As NC Air Quality Improves, So Do Mountain Views

Aug 1, 2016

If you're on a North Carolina mountaintop on a sunny day this summer, expect a great view…  maybe the clearest in decades. State environmental officials say it’s the payoff from years of air quality improvements.

Here’s one example: At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visibility on the clearest days was 54 miles in 1996. Now, it’s nearly 90 miles.

State officials touted the improvement in a press release. The state Department of Environmental Quality cites state and federal laws and regulations that have cut pollution from coal-fired power plants, factories and cars and trucks.

State and federal measurements show long-distance visibility has steadily improved since the 1990s.

“We are literally able to see the improvements in air quality across North Carolina,” Sheila Holman, director of the state Division of Air Quality, said in the press release. “Clearer air means that residents and visitors are better able to enjoy views of our mountains, coastal waters, urban skylines and other scenic areas.”

At Mount Mitchell State Park this spring, park ranger Bryan Wilder bragged about the view.

“On a clear day typically if you look out, the views… you can see the skyline of Charlotte, actually. It has to be a clear day with very little haze, but you can see the skyline of Charlotte,” Wilder said.

Environmentalists agree air quality is better, but think there’s room for improvement. And we can all play a role. Clean Air Carolina says vehicle exhaust is the biggest source of air pollution in the Charlotte area. As one spokesman told me, that’s the result of millions of individual driving decisions every day.

And better air quality is about more than the view. We all breathe easier, too.

Then and now views show how visibility has improved at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Credit N.C. Department of Environmental Quality