The Cullasaja River Gorge is a popular attraction in Western North Carolina. It symbolizes what people love about the Smoky Mountains with its exposed rock faces and rushing waterfalls, its foot paths and bountiful fishing holes. For a little more than nine miles, people of all ages and walks of life can experience the natural beauty that spans the distance between Franklin and the Town of Highlands. For 20 years the Highlands Chamber of Commerce has staged a cleanup along Highway 28/64 leading up the gorge. Before long, other local groups joined in the effort.
“We thought it was a no brainer to partner with Highlands, and help keep one of our beautiful natural assets clean, like the Cullasaja River Gorge,” said Matt Bateman from Stay and Play In The Smokies. “We also approached the Franklin Chamber of Commerce to see if they wanted to sponsor this initiative as well and they happily joined the effort.”
According to Bateman, last year's event had 25 volunteers from the Franklin area and about 60 overall. After scouring the roadsides and picking up anything that didn't belong there, participants were able to remove one metric ton of garbage from the gorge.
“Initiatives like these are crucial to our communities in several ways. For starters, it helps build that sense of community that everyone loves and makes our area so attractive to visitors and folks relocating,” said Bateman. “Next, it keeps our natural assets clean. Enough said. Finally, it shows neighboring towns working together towards a common goal which is pretty cool. This all ties back into each mission of the partners involved (tourism, community). Specifically, Venture Local Franklin has in their Vision Statement: 'VLF strives to collaboratively strengthen the regional economy, embrace our natural resources, and nurture entrepreneurial ventures with the ultimate goal of positioning Franklin as the leading community within our region.'”
Bateman, along with the Highlands Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, invite anybody who may be interested in joining in on the cleanup to do so.
“We are very happy to once again be joining forces with the Franklin Chamber of Commerce and Venture Local,” said Jennifer S. Cunningham, Highlands Visitors Center director. “It is nice to have different parts of the county joining forces to help clean up some of the most visited areas in the county. Even though the cleanup is only one day we hope that everyone in the area will be proactive in keeping our community clean so that it can be enjoyed throughout the year.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, N.C. Department of Transportation spent more than $16 million to remove approximately seven million pounds of roadside litter. Some other facts for consideration are:
Anybody who may be interested in helping out this year can sign up on the Facebook Event Page: www.facebook.com/events/1421460951435290/
Volunteers will meet this Saturday, April 12, at 9 a.m. at the Pine Grove Baptist Church off on Highlands Road to carpool to assigned sections of the gorge. A free lunch will be provided for participants at Cliffside following the cleanup.