Downtown Cullowhee doesn’t look much like the thriving little town Rick Bennett found when he first moved to Jackson County in 1966. In the golden era of the 1970s, he reminisces, the little town boasted 17 restaurants, four gas stations, three grocery stores.
A far cry from the struggling crossroads in existence now, where cheap student housing fills buildings once inhabited by small businesses that just couldn’t make it and abandoned buildings punctuate the space between the few that have managed to stay open. The decline stems back to the construction of four-lane N.C. 107, which allowed traffic en route to Western Carolina University to bypass Cullowhee.
Jackson County will soon get a new park at Barkers Creek.
County commissioners approved a lease this week for a roughly 3-acre riverside site owned by Duke Energy for the bargain rate of $10 a year. It adds to a growing network of boat launched, put-ins, and recreation parks dotting the length of the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.
Walk into Bowed Up Outdoors, and the first thing you’ll notice is the friendly banter moving back and forth between customers seated at the stools in front of the gun counter and the staff on the other side of it. Then, your eyes will wander to the lineup of rifles hung on the wall behind the counter and travel past the rows of shooting accessories to the back wall, hung with a variety of bows — compound, recurve and long. An eight-lane indoor shooting range is hidden behind that wall, giving the Maggie Valley shop a claim to fame among counties west of Buncombe.
The woods are quiet on a cool Saturday morning in late March. There’s no wind swaying the still-bare trees or the rhododendrons clustered along streambeds. In this, one of the most remote trails of the Shining Rock Wilderness of Pisgah National Forest, the only sound comes from the occasional squirrel plowing through the bed of fallen leaves or bird sounding its call through the woods.
But then a soft buzz begins to float through the air. It pauses briefly, replaced by the sound of voices. A group of three is clustered around a fallen log, probably 2 or 3 feet in diameter, that’s lying across the faint path of the East Fork Trail. They analyze its position on the mountainside, its angle of contact with another trunk below the trail and the severity of the slope. Finally, trail crew volunteers Scotty Bowen and Richard Evans start up again with the crosscut saw, and the buzzing resumes.
Mountains and rivers shape the landscape of Western North Carolina, but when it comes to recreation programming, counties and municipalities tend to focus on facilities and league sports. Both the town of Waynesville and Jackson County, however, are working to look beyond the status quo to point people toward the beauty in their own backyards.
Western North Carolina is covered with more than 1,500 square miles of national forest, and residents often measure their assets in terms of towering hardwoods, flocks of turkeys and mountain streams.
National forest land belongs to everybody, but “everybody” includes a pretty diverse group of hikers, bird watchers, hunters, mountain bikers, horseback riders, fishermen, paddlers, environmentalists, loggers and so on — all with different ideas and priorities. As the U.S. Forest Service works toward a new guiding management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, it’s a challenge to find a strategy that “everybody” can agree on.
Macon County can count itself lucky for landing a $500,000 state recreation grant to help pay for a softball and baseball complex.
Macon County commissioners decided in a split vote this month to spend $3 million building a tournament-scale baseball and softball recreation complex.
“It’s been two years of pretty steady work, but it’s well worth it,” said Seth Adams, Macon County Parks and Recreation director. “I’m tickled to death that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
An indoor swimming pool, a river park in Dillsboro and more greenways emerged as top priorities in a 10-year master recreation plan created by the Jackson County’s Recreation and Parks Department.
Skateboarders from across Western North Carolina have streamed into Waynesville during the past week to try out the town’s newly opened $400,000 skate park.