By Ashley Elder, News Staff Writer
Visitors brought their rain gear during a bus tour of DuPont State Forest this weekend.
Tour de Falls occurs twice a year, once in May and again in September or October, thanks to a group of volunteers called Friends of DuPont Forest. The tour begins at Triple Falls, continues to High Falls then to Bridal Veil Falls and concludes with a stop at Lake Julia.
According to volunteers, the tour had 150 visitors on Saturday, and the total reached 330 by Sunday afternoon.
At 81, Dick Thompson said he still volunteers for Friends of DuPont Forest regularly at the Aleen Steinberg Visitor Center and twice a year for Tour de Falls.
Non-profit organization Friends of DuPont Forest exists solely for the benefit of the forest, Thompson said.
“We have no employees,” he said. “Everything we make goes back into the forest.”
One of the original 10 members of Friends of the Falls, Aleen Steinberg, said she and the other members fought to keep DuPont land public.
“It was going to be a housing development, and a group of us who had been using the forest and who loved it for many years couldn’t quite see the fact that we would be shut out of here,” she said. “We decided it was for the people, not a privileged few to live in a gated community.”
Steinberg said she came to Western North Carolina in 1963 and fell in love with the forest.
“It belonged to the people,” she said. “And so we fought for it.
On Oct. 23, 2000, Steinberg said the council of the state decided to take DuPont property by eminent domain.
There are a lot of people who can’t hike there, Steinberg said, due to issues with mobility. So, in October 2001 a few of them banded together, rented vans and set up shop in the unfinished visitor center.
“We brought a Bunsen burner and heated up cider and got people to bring in cookies and cake,” she said.
The tour had around 350 visitors that first year, she said, and they have done it ever since.
“We’ve got busloads of people coming in and the sun is trying to shine,” she said. “This is for the people, it’s for everybody.”
Steinberg said she was surprised when, two years ago, the visitor’s center was named after her.
Chuck Ramsey, a volunteer for Friends of DuPont Forest, worked for the DuPont Corporation from the fall of 1971 until they closed the doors in 2002.
“We had 14,000 acres to play on and employees could bring motorcycles, and four wheelers,” he said. “We fished and camped as well.”
Ramsey said the manufacturing site at its peak had 1,260 employees in the late ’70s.
“This was a 24/7 operation because manufacturing the polyester could not be easily turned off and on,” he said.
We also had an additional 400 people with food services, housekeeping and construction crew, he said, and there was even a Credit Union building.
“We essentially had a small city here,” he said.
“DuPont Corporation is responsible for site clean up and they have spent several years demolishing building and selling off surplus equipment, even digging up old landfills and recycling materials that were buried in the ’70s and early ’80s,” Ramsey said.
DuPont dug up 38 million pounds of polyester sheet to ship to China, and they are currently working on cleaning up a chemical dump site that dates back to the late ’50s.
When the cleanup is complete, he said, the 450 acres will probably also be transferred to the state and become part of Dupont State Forest.
There will be easier access to Bridal Veil Falls, he said, and will have some improved connectivity on some of the trails.
The site of the plant remains private property for now.
In the future, the forest service office may be easier to access by the public. Right now, with the office being in the middle of the forest, it is difficult for them to respond to some requests and it is difficult for the public to have easy access.