CFWNC partners extensively with a committed network of land trusts and nonprofits working to protect natural resources. Many of these conservation projects also support economic development, as a healthy environment is good for people and business. Supporting natural resource initiatives also enables CFWNC to extend its reach in rural counties.
CFWNC’s support of this type of work is long and deep. In 2015, a Natural and Cultural Resources grant supported a reconciliation process and a number of subsequent grants that resulted in the development of the Nikwasi Initiative and Cherokee Cultural Corridor. Led by Mainspring Conservation Trust, the effort prioritized community building and local leadership.
Recently, Mainspring was awarded a $40,000 grant to complete necessary due diligence to acquire and remove the Ela Dam in Swain County adjoining the Qualla Boundary. Removal will open 549 river miles of the Oconaluftee River and its tributaries. The project is deeply collaborative and of significant social, environmental and cultural benefit.
“The Ela Dam removal project is one we could not have pursued without help from CFWNC,” said Jordan Smith, Mainspring Executive Director. “Their funding allowed us to obtain the legal expertise to feel confident moving forward with such a complex project. This is only one example of the out-of-the-box projects Mainspring has undertaken with CFWNC support. Its staff recognizes the big picture and has been a critical partner for projects unique to land trusts that have benefited far-western North Carolina.”
CFWNC has been deeply engaged with the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership for more than a decade. The group formed to provide public input to the Forest Service’s management plan. The health and management of the Forest affects us all and directly impacts thirteen of the eighteen counties CFWNC serves. The first grant to support this work was made in 2010; the most recent was approved in May.
In 2021, RiverLink completed an economic study of the French Broad River with CFWNC support. The data indicated that the total economic and fiscal impact of the River is $3.8 billion annually with an environmental impact estimate of $2.4 billion. The information is being used to engage industry, government, chambers of commerce, river users and the broader community to garner support for better protection of the River so it will remain an asset – for all of us.
Our natural assets underpin our way of life, and CFWNC remains committed. In partnership with others, funds have supported the Ecusta Trail in Henderson and Transylvania counties; inclusive growth in Old Fort; a wildlife safe passage on I-40 in the Pigeon River Gorge; and the Wolfpen Loop Trail connecting to the Wilderness Gateway State Trail that will link over 55,000 acres of conservation lands across Catawba, Burke, McDowell and Rutherford counties. These projects and others acknowledge that taking responsible and strategic care of resources supports our quality of life and is good policy.
People who live in our region care about clean water sources, farmland protection, economic opportunities in outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, responsible growth and environmental stewardship. Our economy and environment are inextricably linked; forests and rivers cross boundaries and county lines. Our collective concern and care is a shared regional value, one that we can build on.