Asheville outdoor writer Danny Bernstein is a forward thinker, but the avid hiker with a peaceful demeanor stepped back in time when she wrote her latest book.
DuPont Forest: A History, scheduled for release on Labor Day by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, is a product of the former software developer and computer science professor’s inherent curiosity – a quality that inspired her to write four previous books that detail her visits to state parks and her experiences on Southern Appalachian hiking trails, where she “put one foot in front of the other” for miles at a time.
The Brooklyn-born author’s latest work includes a section describing multinational DuPont Corp., which began operating a silicon manufacturing plant in the Brevard area in the 1950s, but focuses mostly on the “living history” of what is now the 12,000-acre DuPont State Recreational Forest that features six waterfalls, several lakes and 100 miles of hiking trails.
“I found out there’s very little written on the history of DuPont Forest, which is both good and bad,” Bernstein said. “It’s good because hundreds of books haven’t been written on it, like the Smokies; but it’s also unsettling that there are very (few) official records.”
The lack of corporate history led Bernstein to spend an inordinate amount of time talking to DuPont company retirees from other states, whom she met during local hikes organized by the Carolina Mountain Club, as well as North Carolina legislators and anyone else who was willing to share tidbits about the pristine forest’s past.
“It kind of kept gnawing at me, especially when I realized that all of these retired people weren’t getting any younger, so I started interviewing them, and one person led me to another and another,” Bernstein said. “It’s a life history about people that are still around.”
Though hundreds of thousands of people visit DuPont Forest annually, few of them are aware that a significant portion of the forest nearly became a playground for the rich, according to Bernstein, who moved to Asheville from New Jersey with her late husband, Lenny, in 2001.
The drama began in 1997, when the DuPont company — in conjunction with the land preservation group Conserving Carolina — sold 7,700 acres to the state at “giveaway prices,” Bernstein said.
But DuPont sold another section of land – including its silicon plant and three of the forest’s most prominent waterfalls — to Sterling Diagnostics, a company that produced clinical lab products. Two years later, Sterling sold the plant to film manufacturer Belgium Afga, as well as a separate tract that included the waterfalls, to a private developer who planned to build luxury vacation homes.
Public backlash was fast and furious. Letter-writing campaigns and lobbying efforts by conservation groups were successful in quashing the developer’s plans in 2000, when the state reclaimed the property through eminent domain.
Such events are prime examples of how the public can learn from the past, Bernstein intimated.
“Developments are only coming because private people are selling to developers,” she said. “I wish that the public would understand that. Developers are not stealing land, they are buying land. You only hear about who is developing the land; you very rarely read who sold the land.”
Bernstein isn’t one to be outspoken, but she’s more than willing to impart her knowledge about mountain trails and all things outdoors as she leads organized hikes, according to Peter Hodes, a Charlotte resident and retired fund raiser for the American Red Cross.
“She’s a natural educator,” Hodes said. “My wife and I naturally gravitated to her when we joined the Carolina Mountain Club 20 years ago. She’s extremely positive – one of those action-oriented people who will talk to anybody.”
Barbara Morgan of Asheville has similar impressions.
“She’s very well informed when she leads a hike,” said Morgan, who, like Bernstein, is a past president of the CMC. “It’s more than just, ‘We’re going to hike from A to B.’ She adds to the hike experience through the research that she’s done or her experience with it.”
Like the veteran hiker she is, Bernstein takes her accomplishments in stride.
“When we came here, I personally made hiking the center of my life,” said the author who has logged thousands of hiking miles since her early 20s. “At some point I said maybe I’ll try writing a hiking guide.”
The guide, Hiking the Carolina Mountains, was published by Milestone Press in 2007 and is still in print. Bernstein went on to publish three more books and never looked back – that is, until she began working on her fifth book.
DuPont Forest: A History will be available at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville and Highlands Books in Brevard beginning Labor Day. Bernstein is scheduled to present an online reading through Malaprop’s at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17.
More information about Bernstein and her books is available online at www.hikertohiker.net and www.arcadiapublishing.com.
Stephen Kindland is a freelance writer, photographer and author of an award-winning children’s book titled “I Beg Your Pardon, But This Is My Garden!” He can be reached at [email protected]