The Waterfalls of DuPont State Recreational Forest
Back in 1992 as I researched the first edition of North Carolina Waterfalls, I lamented that I couldn’t include the four major waterfalls along the Little River, located southeast of Brevard in an area called Buck Forest. Those four waterfalls were, I was told, comparable to any in Transylvania County and more spectacular than most. At that time, DuPont owned the land and operated a plant on the site. The company strictly prohibited public access. That started to change in 1996, when DuPont sold its manufacturing facility to Sterling Diagnostic Imaging and also sold 7,600 acres of surrounding property to the state of North Carolina. Although DuPont State Recreational Forest was a reality, only one of the waterfalls, Hooker Falls, was part of the original tract.
In late 1999, Sterling Diagnostic announced a private bid arrangement for the sale of 2,223 of the 2,700 acres it had bought from DuPont. Included in that acreage were the other three waterfalls on the Little River. Conservation groups and the state of North Carolina tried to obtain the property but were unable to circumvent the private bidding process. The Conservation Fund bid $5.5 million, which seems low for 2,223 acres of prime real estate that includes three major waterfalls. However, Sterling’s land deed prohibited the property from being used as a residential development, thereby reducing its value. Unfortunately, a private developer named Jim Anthony bid $6.35 million and purchased the property.
Soon afterward, it became obvious that Anthony intended to develop the property as an upscale residential community, despite his public statement that he wanted it only as a private retreat. He began improving roads and built the covered bridge that now sits above High Falls. Only after the sale did the public learn that the deed restrictions that had prompted the Conservation Fund’s low bid were unenforceable, allowing the eventual owner to do as he pleased with the land.
An intense battle ensued among Anthony, conservation groups, the state of North Carolina, and a new grass-roots group called Friends of the Falls. On October 23, 2000, after Anthony had resisted all efforts to ensure permanent public access to the waterfalls and breached a voluntary moratorium by starting to subdivide the property into home sites, Governor Jim Hunt and the Council of State voted unanimously to invoke eminent domain on the property. The state paid Anthony $24.5 million, and the public now owns Bridal Veil, High, and Triple Falls.
After the public acquisition, DuPont State Recreational Forest quickly became North Carolina’s most-visited state forest and took its place among the top attractions in the region. The forest contains nearly 100 named trails (many of them old dirt roads) that hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers enjoy. Hunting and fishing are also allowed.
Each of the several public access areas has an information kiosk with a map showing all the trails and features of the forest. Since so many trails offer so many different routes to the waterfalls, it’s not practical to include detailed information on this site. In most cases, I give the shortest or most logical route.
Scattered throughout the forest are several picnic shelters available for rent, including ones at Triple Falls and High Falls. Rental fees include a limited number of vehicle passes so you can drive to the falls. Disabled persons may obtain vehicle passes allowing them to drive close to all four waterfalls on the Little River. Permits are issued for after-hours access.
DuPont State Recreational Forest is open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Camping is not allowed. A new visitor center is located at High Falls Access off Staton Road. For more information, visit the Friends of DuPont Forest website and the official website for DuPont State Recreational Forest.