A new guidebook tells how to get to every waterfall in Jackson County’s Panthertown Valley.
Located in the county’s southern end, Panthertown, which is known as the “Yosemite of the East,” is known for its dramatic scenery.
Todd Ransom’s “Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley” provides instructions on the best, safest way to reach each of the valley’s 20 falls. Ransom has also created a smartphone app to pair with the book to help locate the waterfalls by GPS.
Originally from Atlanta, Ransom moved to Asheville about five years ago and began exploring area trails with his camera. He started a Facebook page called “Waterfalls of WNC,” which now has almost 14,000 followers.
Ransom’s first book focuses solely on Panthertown’s offerings.
“There’s no waterfall guide book for Panthertown until now,” Ransom said. “That was a big point for me. There are so many waterfalls there and the valley has so much to offer.”
According to Ransom, the Panthertown area has a “mellow” side by Schoolhouse Falls and a more rugged side that includes Devil’s Elbow, Bonas Defeat and Wolf Gorge.
“There’s a lot of rugged, adventure hiking,” he said.
Ransom estimates he’s probably spent more than 50 nights camping in Panthertown, often waking early to capture the waterfalls at their best.
The book’s genesis came while Ransom was rock climbing several years ago.
“I looked around and thought ‘someday I’ll be old and have nothing to look back on.’”
After that, he began using his camera to document the world around him.
Asked to pick his favorite of Panthertown’s falls, Ransom hesitated before settling on Carlton Falls, named after Carlton McNeill, one of the pioneers of Panthertown. McNeill, who lived in a small house near the valley’s east entrance, was an unofficial trail builder and was known as the “keeper of Panthertown.” McNeill died in 2007 but traveled the trails and helped campers until he was into his 80s.
“It’s tough to get to, most people don’t know about it,” Ransom said of his favorite waterfall. “To me it’s about getting out in the woods – it’s about solitude,” he said.
To help others find the waterfalls more quickly, Ransom, a computer software developer, wrote an iPhone app that will download topographic maps and use the phone’s GPS to help hikers locate Panthertown’s falls.
The app includes photos, trail descriptions and more.
Friends of Panthertown Valley Director Jason Kimeneker said the book is a great resource.
“Jackson County is fortunate to have such magnificent natural resources to share, to protect, and to enjoy,” Kimenker said. “Like it or not, eco-tourism is big business, and Jackson County has so much to offer.
“Travelers come here from all parts of the world to experience the magnificent waterfalls of Nantahala National Forest, on our treasured public lands,” he said. “However, unlike viewing waterfalls close to maintained roads, or visiting one of our National Parks, the rugged territory of Panthertown remains challenging to most; a wild, unforgiving backcountry forest. No motorized vehicles are allowed in Panthertown, and parking is on unpaved forest service roads, and very limited. “Getting to the waterfalls requires hiking on moderate to difficult steep mountain trails, as well as packing in and out all of your supplies,” Kimenker said.
Ransom’s new book will introduce more people to Panthertown, a “special place that is already loved by so many and discovered by more daily,” Kimenker said.
“Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley” is a good supplement to Burt Kornegay’s waterproof ”A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown,” Kimenker said.
Ransom’s guidebook will likely generate an increased interest and stress to what Kimenker describes as “the fragile habitat” in Panthertown. He suggested those interested in the valley also join Friends of Panthertown, which works with the U.S. Forest Service to protect the valley.
Kornegay, who is known as an expert on Panthertown Valley and has led numerous expeditions there, also praised Ransom’s guide.
“Besides drawing the hiker’s attention to individual waterfalls in Panthertown, Ransom’s guidebook also gives historical notes about these places, so it not only tells people where to go to see something special but it also helps them to understand and appreciate the human history of the place,” Kornegay said.
More information on Ransom’s book is online at www.flickinamazing.com/panthertown.