National Forest Foundation

Investing in the Great Outdoors on the Nantahala-Pisgah

Investing in the Great Outdoors on the Nantahala-Pisgah


Through the Investing in the Great Outdoors campaign, the NFF, the U.S. Forest Service and community partners are working together to expand restoration efforts while increasing the collective capacity of local groups to engage in hands-on stewardship and recreational infrastructure improvements.

Since the establishment of eastern National Forests at the beginning of the 20th century, the forests of western North Carolina have been recognized and valued for their importance to scenic outdoor experiences and directly connected to the health of the region. The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in particular cover a remarkable and unique landscape, spanning the biodiversity hotspot that is the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Here in this verdant corner of America, wild rivers carve deep valleys into the highest mountain ranges in the Eastern U.S.

Ecologically, the ancient forests of western North Carolina support a diversity of forest communities, from dry piedmont forests to high-elevation spruce-fir forests. Along with a diverse landscape, the forests support some of the most pristine waters in the country. Waters from the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests supplement municipal water supplies in eight southeastern states, from Kentucky through Georgia.

Photo by Jeff Clark

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are also among the most visited in the National Forest System. The landscape contains a broad range of nationally recognized recreation destinations. Over the last 30 years, as the area’s population and visitation has increased, so has pressure on the Forests to provide clean water and recreation from a healthy forest landscape.

At the same time, forest infrastructure, mostly constructed in the 1950s, has degraded over time. Areas of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests that experience high visitation are being “loved to death.” These recreation sites cannot accommodate the volume of visitors, and trails originally built in unsustainable locations are causing damage to sensitive resources.

Areas of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests that experience high visitation are being “loved to death.”

These magnificent Forests are at risk from overuse, as well as threats from climate change, insects, disease, invasive species, catastrophic weather events and fire. Declining Forest Service budgets, and the increasing cost of fighting wildfires, limit the capacity to address these challenges.

Through the Investing in the Great Outdoors campaign, the NFF and the U.S. Forest Service are working together to expand restoration efforts while increasing the collective capacity of local groups to engage in hands-on stewardship and recreational infrastructure improvements. 

The campaign focuses on iconic recreation locations on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. These are unique, regionally renowned sites which experience some of the highest visitation in the East. Additionally these sites play an important role in the overall health of the forest, so they are critical opportunities for stewardship and restoration.