The World's Edge area of Henderson County recently endured the second massive forest fire in less than five years. These fires aren’t random or chance occurrences but the direct result of poor land management by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. I've lived and raised a family on World's Edge for 30 years, and I’ve seen the dramatic changes since the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy acquired the World's Edge tract in 2005 and sold it to the state.
In the previous 25 years, there hadn’t been a single forest fire anywhere around this area. Now, we once again had helicopters delivering brave men and women to fight a fire that was destroying some of the most beautiful, unspoiled mountain land in North Carolina. If not for the heroic efforts of members of the Edneyville, Sunny View and Dana volunteer fire departments as well as the N.C. Division of Forest Resources and U.S. Forest Service, our house would have burned down.
Those of us who live up here know both these fires were started by people who had absolutely no right to be where they were. In order to get to the World's Edge overlook, they had to have illegally trespassed on private land. The general public seems to think all of this area is a state park; it is not. However, even on land the state now owns, there are no gates prohibiting vehicular traffic, or signs indicating when this part of the park will be open.
In fact, in the four years since the Division of Parks assumed responsibility for this area, nothing whatsoever has been done, other than surveyors posting yellow Parks Division signs on trees. They’ve made no effort to restrict tourist visitation and have done absolutely nothing to minimize the environmental impact from the obvious increase in usage this area has experienced. Most importantly, they did nothing to inform the general public this area is not ready for tourist visitation.
There was a tremendous amount of publicity when the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy sold the World's Edge tract to the state. This dramatically increased the number of vehicles going up to the overlook, not to mention the amount of roadside trash left behind. Unlike commercial areas such as Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, this property is surrounded by family farms. It’s not equipped to handle the big influx of people and their accompanying litter.
The announcement concerning the creation of Chimney Rock State Park also triggered a steady flood of out-of-state cars hauling trailers loaded with motorcycles, ATVs and horses — all of which are strictly prohibited within the park’s borders. A casual search of the phrase "World's Edge" on Google, YouTube or Flickr yields numerous websites featuring organized trips by such groups, complete with driving instructions on how to get up here. This was doing irreparable damage to a delicate and fragile ecosystem — or so it was before the fire, anyway.
This area is home to the usual population of wild animals frequently found in North Carolina: fox, bear, deer, etc. But it’s perhaps the only area in the state that’s also home to the peregrine falcon and mountain lion: I've seen both of these magnificent animals from my house. I cannot help but wonder how they reacted as the fire roared up the mountain, enveloped the World's Edge overlook and then cascaded down toward Pool Creek and Rumbling Bald.
What made this area so unique is that it was nature as it should be: in balance, unspoiled by human presence. The exceedingly remote location, home to some of the most beautiful, rugged mountain terrain in the entire United States, provided a glimpse into our past. That view is now gone forever, replaced by the charred remnants of once-living things.
Someone must stand up and take responsibility to protect what’s left of the World's Edge and make sure it doesn't happen again. My neighbors and I have been told by senior Division of Parks officials that the main obstacles to restricting access to this area are right-of-way/property-valuation disputes with absentee, out-of-state owners — and the state’s severe budget difficulties, which prevent adequate staffing to enforce park regulations.
Is it more cost-effective for state and federal agencies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight forest fires than for the Parks Division to put up a few gates and warning signs on land it already owns?
We need an immediate plan of action to protect the World's Edge area. There's no time for master plans, public hearings, focus groups or any of the other well-meaning but ineffective procedures that have taken place over the last five years.
In case you haven't heard, we're on fire up here.
— Henderson County resident Mark Morris has lived in World’s Edge for 30 years. To learn more, visit protectworldsedge.org.