By Danny Bernstein

How did an industrial site become a forest attracting hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers from all over the United States? That’s what I wanted to understand.

I am not a native of North Carolina or a former DuPont Corporation employee, and neither was Lenny, my late husband. Both my husband and I worked for large, hierarchical organizations our whole careers. This made me curious about the role of the company in the creation of the forest. There was a story here beyond the waterfalls.

I fell in love with DuPont Forest on my first hike only a few years after its creation. If the six iconic waterfalls were more difficult to reach, if they involved a long backpack, they would be featured in National Geographic magazine.

DuPont Forest is not untouched wilderness; no public land in the eastern United States  is. But that’s what made the forest so intriguing to me. My previous books were more focused on hiking; this book is on the story behind the creation of the forest. While there are piles of books on Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, none had been published on this forest. How was that possible?

I talked to DuPont engineers and chemists. They were a pleasure to interview: punctual, exact with their words and making sure that I understood them. No one said, “Oh it’s too technical.” When they could not remember or could not be precise, they said so.

My first interview was with Ashok Kudva, a career chemical engineer at DuPont. Years ago, Ashok came on a Carolina Mountain Club hike and recognized Lenny and me at the trailhead. It turned out that Ashok and Lenny knew each other when they were both getting their PhDs in Chemical Engineering at Purdue University; their labs were adjacent to each other. After  both men got their degrees, they went their separate ways, Ashok to DuPont and Lenny to Exxon, both in New Jersey. They didn’t see each other for several decades until we moved to Western North Carolina.

Years ago, when I told my parents that I was going to marry an engineer, my parents were thrilled. “Engineers make the best husbands,” my dad said, which at the time seemed absurd. But generally, engineers are smart, dedicated to their job, make a good salary, and are too busy or indifferent to cheat on their partners. These are good odds for a successful marriage and a happy life. If you think this is off the wall, google “Engineers make the best husbands”. I wish Lenny were still around to banter about large company culture.

I spent two years talking to people from all aspects of DuPont Forest, past and present: former DuPont Corporation employees, children of DuPont employees, North Carolina legislators, Summit Camps campers, NC State Forest rangers, conservation leaders, Brevard residents, Friends of DuPont activists and forest users. Because DuPont Corporation adopted local social attitudes from Ecusta, I interviewed several former Ecusta employees. One interview led me to another. So little is written about working in large companies that I was fascinated by this aspect of the story. What can we learn about industry’s role in saving land and making it public?

I met people on their home turf at Quotations in Brevard, Cedar Mountain Café, and coffee shops in Hendersonville. I attended the monthly DuPont Retiree breakfasts in Etowah where I met Earle Johnson, the first engineer at the plant. Now 95 years old, Earle gave me a great view of the company from a Northerner’s perspective. Jeff Jennings and Aleen Steinberg filled me in on how activists saved three major waterfalls and made them part of the forest.  

I moved into the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room of the Transylvania County Library and read all I could. Kent Wilcox, past president of FODP and now chair of the History Committee found many documents from life before the plant was built. I attended FODP Saturday morning talks and walks on geology, trees, and cemeteries.  

My portrait of DuPont Forest uses historic documents, DuPont Corporation memos, newsletters, Friends of DuPont research and photographs, NC Forest Service reports, and newspaper clippings. But it’s a memoir of the forest because it also relies on the best recollections of people. I looked to them not for specific dates, but to relate incidents and relationships.

The DuPont Forest story is about Southern Appalachian grit and self-reliance, a multinational company’s generosity, local activists, and a forest, now protecting thousands of acres of trees, lakes, and waterfalls. DuPont Forest: A History published by The History Press blends descriptions of the past and present punctuated by interviews and hiking narratives.

Any royalties I get will be donated to Friends of DuPont Forest, a small thank you for all the help and encouragement that members have provided. The book is available at Highland Books in Brevard and online.

Danny Bernstein

Danny Bernstein

Author and Hiker