Everyone is welcome in Panthertown Valley. Photo: 2018 National Trails Day in Panthertown

About Friends of Panthertown

Friends of Panthertown

The mission of Friends of Panthertown is to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve Panthertown as a backcountry natural resource and to enable sustainable recreation.

We acknowledge that Panthertown and its surrounding forests are located on the ancestral lands of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), and possibly other tribes.

Since 2005, Friends of Panthertown has trained and coordinated hundreds of volunteers, and raised funds for trail maintenance and much needed conservation projects in Panthertown Valley. We encourage environmental stewardship, volunteerism, and create public awareness of issues concerning Panthertown.

Diversity & 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 visitors, employed and volunteer workforce, 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 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 multi-use 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:


In recent years and in response to the increased visitation to national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service has entered into partnerships with volunteer organizations to augment their recreational and conservation services.  Friends of Panthertown raises funds and provides staff to coordinate stewardship and conservation projects in Panthertown, and recruits and trains volunteers for the much-needed projects.

We work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Nantahala Ranger District. 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 within 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.

Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance

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, 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.

Also in 2010, after several years under the fiscal sponsorship of J-MCA, and having grown its funding, Friends of Panthertown, Inc. incorporated in North Carolina, and in January 2011 was certified by the IRS 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 trail blazes match the colors and usage designations on the 2013 USFS trail system map.

In 2017, Friends of Panthertown partnered with Mainspring Conservation Trust to raise funds together and purchase 15.92 acres of property located adjacent to the Salt Rock Gap trailhead entrance. Friends of Panthertown then funded and built a small parking area on the newly acquired land.

In 2019, the conserved land and new parking area were transferred to the U.S. Forest Service to be officially protected and maintained as part of Panthertown Valley. We also hired our first Trail Stewardship Coordinator to oversee our conservation and stewardship programs, and to provide Leave No Trace education and trainings.

In 2020, Friends of Panthertown worked with a local Boy Scout troop to install two bear-proof food storage lockers in Panthertown. Bear close encounters have dropped off significantly as a result. Three additional boxes are planned for installation.

Currently in 2023, eleven dedicated volunteers serve on the Friends of Panthertown, Inc. Board of Directors (Trustees), with a staff of three managing projects and programs. Everyone is welcome and invited to participate. Please contact us with your interests.

Friends of Panthertown 2023 Board of Directors:

Margaret Carton, President, Board Chair
Has served since 2012

Photo of Virginia Willard

Virginia Willard, Vice-President Development
Has served since 2015

Abbey Bearer

Abbey Bearer, Treasurer
Has served since 2019

Cathy Reas Foster
Has served since 2023

Paul Johnson
Has served since 2014

Mike Kettles

H.A. Moore, Governance Committee Chair
Has served since 2021

Kyle Pursel
Has served since 2022

Margo Purdy, Events Committee Chair

Ellen Tucker, Marketing Committee Chair
Has served since 2022

Nancy West
Has served since 2021

Friends of Panthertown Staff

Jason Kimenker, Executive Director
On staff since 2010

Krista Robb, Trails & Stewardship Director
On staff since 2020

Kara McMullen, Trails & Stewardship Manager
On staff since 2022

Honoring our past Friends of Panthertown, Inc. Directors:

  • Mike English, former Director
  • Brenda Council, co-founder, Director Emeritus
  • Pat Hawkins, former Director
  • Bill Jacobs, co-founder, Director Emeritus
  • Burt Kornegay, co-founder, Director Emeritus
  • Peter Pavarini, former Director
  • J. Dan Pittillo, co-founder, Director Emeritus
  • Mike Purdy, co-founder, Director Emeritus
  • Marcia Shawler, former Director
  • Wynette Wiles, former Director

In Loving Memory

Tony Austin

Tony Austin, Director (served 2012-2021)
> In loving memory of our friend.

Photo of David M. Bates

David M. Bates, Co-Founder, our First President
> The Sandbar Pool staircase was built by Friends and is dedicated in memory of David.

Photo of William McKee

A. William McKee, Co-Founder, Director
> In loving memory of our friend.

Tom West

Tom West, Director (served 2012-2017)
> In loving memory of our friend.

Autumn in Panthertown
Panthertown Valley Autumn (Photo by Bill Johnson)

We are working on your behalf.

Everyone is welcome to get involved and participate!

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 Friend, or be considered as a future Director. We are an equal-opportunity organization. All are welcome to get involved, and to help protect and maintain Panthertown.

Greenland Creek Falls
Contact Us!

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Friends of Panthertown

Contact Information:
Friends of Panthertown, Inc.
P.O. Box 51
Cashiers, NC 28717
Phone: 828-269-HIKE (4453)
Email: friends@panthertown.org
Website: www.panthertown.org