On Tuesday, Feb. 8, Macon County commissioners will have an opportunity to make history. The opportunity is to vote on their support for the creation of the 3,200 acre Bob Zahner Wilderness in Macon county. This area, established as the Overflow Wilderness Study Area in 1984 when NC’s last wilderness bill was passed, will permanently protect the area from future logging and additional roads. Nothing will change with this designation except permanent protection of the area. Current roads will remain open, along with campsites along those roads, buffers will be maintained around overlooks to maintain views, and all current uses such as hunting, fishing, horseback riding and hiking will continue.
However, our commissioners have been receiving misinformation on this designation from those who are opposed to it, and unfortunately some of them seem to believe it. Opponents are telling commissioners that the Forest Service will close the roads into the area, despite the fact that the Forest Service has been present at meetings and know that this is not the case.
Hopefully these myths can be squelched by the 8th, as getting this vote is critical in moving this designation to the next level, which is introduction of the area as a wilderness bill by Congessman Shuler. Importantly, the Highlands Town Board of Commissioners has passed a unanimous resolution in favor, along with the Highlands Chamber of Commerce, NC Bartram Trail Society, Nantahala Hiking Club, Highlands Audubon, Jackson-Macon Alliance, Western North Carolina Alliance, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, and Highlands Greenway Committee. With the passage of the bill, Macon County (along with Buncombe County, which recently passed a unanimous resolution in favor of the Craggy Mountains Wilderness) will be part of the first of such legislation in 26 years. This is significant, as with over a million acres of National Forest in western North Carolina, only 65,000 acres is permanently protected as wilderness. This is the highest level of protection we can bestow upon a piece of land, and is a fitting way to honor local conservationist Bob Zahner. We have nothing to lose with this, and a tremendous amount to gain.
Brent Martin — The Wilderness Society