Too many natural wonders, not enough time.
That's how I felt when I read the list of winners in Land for Tomorrow's "Natural Wonders" contest. Land for Tomorrow is a diverse partnership of North Carolina organizations and entities committed to protecting critical land, drinking water and historic places. These groups include local governments such as Asheville and Black Mountain, The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and the Friends of the Smokies.
Land for Tomorrow asked the public to nominate specific landscapes or natural features that rank among the state's greatest natural treasures. A group of prominent North Carolinians (including former Gov. Jim Hunt, syndicated columnist D.G. Martin and Jeff Brewer, first president of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail) then whittled down the list of 200 candidates to 25 semifinalists. More than 3,000 people voted in the final round, which determined the 10 winning places.
The results of the first-time event were announced last month, but Land for Tomorrow spokesperson Tom Cors says they're already thinking of doing it again as a way to generate interest in the state's four conservation trust funds. "North Carolina is lucky to have these trust funds to provide money for acquisition for land and conservation easements. It's important to continue funding these funds to preserve these natural wonders for future generations."
There's always next year
Of course, Facebook fans of Land for Tomorrow complained that their favorite place didn't make the cut — and I'm not above doing that either. Only five of the 10 winners can be said to be in Western North Carolina (i.e. west of Interstate 77). Several outstanding mountain destinations failed to make the list: DuPont State Forest, with its five amazing waterfalls; Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi; and several hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Even Cors was surprised by a couple of winners in the coastal region. "The state is blessed with many iconic places," he notes, adding, "Supporters of a particular site lobbied their base and encouraged people to vote."
Cors got it right. Here in the mountains, we know we have the best places: We just have to organize.
Hike leader and outdoors writer Danny Bernstein is the author of Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.