Restoring North Carolina's "Grand Canyon"
Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” the Linville Gorge Wilderness is an ecological jewel of the Eastern United States. Just under 12,000 acres of federally-declared wilderness, the area’s plant and animal communities are stunningly diverse, with the sidewinding Linville River as its center, descending some 1,400 feet from the top ridge.
The Linville Gorge Wilderness is home to fire-dependent species, including federally endangered plants and no fewer than 80 species of birds during the breeding season. Due to decades of fire suppression, these species have declined and intense wildfires have broken out in recent years. These wildfires invited a new threat to this unique ecosystem: non-native invasive plants. Plants such as Butterfly Bush, Privet, and Chinese Silver Grass and others pose a serious threat to the ecological integrity of the landscape.
Since 2007, Wild South has set about protecting wild stretches like the wilderness and the broader expanse of The Wilson Creek/Linville Gorge Important Bird Area, which measures nearly 30,000 acres and includes the gorge itself. Wild South’s Innovation Grant project restored native vegetation along 8 different trails in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, spanning over 20 miles.
In addition, Wild South hosted workshops to engage volunteers through hands-on learning about invasive species. This helped the organization to establish its reputation as a responsible steward and to continue offering resources for the local community.
The most rewarding aspect of the project, though, was the innovative collaboration with Four Circles Recovery Center. Wild South worked with the organization, offering volunteer opportunities for their clients. Ultimately, this was successful, as the recovery of the Linville Gorge Area provided an analogy for the rehabilitation of the patients.
Ben Prater, Wild South’s Associate Executive Director offered, “Wilderness areas benefit many people beyond those affiliated with traditional conservation organizations. We want to introduce new people to the value of service and stewardship on public lands and introduce traditional conservation groups to potential synergies with natural allies such as military servicemen and women and wilderness therapy groups.”