U.S. Forest Service, Asheville office
The U.S. Forest Service today announced that 12 sites in the lower portion of Mortimer Campground will remain closed indefinitely because of the risks that potential flash flooding poses to public safety. Eleven other sites at the campground will remain open. The campground, located in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest, is scheduled to open for the 2012 season on April 7, 2012.
“It is well known that the Mortimer area has a long history of flooding. In fact, the flood of 1940 leveled the town of Mortimer,” said John Crockett, Grandfather District ranger. “I, along with other Forest Service officials, recently reassessed the situation and conducted an on-site review of the Mortimer area. We cannot ignore the risks associated with continuing to offer these 12 campsites for overnight use.”
In 1940, rising waters from Wilson Creek destroyed the town of Mortimer. Most residents left the town after the natural disaster, and Mortimer became a ghost town. Today, remnants of some of the buildings destroyed during the flood still stand as reminders of the devastating weather event. The town was also flooded 24 years earlier.
It is also important to note that the Wilson Creek corridor, a major access to Mortimer Campground, has had a history of recent flooding with several swift-water rescues for campers and residents along the Brown Mountain Beach Road.
Mortimer Campground is located along Thorpe Creek and near Wilson Creek. The campground includes 23 sites, a picnic pavilion, showers and bathrooms. About 800 people stay at the campground annually.
“I cannot, in good conscience, continue to allow visitors to stay in the lower portion of Mortimer Campground knowing that it’s just a matter of time before another major flood hits the area,” said Crockett. “I realize a lot of people enjoy the area each year, and it’s not an easy thing to do. But the right thing to do in this case is to protect the public by closing this lower camping area.”
The Forest Service plans to remove the picnic tables and other developed features from Sites 1-11 and from one of the walk-in sites. Three walk-in campsites near the picnic pavilion, and sites 12-19, will be open on a first come, first-served basis this season.
While some risk is inherent in any outdoor activity, the rapid and unpredictable nature of flash flooding makes it particularly difficult for campers to safely escape the danger — especially since many flash floods occur after late afternoon rain storms.
The National Weather Service describes a flash flood as a rapid rise of water in a low-lying area, usually caused by an intense storm that produces heavy rainfall in a short amount of time. Rising flood waters can carry a velocity strong enough to roll boulders and vehicles, tear out trees, destroy bridges and undermine roads. A low-lying area can become extremely dangerous in a matter of minutes.
Flood awareness can be especially critical for campers. A flash flood can happen at a moment’s notice, any time of the day and any time of the year. It is nearly impossible to see the water depths and the force of the current when a flash flood happens at night.