Forest Trail Explorer

US Forest Service and Southern Research Station

Lands Managed for Recreation

Western North Carolinians are currently negotiating a balance between the development and conservation of our unique natural resources. If development increases, there will be less open space and more fragmented natural environments. The region needs more and better paying jobs and faces significant challenges in meeting the costs of growth. An important expanding growth sector is tourism and outdoor recreation.

Scenarios that portray conservation versus development are not always the best option. The challenge to our mountain communities is to manage growth and foster mixed-use development while balancing green (natural) and gray (concrete or man-made) infrastructure.

Communities around the country are using resourceful policies to develop in ways that conserve natural lands and critical environmental areas, protect natural resources, restore previously developed land, and create jobs in the process. In Western North Carolina, the Linking Lands Project of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council is an example of a project that is using a sustainable development planning approach to identify a possible green infrastructure in Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania, and Madison Counties. The plan identifies a physical network of the region’s most valuable elements, including recreation lands, wildlife habitat, forestlands, water resources, farmlands, and cultural resources. This plan can serve as a planning resource for local governments, land trusts, landowners, and developers.

Smart growth is a related component of sustainable development that helps to reduce urban sprawl. The features that distinguish smart growth in a community vary, but, in general, smart growth development is town-centered, public transit- and pedestrian-oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial, and retail uses than traditional sprawl development. It also preserves open space and critical environmental areas and takes advantage of compact building designs that will minimize impervious surfaces.

The above content is a part of the Western North Carolina Vitality Index. To view the full report, visit

Forest Inventory and Analysis Resources

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Asheville: Anyway you like it. Accessed from:

Stoddard, J.E., M.R. Evans, and D.S. Dinesh. August 2008. “Sustainable tourism: The case of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.” Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

Stynes, D.J. 2011. Economic benefits to local communities from national park visitation and payroll, 2010. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2011/481. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Total Visitation for the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1985-2009. Accessed from:

USDA Forest Service, National Forests in North Carolina. Internal Annual Visitation and Receipt Report, 2000-2009.

USDI National Park Service, Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Area. Heritage and history, attractions and destinations. Accessed from:

West, Terry. 1991. Research in the USDA Forest Service: A Historian’s View: The Weeks Act and Eastern Forests. USDA Forest Service, WO History Unit.