Cantrell Creek Project

Cantrell Creek is located in the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, between Wolf Ford and the Turkey Pen parking area. Cantrell Creek is a tributary to the South Mills River, and rare species such as the Eastern Hellbender and Southern Appalachian brook trout inhabit this watershed. These species need clean, cold, well-oxygenated water free of excessive sediment.

The Pisgah Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service initiated the Cantrell Creek project several years ago after recognizing that the condition of the trail was putting substantial sediment into the creek.  In many places Cantrell Creek Trail had merged with the stream channel, eroding soil into the stream, and in some locations the creek had been forced into a narrow channel, resulting in small landslides into the creek. The absence of riparian vegetation along the stream bank also contributed to the sedimentation issue. 

Charles Crolley, communications director for the Pisgah Chapter of Trout Unlimited, points out that “aquatic insects are a critical part of a trout’s diet.  Sediment fills the spaces between rocks where those insects live, reducing the habitat available, and may ultimately lead to a decline in the bug population. Sediment can also lead to an increase in overall stream temperatures, particularly in the summer months.   Over time, this can affect the stream’s ability to support healthy populations of trout and other coldwater species.” 

So Trout Unlimited began fundraising for the project, and soon the Pisgah Conservancy (TPC) joined the effort, providing project management efforts and additional fundraising. 

The stream restoration work required heavy equipment to shore up the stream bank using boulders and “log vanes” to prevent small landslides into the creek and to create attractive pool habitat for various aquatic creatures.  “The beauty of the stream restoration work that was done,” said John Cottingham,Executive Director of TPC, “is that the day after each section was finished you could hardly tell that there had been heavy equipment on the site.”  The contractor, under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service hydrologist, was able to stabilize the stream bank, add woody debris to the stream (which adds habitat), add log structures to support the stabilization effort, and build additional pool and underwater structures attractive to fish and other species.  They also left sizable rocks in key locations to provide habitat for Hellbenders.  “When finished it all looked like it had been there for years.”

The project also took a trail that was literally in the creek and relocated it up onto the overlooking slope.  It now provides a beautiful connecting trail from the Squirrel Gap Trail down to the South Mills River.  Despite being up the hill and more out of the way, the trail still benefits from the cascading sounds of the creek and views of the creek looking down through the trees.

The broader Cantrell Creek Project will benefit virtually every user group in Pisgah -- anglers, hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, runners, and horseback riders. Reducing sedimentation will improve the water quality of Cantrell Creek and the Mills River watershed, and improve the habitat for brook trout and the Eastern Hellbender.  As Cottingham puts it, “We all cherish these public resources and want to leave a legacy of good stewardship for future generations.  It’s been gratifying to work on this project with such a diverse group of supportive organizations and individuals.”

Cantrell Creek Project Ribbon Cutting Full Size


















A ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of the Cantrell Creek Project with representatives from the Pisgah Conservatory, National Forests in North Carolina, and various donor groups. Picture courtesy of the Pisgah Conservancy.


Coalition of Supporters

The Cantrell Creek Project has been a group effort. 

TU.  The Pisgah and Land of Sky Chapters of Trout Unlimited got the project rolling and raised over $40,000 of the total $150,000 cost, including acquiring generous contributions from the Mills River Partnership and the Orvis Corporation. 

TPC.  The Pisgah Conservancy served as project manager, and, by virtue of an agreement previously reached with the Forest Service, was able to engage private contractors approved by the Forest Service to conduct botanical and archaeological surveys required by law.  TPC contributed funding to the project as well and helped raise the additional funding needed, which came from a number of supporting parties.

“It’s great to have a partner like The Pisgah Conservancy because part of their mission is to enhance the recreational experience of all visitors to Pisgah and not just one user group,” said Pisgah District Ranger Dave Casey.  “Their presence can serve to increase the cohesive nature of any collaborative effort like this.”

Transylvania County Tourism.  Early in the process Transylvania County Tourism (TCT) provided  $20,000 to the project.   Grant Bullard, chair of the TCT states that “while tourism promotion is our primary goal, we are keenly aware that tourism has an impact, and we have an obligation as an organization to support projects that sustain and preserve our natural assets.”  TCT funded the Cantrell Creek Project based on a new program entitled Transylvania Always, which was created to support local sustainability efforts and other initiatives aimed at caring for the county’s natural resources and improving visitor experiences.

“One of the reasons we’re so excited about this project is its collaborative nature,” said Bullard. “Sharing resources is a great way to achieve truly meaningful results. This project would not have been possible without the commitment of many groups. We look forward to being a partner in many more such worthy projects – and to help recruit other willing partners.”

REI.  Outdoor retailer REI Co-op contributed $20,000 to the effort. The contribution is part of the co-op’s effort to invest in nonprofits and community organizations that share the REI mission to protect public lands and ensure access to the outdoors for all. As a member-owned co-op, REI gave more than 70 percent of its profits to the outdoor community last year through member dividends, employee retirement contributions and support for outdoor nonprofits.  While anyone may shop REI, members pay $20 for a lifetime membership and share in the company’s profits through an annual dividend.  In 2018, REI invested $8.4 million in 431 nonprofits across the country.

The Pisgah Project.  Mountain bike manufacturers in the southeast region and beyond have also supported the project.  For the last three years an informal group of bike component manufacturers have joined together to build a “superbike” each year that has been raffled off to support The Pisgah Conservancy.  Funding from these raffles has been instrumental in supporting the Cantrell Creek Project as well as other initiatives by TPC. 

Can’d Aid.  The Can’d Aid Foundation, which “spreads people-powered do goodery through Towns, Tunes, Treads+Trails, and Love Yur Mama efforts nationwide,” contributed $15,000 to this project. "At Can'd Aid, we believe that increasing access to the outdoors is an important part of improving mental and physical well being for everyone. That's why this people powered effort to build and restore Cantrell Creek was a perfect opportunity to do just that." - Sarah Leavitt, Director of Operations and Programs

Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah (BCHP).  Recognizing the benefit of having a contractor and equipment on site this far back in the forest, BCHP secured a grant for $20,000 that allowed additional work to be done on Horse Cove Gap Trail, Cantrell Creek Trail, and the South Mills River Trail.

Video Coming Soon

Brevard’s Real Digital Productions has professionally recorded the progress of the work throughout and is making a documentary video of it funded by the Pisgah Chapter of Trout Unlimited and TPC.  The video will be released later this fall; please check for more details when it is finalized.

About the Pisgah Ranger District

The Pisgah Ranger District is one of three ranger districts representing Pisgah National Forest, which is administered by the United States Forest Service. Pisgah National Forest was established in 1916, one of the first national forests in the eastern United States.

About The Pisgah Conservancy

The Pisgah Conservancy’s mission is to provide funding to preserve the natural resources and scenic beauty of the Pisgah Ranger District and to enhance the recreational experience of its visitors. TPC was formed in October 2015 by a diverse group of stakeholders, including a camper, fly fisherman, District Ranger, hiker, mountain biker, backcountry horseman, hunter, fisheries biologist, and more.  For more information please go to

About Trout Unlimited

Founded in 1959, Trout Unlimited is a coldwater conservation organization.  For more than 50 years, the Land O’ Sky and Pisgah chapters of Trout Unlimited have been conserving, protecting and restoring coldwater fisheries and their watersheds in western North Carolina.

About Transylvania County Tourism (TCT)

TCT’s mission is to “generate and enhance tourism opportunities in Transylvania County through strategic promotion coordinated with tourism-related businesses and local government and to contribute to a vibrant, sustainable economy.”  Funding for the organization is provided by a 5% occupancy tax on Transylvania County accommodations.

In addition to advertising and promotion, the TCT annually sets aside funds for special projects and grants to help support tourism-oriented events and initiatives. This includes Transylvania Always, a TCT sustainability initiative that was started a few years ago and which is fully coordinated and funded by TCT.  Its mission is "To be a leader in the effort to take care of Transylvania County’s natural resources in order to create a safe and enjoyable user experience and ensure that these assets are here for future generations."  Efforts of this initiative include funding of sustainability projects like the Cantrell Creek Project, a waterfall safety initiative, and an upcoming leave no trace campaign.  Details can be found at

The TCT also manages a year-round Visitor Center, located at 175 East Main Street in downtown Brevard. For more information on the TCT, including Transylvania Always or the Tourism Grant Program, go to or contact Executive Director Clark Lovelace at (828) 883-3700 or

About REI Co-op

REI is a specialty outdoor retailer, headquartered near Seattle. The nation’s largest consumer co-op, REI is a growing community of more than 18 million members who expect and love the best quality gear, inspiring expert classes and trips, and outstanding customer service. REI has 155 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia. If you can’t visit a store, you can shop at REI.comREI Outlet or the free REI shopping app. REI isn’t just about gear. Adventurers can take the trip of a lifetime with REI’s active adventure travel company, a global leader that runs more than 250 itineraries across all continents. In every community where REI has a presence, professionally trained instructors share their expertise by hosting beginner-to-advanced-level classes and workshops about a wide range of activities. To build on the infrastructure that makes life outside possible, REI invests millions annually in hundreds of local and national nonprofits that create access to—and steward—the outdoor places that inspire us all.

About the Pisgah Project

The Pisgah Project consists of an informal group of bike component manufacturers that have enthusiastically come together annually for the last three years to build “superbikes” that are raffled off to support The Pisgah Conservancy.  Funding from these raffles has been instrumental in supporting the Cantrell Creek Project as well as other initiatives by TPC, raising a total of approximately $85,000 in total.  Members of the Pisgah Project include Cane Creek Cycling Components, Industry Nine Componentry, REEB Cycles, Thomson Bike Parts, Maxxis, Find Your Line Bike Shop, TRP, Chromag, and Oscar Blues.

About Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah

Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah was established in 2010, as a Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of America.  BCHP supports BCHA's Mission Statement and is dedicated to trail maintenance and improvement projects in the Pisgah Ranger District, keeping trails clear for all user groups.

About the Can’d Aid Foundation

Can’d Aid was formed in 2013 as a response to massive flooding that devastated the founders’ hometowns of Lyons & Longmont, CO.  Can’d Aid has raised more than $3.4 million to support its “do-goodery” efforts, including donating over one million cans of water to communities post disaster, building 1164 bicycles, donating 346 instruments, and recycling the equivalent of 17.6 million cans.  Its mission is to spread people powered do-goodery through Towns, Tunes, Treads+Trails, and Love Yur Mama efforts nationwide.

About Mills River Partnership

The Mills River Partnership is a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose mission is to coordinate resources to monitor, preserve, protect, and improve water quality in the Mills River through voluntary participation of stakeholders.  The organization has spearheaded projects to decrease sediment runoff and storm water erosion, to stabilize stream banks, and to provide facilities for mixing chemicals in locations that are removed from streams and rivers.