Wildlife lovers can help conserve North Carolina’s nongame and rare wildlife species — and their habitats — by making a donation on line No. 30 of the N.C. income tax form.

Pristine and nearly untouched by the hands of humans, the Town of Waynesville’s watershed has been hailed as a visionary acquisition by the town since its establishment around 1913.

When rain finally quelled the wildfires running rampant through the Southeastern U.S. last year, the public was breathing a collective sigh of relief while the scientific community spotted an opportunity. Fall 2016 was a wildfire event unlike anything seen in recent history — in the eastern part of the country, at least — and the blazes left behind a natural laboratory to study what happens on a burned landscape once the flames fade.

“It’s a unique opportunity, because the forested areas — especially the high northern hardwoods areas — burn very infrequently,” said Sarah Workman, associate director of the Highlands Biological Station.

As the drought of 2016 progressed, flows of streams and rivers dwindled region-wide — and the Tuckasegee River, water source for most of Jackson County, was no exception.

From the control room of Canton’s water plant, a steady barrage of numbers flash across the computer monitors.

As days slid by without rain last fall, and the days stacked into weeks, Neil Carpenter watched the water gauge on Jonathan Creek like the ticking hands of a doomsday clock.

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Carpenter usually has 4 million gallons of water a day at his fingertips — triple what he needs to serve the 3,800 homes and businesses in greater Maggie Valley.

Dowdy Bradley is 68 years old, and for nearly all of those years he’s been involved in some kind of farming, staying with the land through drought and flood, surplus and scarcity. The drought of 2016, however, has been the worst, hands-down — for him and for growers throughout the region. 

“This has been some of the hottest, driest weather I’ve seen, “ Bradley said. “I was worried about the water because it was already getting low. A couple pastures just dried up.”

It took mere hours for the Chimney Tops 2 Fire to escape the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and sweep down to engulf parts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Monday, Nov. 28. But as wind fueled the roaring fire, rain was on its way. The first drops of precipitation fell late Monday night, continuing into a steady rain Tuesday morning. More rain came on Wednesday, and precipitation resumed Sunday, Dec. 4, with rain still falling as of press time Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Just as wildfires were beginning to subside in North Carolina, gusty winds whipped a flare-up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into a frenzy that climbed down the mountain to enter the town of Gatlinburg and spur forced evacuations around the area.

The severe drought plaguing Western North Carolina has taken its toll on the local water supply, and residents are being asked to conserve what they can. 

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