• Roger W. Downes

Guardians of the Waterfalls

Updated: Feb 14

Protecting waterfalls and the enthusiasts who visit them...

Without debate, waterfalls are probably the most loved elemental experiences in nature. North Carolina Waterfall Photographer Kevin Adams believes it is because they touch all of our senses at once; from the roar of the falls, to the majesty of water pouring from their cliffs, to the feel and taste of the mist on our face and lips. Waterfalls give us an experience that no other wonder in nature can produce.

Listen to our interview with Kevin Adams

Luckily Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee and the Upstate of South Carolina offer countless falls for you and your fellow explorers to discover. But visiting each waterfall just once would never do them justice as they change their appearance as each season passes giving you a completely difference experience. In short, you can’t possibly see each waterfall in their different seasonal wardrobes and multiple views, so you will never run out of adventures.

However, there is some safety tips, etiquette and community stewardship we should all keep in mind when visiting our favorite waterfall. During our 14th episode of Explore With RWD, we chatted with photographer Kevin Adams who chairs the position of Executive Director of Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina, an organization dedicated to everything waterfalls. In his interview Kevin shared several key tips which many of us probably don’t even think about when we visit our national and state forests.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Adams

First, don’t remove or stack stones at waterfalls. When you move stones or take them with you, you are destroying the homes of invertebrates and other wildlife that live in the waterfall basins leaving them without shelter or possibly killing them. You may not think this is a big deal, but the Park and Forest Rangers certainly do and, in some locations, will fine or even arrest you for moving stones. So, it is best to leave the stones where you find them in the waterfalls, creeks and rivers. Think of yourself as a thunderstorm each time you visit, will you simply bring showers to the area or will you drop tornados destroying everything in your path?

Two, keep your dogs on a leash. As much as we all want our feline friends to enjoy the freedom of the forests and parks, dogs are very harsh on the indigenous wildlife. They scare birds off of nests leaving the next generation unguarded, to running off smaller animals from the area for days or weeks which eliminates the wildlife experience for other visitors to the forests. In addition, not everyone loves dogs. Some people are wildly afraid of them so allowing your dog to run off its leash can truly upset another nature lover, no matter how friendly your dog can be. In many National Forests and Parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, dogs are not allowed in at all.

...selfies at waterfalls are a leading cause of injury...

Three, and most importantly, is waterfall safety. Kevin stressed in his interview that swimming just above the falls is wildly dangerous as you can easily lose control in the rapidly moving current and get swept over the falls to possible injury or death. In addition, climbing on the waterfalls is unsafe because the rocks are wet and slippery making it easy for you to fall. Each year there are multiple waterfall injuries and deaths because people don’t heed the warnings and venture out on the rock faces.

Finally, as fun as they can be to take, selfies at waterfalls are a leading cause of injury because people move about while looking into their phones, to get the best shot, instead of where they are stepping. Kevin suggests, if you are going to take a selfie have someone else take it for you, or put your phone down to adjust your positioning, and then look at your phone again.

This will help to save wildlife, keep the falls pristine and give you a sense of fulfilment...

With all these suggestions it may seem like the Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina are the splash police. Kevin insists they are not nor do they act that way when out in the forest. He and his fellow members only want you to understand the dangers at the falls and to be good stewards of them, so they last for the next generation to enjoy.

That brings us to how you can help protect the waterfalls of the Carolinas and East Tennessee. Waterfall Keepers is looking for volunteers to adopt a waterfall and visit it once a quarter to clean up the trash around it. This will help to save wildlife, keep the falls pristine and give you a sense of fulfilment as you give back to the forests and falls that recharge your soul.

If working as a team is more your style, you can join Kevin and his fellow waterfallers on March, 20th for their Spring Waterfall Clean Up Sweep. You can either visit a waterfall of your choice and clean it up, while taking photos of your efforts to share with everyone else from Waterfall Keepers or join several clean up groups at waterfalls that have become illegal dumping grounds. All the details are on the Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina’s website.

You can learn more about Waterfall Keepers and Kevin’s photography below.

Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina

Waterfall Keepers Waterfall Sweep

Kevin Adams Photography Website

Kevin Adams Book Photo Book

Kevin Adams Photography Tours

Finally, on a personal note, Kevin is a warm and compassionate artist with a wicked sense of humor. If you are looking to hook your wagon up to a cause which demonstrates confidence in their leadership, I am sure Adams and Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina is a solid bet.


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Thank you for taking the time to read about the adventures I take, the people I meet and the places I see.  

Please get out into the natural world and enjoy all the beauty and spender that is God's artistry...

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