalls.” The hiking and photography guide is the resounding authority on the subject.
“I’m happier pointing my camera at a cascading mountain than at any other nature subject," he said. "I just can’t tell you why.”
While Adams revels in the beauty of the waterfalls that he captures with his camera, he never takes for granted that such natural splendor can be quickly tarnished or lost if not protected.
He often utilizes his photography to advocate for land conservation efforts, masterfully showcasing the grandeur of our natural treasures in his images. Adams hopes they will inspire others to adopt a yearning to preserve them.
“Every acre that is protected is important. And when those acres are along streams, particularly in the headwaters, it leads to permanent protection of the water resources,” Adams said. “There are many cases of local organizations preventing development that would have destroyed waterfalls and lowered the water quality of the streams.
“Specifically, I know of dozens of beautiful waterfalls on pristine streams that would be at risk if not for the work of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.”
Read on to find out about the waterfalls conserved by CMLC, and how they came to be protected. As an additional resource, check out Adams’ impeccable book for more information and directions to many of these falls. You can find it, and more information on WNC waterfalls, at kadamsphoto.com. While you’re at it, thank him for his help in protecting these falls, too.
Little Bearwallow Falls
Little Bearwallow Falls requires a good rainfall to show off its full glory, but its 100-plus-foot height makes it the tallest waterfall protected by CMLC. This waterfall slides over an impressive exposed rock face that forms the steep walls of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge in Gerton.
After purchasing the falls and its surrounding 138 acres in 2013, CMLC constructed a public trail to its base the following year. The waterfall is now one of the highlight destinations in CMLC’s budding trail network that connects more protected lands, including Bearwallow Mountain and Florence Nature Preserve.
For more than a century, Transylvania County’s 85-foot Connestee Falls has been a popular natural roadside attraction on U.S. Highway 276. The most recent private owner of the falls, Dick Smith of Brevard, sought out CMLC to protect the falls and its seven surrounding acres with a conservation easement in 2008.
Smith also sold the property to the land trust, who conveyed it to Transylvania County the following year for the establishment of Connestee Falls Park, which opened in 2011.
The park actually hosts three waterfalls. Carson Creek flows over Connestee Falls, the largest of the three both in height and width. Immediately adjacent is the 40-foot Batson Creek Falls, which converges with Connestee Falls to form a narrow flume — a third falls known as Silver Slip.
“God made that waterfall for all of us to enjoy,” said Smith. “Now it's available to everybody, now and forever.”
DuPont State Recreational Forest is widely known for its treasure trove of locally beloved waterfalls. Specifically three of them — Hooker Falls, Wintergreen Falls and Grassy Creek Falls — were within the initial 7,600-acre land acquisition in 1996 that led to the creation of the state forest.
Through its leadership from state Rep. Chuck McGrady, CMLC helped facilitate The Conservation Fund (TCF) and state of North Carolina to seek purchase of land that today comprises three-quarters of DuPont.
“Land conservancies like CMLC often serve as vital intermediaries in the process of securing important protection,” Adams said. “They know the region better than anyone, what needs to be protected, and they have the local infrastructure to make it happen.”
Such was the case again with the recent establishment of the new Headwaters State Forest in southern Transylvania County. CMLC once more sought partnership with TCF and the N.C. Forest Service to seek conservation of 8,000 acres comprising the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River.
The newest state forest hosts three significant waterfalls: Reece Place Falls, Gravely Falls and East Fork Falls. The latter you can easily visit alongside East Fork Road. The two former falls, which are particularly picturesque, do not yet have public access. But don’t despair, it’s coming soon.
Conservation partners have acquired 5,000 acres for Headwaters State Forest to date. When the remaining 3,000 are added to protection — which is on pace to occur in the next few years — and management strategies determined, the N.C. Forest Service will enable access to these falls. They’ll be worth the wait.
Green River Preserve
Standing directly underneath the icy cold waters of Uncles Falls on Green River Preserve (GRP), a summer camp in southern Henderson County, yelling “polar bear” three times has been a decades-old rite of passage for camp kids. The falls and 2,600 acres of GRP is protected by a conservation easement with CMLC.
While private, CMLC sometimes hosts guided hikes to Uncles Falls, and GRP occasionally hosts access dates for members of the land trust when camp is not in session.
The 5-foot Siller Falls isn’t especially impressive when compared to others highlighted in this column. But its location — down the mountain and beneath the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Polk County — makes it special.
Technically located in the Piedmont, Vaughn Creek has the enchanting feel of a bona fide mountain stream. Formerly the site of a mill, you can view Siller Falls from the Vaughn Creek Greenway, a half-mile walking path that parallels the creek. CMLC facilitated acquisition of 9 acres and development of the greenway in coordination with the town of Tryon in 2012.
Transylvania County’s Johnson Branch and its upper tributaries on the slope of See Off Mountain harbor an impressive bounty of scenic waterfalls. The falls are on private property on land protected by a CMLC conservation easement. The landowners graciously host a CMLC-guided hike each year for land conservation supporters wishing to see them.
Rockbrook Camp for Girls, also in Transylvania County and protected by a CMLC conservation easement, hosts two waterfalls: Rockbrook Camp Falls and Stick Biscuit Falls. Like GRP, the camp is private but occasionally hosts CMLC-guided hikes.
Pool Creek Falls
Pool Creek Falls slides down nearly 100 feet of rock within the backcountry portion of Chimney Rock State Park. The falls is within Worlds Edge, a 1,568-acre tract that CMLC and partners purchased for addition to the state park in 2005. While no public access to the falls currently exists, recent Connect NC bond funding will soon help initial development of a day-use area for visitors to Worlds Edge.
Because of the forward thinking of many landowners, agencies and organizations who sought to ensure the continued beauty of these natural wonders into the future, each of these conserved waterfalls will remain as beautiful as they appear in Adams’ photos today.
“Local land conservancies provide a vital role in protecting waterfalls and lands around them,” Adams said. “As a waterfaller, CMLC and our region’s land trusts are my heroes.”
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.