Bethel Community Environmental Data

  • Blue Ridge Parkway, a designated All-American Road and the most popular unit of the entire National Park System, curves gracefully along the area’s high southern border.
  • The area’s mountaintops include Pisgah, Black Balsam, and Cold Mountain.
  • High elevation expanses are listed as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.
  • Area’s headwaters are blanketed by Pisgah National Forest, including two popular wilderness areas - Middle Prong Wilderness and Shining Rock Wilderness.
  • US Highway 276 along the East Fork of the Pigeon River and NC Highway 215 along the West Fork of the Pigeon River form part of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.
  • Hunters, fishermen, bird-watchers, environmentalists, and tourists are attracted to the area’s healthy populations of wildlife and trout, including a section of the East Fork managed by Trout Unlimited for catch-and-release.
  • Lake Logan, on the West Fork of the Pigeon River, was the subject of a large land protection effort involving community leaders, state agencies, and conservation groups, protecting a total of 4,400 acres. At the turn of the 20th century this area supported a large logging operation known as Sunburst Village.
  • North Carolina Natural Heritage Program has located a grand total of 82 rare species and natural communities in the area, including the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel (Alasmidonta raveneliana), wavy-rayed lampmussel (Lampsilis fasciola), Eastern hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), and olive darter (Percina squamata).
  • The area includes more than 13 miles of streams that have earned North Carolina’s High Water Quality rating; meanwhile, none of the local streams are rated as impaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • State of North Carolina has bestowed Water Supply III status on the area, a designation reserved for fewer than 5% of the state’s lands.
  • Lush alluvial soils of Bethel attracted the first husbandry cultures, ancestors of the Cherokee, to the area thousands of years ago; fertile land continues to provide productive soils for the fields of today’s farmers.
  • Bethel’s alternate name, Pigeon Valley, is associated with a previous, now extinct inhabitant, the passenger pigeon. The rich soils can be partially attributed to this avian species from Bethel’s past. Prior to the bird’s 1914 extinction, the valleys of Bethel provided a migratory resting stop for the birds, generally regarded as the most populous bird species ever to have existed. As the birds exited through a gap in the mountain, they were so numerous that they darkened the skies for days. Even though the bird is gone, the area retains several names attributed to the bird. The Pigeon River continues to flow, and Pigeon Gap still provides passage from Bethel to Waynesville. Pigeon Community and Pigeon Street in Waynesville also share this common local thread in their names. The fertile fields of Pigeon Valley (Bethel) owe much of their richness to these former inhabitants.
  • Bethel Rural Community Organization’s Rural Preservation Committee has been a leader is working with numerous partners to establish permanent conservation easement on hundreds of acres of land in the area as well as in protecting thousands of feet of water-front. In addition, the organization has developed a flood mitigation guideline.