Day Trips: DuPont State Forest

How a Texas governor tried to help save a forest in North Carolina

In western North Carolina, about an hour south of Asheville, DuPont State Recreational Forest is an island of public land with majestic waterfalls and 100 miles of multi-use trails. The 10,300-acre nature preserve has a surprising Texas connection.

High Falls at the heart of DuPont State Forest (Photos by Gerald McLeod)

DuPont State Forest is the kind of place you dream of returning to and never tire of visiting. The Little River meanders through thick stands of hardwood and pine trees. Visitors come from all over to enjoy the stunning beauty and crisp air.

At one time an exclusive residential development was almost built in the center of the natural area. The community of mansions surrounding golf courses would have restricted access to one of the most scenic areas in a region known for the beauty of its mountains and valleys.

The forest was owned for decades by the DuPont Corporation and was used as a recreation area for employees at its nearby X-ray film manufacturing plant. The chemical company decided to divest of the film factory in 1996. It sold 7,700 acres to establish the state forest. Houston-based Sterling Diagnostic Imaging purchased 2,700 acres surrounding the industrial facility in the middle of the state forest that contained the ecologically significant High Falls and Triple Falls.

Triple Falls cascades 120 feet over a stair-step rock formation.

Within three years, the Houston investment firm closed the factory and put the property on the market. Despite numerous pleas to sell the land to the state by the public, national conservation groups, and governors Jim Hunt of North Carolina and George Bush of Texas, the investment group sold to a South Carolina developer in an under-the-table deal.

After negotiating throughout the summer of 2000 with the developer, North Carolina had to use its power of eminent domain to acquire the land. The state paid more than four times what the Sterling group got for the land that is often called the heart of the DuPont State Forest.

On Dec. 18, 2000, the entire DuPont Forest opened to the public. There is no admission fee. The result is a national treasure laced with hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, six spectacular waterfalls, and a covered bridge left behind by the spurned developer.

The covered bridge above High Falls is a reminder of what might have been.

Gerald McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for the past 24 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 40312, South Austin, TX 78704.

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