A new trail management plan designed to rein in heavy use by competing forms of recreation in Panthertown Valley will be discussed at a public meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the Cashiers Library.
The Friends of Panthertown organized the meeting to inform the public about changes coming to the trails in Panthertown Valley.
The forest service recently finalized a trail management plan that will designate certain trails as hiker only, making them off-limits to horseback riders and mountain bikes.
Panthertown is a 6,000-acre tract near Cashiers with unique features, including a bowl-shaped valley, granite domes and waterfalls. It has historically been a free-for-all, with all uses allowed on all trails. But a rise in popularity was causing conflict between users as well as damage to more fragile trails, according to the forest service.
Restrictions will “maintain the recreational experience provided by Panthertown” and “prevent resource degradation,” Forest Supervisor Mike Wilkins wrote in his justification of the final trail plan.
About half the trails in Panthertown will now be for hikers only. In addition, commercial horse trips and guided mountain bike trips will no longer be allowed anywhere in Panthertown.
The new trail management plan has been several years in the making. As part of the plan, parking will be improved at three access areas and trail signage will be installed noting the names of trails and distances. Some users created trails through fragile areas will be decommissioned. Camping will continue to be allowed anywhere, except within 50 feet of a creek.
Friends of Panthertown has arranged for a representative from the forest service to attend the meeting to answer questions about the new recreation management plan.
“We encourage you to attend the meeting to learn how you can support Friends of Panthertown and become a part of what’s going on in Panthertown Valley,” said Nina Elliott, the Friends of Panthertown coordinator.
Friends of Panthertown has worked closely with the forest service during the process to provide feedback and represent stakeholders. The group organizes monthly trail workdays and other volunteer projects, logging more than 1,500 hours maintaining trails, building bulletin boards at trailheads, and collaborating with the forest service on a new trail map last year.
Friends of Panthertown will coordinate volunteer labor to help implement elements on the new trail plan, including trail rehab and installing trail markers and signage. Work days are on the fourth Saturday of the month.