The story of DuPont Forest is almost as memorable as the scenery
There was a time when Danny Bernstein didn’t understand certain nuances of hiking. Now she’s an authority and a groundbreaker, too, writing the first history book about DuPont State Recreational Forest, located in Henderson and Transylvania counties.
A New York City native, Bernstein hiked for the first time as a child, when she left the city for camp in Pennsylvania. Then she became a camp counselor and took small children on hikes. After she married and moved to New Jersey, she and her husband saw a newspaper ad for a hiking club — and thus began a passion for the WNC resident.
However, “I never made the connection that adults do this without children,” she says. That came later.
Bernstein hiked with her husband and son on the Appalachian Trail during vacations, and they enjoyed the surrounding communities so much they eventually relocated to Asheville in 2001. Here, Bernstein found plenty of others to hike with, and became an active member of the Carolina Mountain Club.
Eventually, her love of the outdoor pastime pushed her to write several books on the topic. Bernstein’s fifth, DuPont Forest: A History, will be released on September 7 by Arcadia Publishing. Aside from a self-published trail guide and a wildflower guide, it’s the first book on the storied forest, which was named after a Mid Century silicon plant. The dense, biodiverse parcel now consists of more than 12,000 acres of forest land with lakes, waterfalls, massive granite outcroppings, and some 100 miles of hiking trails.
DuPont Forest is a popular destination for mountain bikers, but its main attractions are its postcard-worthy waterfalls, including ultra-accessible Hooker Falls, which has a large shallow pool for family wading and can be reached via stroller and wheelchair; dramatic High Falls and Triple Falls, only a short walk from the parking area; and remote falls for the more adventurous hiker. Major movies, including The Hunger Games, have been filmed here
But Bernstein’s book is no tourists’ guide. Rather, the author, who was a software developer and professor of computer science, was interested in the human history of the area, noting, “I’ve always been fascinated by the DuPont Forest story” (see article on page 29).
She views her book as a memoir of the forest, “but not my memoir — let’s get that straight. It’s a memoir of the forest based on the information that I had.”
With so many potential hikes so close to home, it can be hard for Bernstein to choose a favorite. Instead, she opts to tell people that “my favorite spot is whatever hike I’m doing right now.”
Pressed for a preferred place, though, she urges hikers to “go beyond the waterfalls” that are so well known and seek places like Plantation Trail, a short hike (less than 1.2 miles) that covers mostly flat ground and is surrounded by mature white pines.
To thoroughly prepare to write about the forest, Bernstein produced a spreadsheet that included the parcel’s every trail, and she proceeded to hike all of them. The author has completed major hiking challenges, such as section hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, so “doing less than 100 miles sounded simple,” she says. “But there were logistical problems as much as the physical hiking challenges.” Some of the more remote trailheads are hard to get to in a car, and she asked friends with heavier-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles to assist her. “I’m a better hiker than a driver,” she notes. But no matter the challenge, Bernstein persisted, finishing the list earlier this year.
She isn’t alone in her desire to explore every corner of DuPont. “I’m a big believer that everyone should get out on the trail, so we are extremely lucky to have this place near us,” she says. “If you’ve been there at all, you know that we’re getting people from all over the Northeast. It’s on everybody’s radar. It’s a destination.”
The DuPont Forest Festival — originally slated for Saturday, Sept. 26, National Public Lands Day — is postponed until next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Friends of DuPont Forest’s rescue of the area’s major waterfalls from private development (see more at dupontforest.com). For more information on Danny Bernstein and her books, including DuPont Forest: A History, visit hikertohiker.net and arcadiapublishing.com. The book is also available at Highland Books (36 West Main St., Brevard, 828-884-2424, highlandbooksonline.com). The author will give an online reading at 6pm on Thursday, Sept. 17, through Malaprop’s Bookstore (see the “Events” link at malaprops.com).