From Industrial Site to Outdoor Treasure
DuPont Forest protects thousands of acres of trees, five lakes and more than one hundred miles of multi-use trails. It attracts hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers from all over the United States, and its six waterfalls have been featured in movies like The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans.
All of this natural beauty is easily accessible, increasing its appeal. It took not only the generosity of a multinational company but also Southern Appalachian grit and self-reliance and local activism to make these benefits available to all. DuPont Forest is young, and its future is still unfolding.
Author and hiker Danny Bernstein traces the past of DuPont State Recreational Forest and shows its potential.
Disclosure: I was contacted by the author, Danny Bernstein, and a representative of Arcadia Publishing with an offer to receive this book. It was provided at no cost to me. My only responsibility was an agreement to complete this review. I was not pressured in any way to make an endorsement.
As Ms. Bernstein describes in the first chapter, this written portrait of DuPont Forest uses historic documents, Dupont Corporation memos, newsletters, Friends of DuPont research and photographs, North Carolina Forest Service reports and newspaper clippings. It also relies on the best recollections of people in the area at various times.
Since it first opened in 1997 and was expanded a few years later, DuPont State Recreational Forest has been a haven for those who live in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, especially those in the Hendersonville, Brevard, Greenville region. It is only in recent years that the name DuPont has been spread far and wide as a world-class mountain biking destination, bringing with that well-earned notoriety nearly a million visitors per year.
I first moved to WNC in 2003, soon after all the political upheaval surrounding the establishment of DuPont Forest had begun to simmer down. So I was able to skip right over the tedium and jump directly to the enjoyment. With this book Danny Bernstein fills in the blanks of what happened prior to when I arrived, and offers a look at the problems created by the astronomical growth.
From the Cherokee Through DuPont Corporation
Ms. Bernstein takes us through the early development of what is now DuPont State Forest, including relics of the Native American past. There are petroglyphs to be found on the property. Many of the early settlers used the land and water as a respite from the summer heat and humidity of the Southeast. The mountains helped with that. I can certainly relate.
In the first half of the last century the bulk of the land was owned by two groups: the Guion family who farmed the land out what is now Sky Valley Road, and a consortium of families who constructed a lodge overlooking High Falls. The picnic shelter at High Falls now sits on that former site.
In the 1950s DuPont came along, eventually purchasing the entire acreage and building a plant that provided employment for more than a thousand residents of Henderson and Transylvania counties for decades. By all accounts DuPont was a good corporate citizen. The plant evolved over time, eventually settling on a films business and was sold multiple times. The final operator was the Belgian Agfa Corporation who closed and dismantled the plant in 2002.
The End of an Era
By the mid-1990s DuPont was ready to sell all the land. The eastern half was simple. It included Hooker and Wintergreen Falls and Stone Mountain. The process of turning over the land to the State of North Carolina went very smoothly, and in 1997 DuPont State Forest was born. As Danny wrote:
The DuPont Company was not demanding. It didn’t require that the forest be named after the company. But it was felt that there were so many DuPont retirees and employees in the area that it was right to acknowledge them. Everyone felt very good when the company sold such a large tract of land for a nominal price.
The other half of the property including the major waterfalls and the plant site was not as simple. It took five years of political squabbling to resolve many conflicts. Bernstein provides the details and helps us to understand the give and take, and the nail biting that occurred at the turn of the century. Spoiler alert: the land was saved, and merged with the original half to form a larger and more robust DuPont State Recreational Forest.
Today, DuPont is managed by the North Carolina Forest Service, though it seems more like a state park because of all the recreation opportunities. Bernstein describes what it’s like to walk in the varied timberlands:
In DuPont Forest, the most abundant natural community is montane oak-hikcory. Scarlet oak and white oak are the dominant trees on more than half the land. Widespread American chestnut sprouts are also found here. But pastureland was planted with white pine all at once.
Perhaps the largest contemporary problem for DuPont State Forest is managing its success. Crowds have boomed over the years with annual attendance approaching a million. The waterfalls area is especially packed, representing 75% of all the traffic. If you get out and about on other trails within the forest you are likely to find some solitude.
How to Get One
Danny Bernstein is a hiker, hike leader, and outdoor writer. She’s been a committed hiker since her early twenties, having completed the Appalachian Trail, all the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the South Beyond 6,000 peaks, the Mountains to Sea Trail across North Carolina and three Caminos de Santiago. She currently leads hikes for Carolina Mountain Club, Friends of the Smokies, and the Asheville Camino group.
She has written two Southern Appalachian hiking guides, The Mountains to Sea Trail Across North Carolina, published by The History Press, and Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey Through the National Parks of the South to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
In her previous life, she worked in computer science, way before computers were cool, first as a software developer and then as a professor of computer science. Her motto is “No place is too far to walk if you have the time.” Her personal website is Hiker to Hiker.
DuPont Forest – A History retails for US$21.99 and is published by The History Press. You can order copies from Amazon in softcover book form, or US$12.99 for your Kindle. You may also order from Arcadia Publishing.
This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.
- Tarklin Branch Trail to Wintergreen Falls and Thomas Cemetery Trail, DuPont State Forest
- Triple Falls, High Falls, Hooker Falls, DuPont State Forest
- Corn Mill Shoals Trail, Little River Trail, Cedar Rock Trail, Big Rock Trail, DuPont State Forest, NC
- Bridal Veil Falls, Grassy Creek Falls, Lake Imaging, DuPont State Forest