About Friends of Panthertown
Since 2005, Friends of Panthertown has provided volunteers and raised funds for much needed conservation projects in Panthertown Valley, a treasured 6,311-acre backcountry recreation area located on Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, on the continental divide, straddled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. We encourage environmental stewardship, volunteerism, and create public awareness of issues concerning Panthertown.
The mission of Friends of Panthertown is to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve this outstanding natural resource while improving the quality and experience of recreational opportunities in Panthertown.
Diversity and Inclusion – Everyone is Welcome!
Friends of Panthertown has a strong and abiding commitment to diversity and inclusion that is important to our mission. By welcoming individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds among our employed and volunteer workforce, membership, board, and donors, we seek to further the U.S. Forest Service’s goal of creating a culture of inclusion which awakens and strengthens everyone’s connection with Panthertown Valley and its unique natural resources.
What We Do:
• Engage volunteers in on-the-ground efforts at weekly work days.
• Foster environmental stewardship through outreach and education.
• Restore and maintain 30 miles of public non-motorized trails.
• Construct trail-head facilities, and repair bridges and existing structures.
• Protect natural resources and monitor fragile ecosystems.
• Collaborate with stakeholders to develop solutions to natural resource issues.
• Provide funding for conservation projects through grants and contributions.
Are you a friend of Panthertown? All donations are tax-deductible.
We provide funding and volunteers for conservation projects:
Due to budget cuts in recent years, and the size and increased visitation of Nantahala National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service Nantahala Ranger District does not have sufficient funding or personnel available to provide more than minimal levels of maintenance; therefore, the Friends of Panthertown are providing funding and volunteers for much needed projects and conservation efforts in Panthertown.
You may contact U.S. Forest Service Nantahala Ranger District at 90 Sloan Road, Franklin, NC 28734 or (828)-524-6441 with questions, or for additional information about recreating on Nantahala National Forest.
A History of Friends of Panthertown:
Panthertown is public land that has been part of Nantahala National Forest since 1989.
In 2003, the U.S. Forest Service began planning for a Panthertown Trail Project. The project consisted of creating a sustainable trail system that would reduce resource conflicts between hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians, the primary users. Local stakeholders from the conflicting groups started to come forward with concerns about the future of Panthertown. Some of these stakeholders offered to volunteer and help.
In 2005, these volunteers came together under the leadership of Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance to begin the work of reducing user conflicts by gathering input from the public. They began to establish a relationship with the U.S. Forest Service to help protect Panthertown Valley. The original goal was to create a group of supporters that would provide funding and volunteers in an effort to address the many unmet conservation and maintenance needs in Panthertown. This project became known as Friends of Panthertown.
In 2007, the J-MCA hired a coordinator for the Friends of Panthertown project, created a Board of Supervisors, and formalized a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service with a volunteer agreement to maintain the Panthertown Valley Trail System.
In 2009, working with Friends of Panthertown to gather public input and maintain the trail system, the U.S. Forest Service Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins signed a decision memo concerning the Panthertown Trail Project. A trail system map was released and trail uses were designated for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.
In 2010, at the request of U.S. Forest Service, and due to many visitors getting lost in Panthertown, Friends of Panthertown funded and built trailhead information kiosks containing detailed maps of the Panthertown Valley Trail System, and installed Carsonite trail markers at each of the major intersections to indicate trail usage designations.
In 2011, after several years under the fiscal sponsorship of J-MCA, and having grown its funding and membership base, Friends of Panthertown, Inc. was recognized by the IRS and State of North Carolina as a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization.
In 2014, at the request of U.S. Forest Service, Friends of Panthertown installed trail blazes on trees along 30 miles of Forest Service trails in Panthertown Valley. The colors of the blazes match the colors and usage designations on the USFS trail system map.
In 2017, Friends of Panthertown partnered with Mainspring Conservation Trust to purchase and protect the 16-acre private property located adjacent to the Salt Rock Gap trailhead entrance.
In 2019, through the generous support of our members, donors, and the community, the conserved land at Salt Rock Gap was transferred to U.S. Forest Service to officially become part of Panthertown. The public is invited to explore the land and enjoy the new parking area and camping spots.
Also in 2019, we created a Trail Stewardship Coordinator position to oversee our conservation and stewardship programs, and to provide Leave No Trace education and trainings.
Currently in 2021, ten dedicated volunteers representing many of the primary Panthertown user groups serve on our Board of Trustees, with a staff of two managing our projects and programs. Our monthly Board meetings are open for anyone from our membership to attend. All are welcome to participate and join our organization.
Friends of Panthertown 2021 Board of Trustees:
Margaret Carton, President, Board Chair
Has served since 2012
Mike Purdy, Vice President, Trail Boss Emeritus
Mike English, Vice-President Trails
Has served since 2015
Virginia Willard, Vice-President Development
Has served since 2015
Abbey Bearer, Treasurer
Has served since 2019
Has served since 2014
Has served since 2021
Has served since 2021
Friends of Panthertown Staff
Jason Kimenker, Executive Director
On staff since 2010
Krista Robb, Trail Stewardship Coordinator
On staff since 2020
Honoring our past Friends of Panthertown, Inc. Trustees:
- Brenda Council, co-founder, Trustee Emeritus
- Pat Hawkins, former Trustee
- Bill Jacobs, co-founder, Trustee Emeritus
- Burt Kornegay, co-founder, Trustee Emeritus
- Peter Pavarini, former Trustee
- J. Dan Pittillo, co-founder, Trustee Emeritus
- Marcia Shawler, former Trustee
- Wynette Wiles, former Trustee
In Loving Memory
Tony Austin, Trustee (served 2012-2021)
> Memorial donations may be made here.
David M. Bates, Co-Founder, our First President
> The Sandbar Pool staircase was built by Friends and is dedicated in memory of David.
A. William McKee, Co-Founder, Trustee
> In loving memory of our friend.
Tom West, Trustee (served 2012-2017)
> In loving memory of our friend.
We work on your behalf and advocate for the interests of our membership.
Everyone is welcome to get involved!
Contact Jason Kimenker, Executive Director, if you wish to volunteer, serve on our Advisory Committee, participate at one of our trail work days, Adopt-A-Trail, become a supporting member, or be considered as a future Trustee. We are an equal-opportunity organization. All are welcome to join us and help protect and maintain Panthertown.