WNC -- U.S. Forest Service - National Forests in North Carolina: As we prepare for Catawba Falls opening on May 31,

we are excited to share the background of this special area and project!

Catawba Falls has a long history of visitation dating back over the centuries. The first written account of a visit to the falls was in the 1888 edition of the University of North Carolina Magazine. Student W.J.B wrote of a trip, “In going to the falls we followed, the last mile of the way, the course of a stream, entirely without a path… Very beautiful they are, but the upper falls, with their single plunge, are still more so. The climb to the latter was like trying to walk up a wall. For two hundred yards or more, we had to hold on to trees and bushes lest we fall and know no more.”

In the early 1900s Forest Service engineer and surveyor Colonel Daniel W. Adams visited the falls while surveying land near Curtis Creek that would become the Pisgah National Forest. He so much fell in love with the area that he purchased the land and moved his family to Old Fort. At the time, Old Fort’s economy revolved around the Union Tanning Company - the largest leather tanning factory in the world.


In 1920s Old Fort, the only residents who had in home power and running water were the foremen in the Tannery. Around 1925, Colonel Adams built a reservoir on Jarrett Creek near Camp Grier to provide water to town, and a hydroelectric dam at Catawba Falls to supply power to every resident. Duke Energy eventually acquired the facility and closed it. Remnants of the old turbine house and dam can still be seen on the trail to Catawba Falls today. A plaque commemorating Adam’s contributions to conservation in Old Fort is at the trailhead.


Visitors continued to seek out the waterfall throughout the mid-1900s, and its splendor was even recreated on postcards in 1945. It wasn't until the late 1900s when public access was threatened that the land surrounding this important Old Fort site was officially protected.


Image Credit: U.S. Forest Service - National Forest in North Carolina


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