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Hendersonville native to lead new Pisgah Conservancy

Representatives of a variety of Pisgah National Forest user groups, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, have formed a North Carolina non-profit corporation called the Pisgah Conservancy to work for sustainable recreational use, watershed improvement, eradication of invasive species, removal of waste, litter and graffiti, wildlife habitat improvement and education in the forest.

John Cottingham, a Hendersonville native who is founder and volunteer executive director of the organization, has hiked and camped in Pisgah for over 40 years. When Cottingham retired from a corporate legal position, he wanted to give back to Pisgah.

Last fall Cottingham, Pisgah District Ranger Derek Ibarguen and Carlton Murrey, executive director of the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, recruited others and formed an Advisory Council to consider the feasibility of establishing an organization. The Council includes representatives of the Carolina Mountain Club, Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, Pisgah Backcountry Horsemen, Trout Unlimited, NC Mountain Trail Runners and local businesses Headwaters Outfitters, Sycamore Cycles, and Trail Dynamics. In addition to Ibarguen, five U.S. Forest Service employees with expertise in a variety of disciplines have supported the council from the outset.

"This is the 100th anniversary of Pisgah National Forest, and we benefit every day from the contributions of those who came before us," Cottingham said in a news release. "What happens in the next hundred years is up to us. We want to leave a legacy we can all be proud of, that we were exceptional stewards of Pisgah's extraordinary resources. Today, I'm excited to say, that we have an organization through which people can directly benefit this national forest that means so much to us."

The Pisgah District is the most visited ranger district in North Carolina.

"With funding declines and exponential growth in visitor use in recent decades, the US Forest Service is facing increased pressure to maintain trails and recreation facilities, improve wildlife habitat, and reduce threats from invasive species. Partnerships are critical to meeting this challenge," explains Pisgah District Ranger Derek Ibarguen. "It has been a goal of mine since I took this job to find additional ways to engage partners to sustain and improve the Pisgah we all cherish so deeply. It's exciting now to see The Pisgah Conservancy come into existence."

The organization will be featured at the upcoming "Schenck You" event at the Cradle of Forestry on May 3.

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