1. Waynesville native wins X Games gold. After cutting his teeth on the slopes of Cataloochee Ski Area, Zeb Powell left home at age 13 to study snowboarding seriously at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School. As a 19-year-old, he blew away the competition at his first-ever X Games competition, leading in all five runs to easily win the Wendy’s Snowboard Knuckle Huck in January.
2. Divisive forest planning process winds down peacefully. After an eight-year-long process that included countless rounds of public meetings and sharp-edged differences of opinion as to how the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests should be managed for the next two decades, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft plan this February that, by a seeming miracle, won the endorsement of groups that had found themselves at opposite poles throughout the process. This was largely due to a lengthy and intensely collaborative planning process and hard work from the Stakeholders Forum for the Nantahala and Pisgah Plan Revision. A final plan will be released this year.
The Chestnut Mountain The Chestnut Mountain property will offer hikers some beautiful vistas. SAHC photo
3. Canton gets a giant outdoor park. Thanks to a $3 million purchase by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, the town of Canton is now making plans to develop a 448-acre parcel just outside town limits as an outdoor recreation center. The town hopes that park — to include hiking, biking and camping areas, as well as picnic areas, playground and more — will be an economic shot in the arm to the small town and a gift to future generations.
4. In a lonely year, the Ten Acre Garden grew community. Every Saturday during the growing season, this family-owned farm in Haywood County offers a giant ‘y’all come,’ inviting all who wish to come by for a freshly baked pizza (free, but tips appreciated!). Guests are invited to linger as long as they want at the outdoor tables set up around the outdoor pizza oven, bring their own drinks or sides to accompany the sizzling pies, and explore the farm or enjoy the musicians who often stop by. In a year of isolation, the garden offered a golden opportunity for connection.
5. Air quality shot through the roof. In one of the few welcome side effects from the pandemic that forced most Americans to stay home more than ever before, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality reported the cleanest air on record in 2020. Compared to 2019, data showed double-digit percentage decreases in toxic nitrogen oxides in urban areas across the state, with markedly fewer ozone warnings as well. However, air quality has been on an upward trajectory for decades. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the standard visual range on the most impaired days has nearly doubled from 28 miles in 2009 to just under 50 miles in 2018.
6. WCU biological collections get some love. Thanks to a $517,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a collection of 47,000 plants and animals currently tucked away in various rooms of Western Carolina University’s Stillwell building will have a new home. The grant, timed to coincide with completion of the $110 million Tom Apodaca Science Building in 2021, will allow the collections to be organized and curated with a rotating display to be prominently features on the Apodaca building’s fifth floor.
7. Bipartisan vote delivers historic funding bill for public lands. The Great American Outdoors Act, hailed as the largest single investment in public lands in the nation’s history, was signed into law on Aug. 4. The act dedicates up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the much larger maintenance backlog on federal lands, as well as $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has for the past 50 years protected land for parks, wildlife refuges and recreation nationwide. The law requires that half of the money received from energy development revenues on federal lands and waters go toward these programs, not to exceed $1.9 billion in any fiscal year.
8. Outdoor retailers rake in the dough. Thanks to record-breaking visitation at public lands and an explosion of interest in outdoor recreation due to the pandemic, Western North Carolina’s outdoor economy did quite well this year. Back in May, many business owners were skeptical that they’d even be able to stay afloat. By October, outdoor retailers were reporting difficulty keeping much inventory on the shelves, and outfitters able to navigate the issue of safely transporting strangers amid the pandemic were reporting record demand for trips.
A crew member works to construct a rock wall on the Trillium Gap Trail at Grotto Falls. NPS photo
9. Six years of work smooth the way to LeConte. This year marked the completion of the Trillium Gap Trail rehabilitation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making Trillium Gap the third trail to Mount LeConte to receive a complete overhaul courtesy of the Trails Forever Program in partnership with Friends of the Smokies. Like the Trillium Gap project, the other two trail rehabilitations — Alum Cave and Rainbow Falls — each took two years to complete. Next year the crew will move away from LeConte and work on renovating the Abrams Falls Trail.
Terry Rogers celebrates his induction to the WNC Agricultural Hall of Fame surrounded by family, including his wife Fran, granddaughter Jessica Todd and three great-grandchildren. Donated photo
10. Crabtree farmer gets regional recognition. According to Kyle Miller, Terry Rogers, “became a farmer soon after he came home from the hospital as a newborn.” Now 79, Rogers represents the fifth generation of his family to have farmed the same fields in the upper Crabtree area of Haywood County. Thanks to a nomination from Miller, Rogers was one of two people inducted into the WNC Agricultural Hall of Fame this year. Rogers’ many accomplishments include organizing the effort that culminated with creation of the WNC Regional Livestock Center in Canton and generous investment of time and money in agricultural programs for Haywood’s youth.