"Very well written and carefully researched, Blue Ridge Commons breaks new ground in Appalachian history and in our broader understanding of the politics of environmental movements. Newfont's central premise, the idea of commons environmentalism, is timely both for historians and for environmental activists, and her book will be recognized down the road, I believe, as a seminal publication that helped to change the way we understand Appalachian culture and its complex relationship to the land."
—Ronald Eller, author of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945
In the late twentieth century, residents of the Blue Ridge mountains in western North Carolina fiercely resisted certain environmental efforts, even while launching aggressive initiatives of their own. Kathryn Newfont examines the environmental history of this region over the course of three hundred years, identifying what she calls commons environmentalism—a cultural strain of conservation in American history that has gone largely unexplored.
Efforts in the 1970s to expand federal wilderness areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests generated strong opposition. For many mountain residents the idea of unspoiled wilderness seemed economically unsound, historically dishonest, and elitist. Newfont shows that local people’s sense of commons environmentalism required access to the forests that they viewed as semipublic places for hunting, fishing, and working. Policies that removed large tracts from use were perceived as “enclosure” and resisted.
These battles often pitted industrialists against environmentalists. Newfont argues that the side that most effectively hitched its cause to local residents’ commons culture usually won. A few perceptive activists realized that the same cultural ground that yielded wilderness opposition could also produce ambitious protection efforts, such as Blue Ridge residents’ opposition to petroleum exploration and clearcut timber harvesting.
Incorporating deep archival work and years of interviews and conversations with Appalachian residents, Blue Ridge Commons reveals a tradition of people building robust forest protection movements on their own terms.
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