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March 10, 2020-Philip Prince and the Blue Wall

The Blue Wall: Perspectives on an iconic southern Appalachian landform

The Blue Ridge Escarpment, often known as “The Blue Wall,” presents a distinct and defining backdrop to Greenville’s growing skyline. This band of rugged topography and its stunning yet surprisingly accessible landscapes have become an integral part of upcountry South Carolina life, providing recreational opportunities that increase the appeal of the Upstate to residents and visitors alike. While the Escarpment has long enjoyed great popularity as a destination in our area, the full extent of its geologic significance has only come to be fully appreciated in recent years. The bold cliffs and numerous waterfalls that define locations such as the Chattooga River, the Jocassee Gorges, Jones Gap, and Hickory Nut Gorge are reflections of the unique processes that continue to shape the Escarpment landscape, and hazards such as landslides serve as a reminder that geologic change is ongoing along its steep slopes. Researchers from across the country and beyond continue to explore the Escarpment, gathering information that is vital to keeping our interaction with this dynamic landscape sustainable and beneficial to Upstate life. The story of the Escarpment is particularly interesting when told from the perspective of an upstate native, whitewater-paddling geologist who “wrote the papers” (not the book, yet) on the processes that make “The Blue Wall” look as it does today.

A native of Greer, South Carolina, Philip Prince enjoyed a view of the distant Blue Ridge Escarpment every clear morning on his drive to Riverside High School. After studying Earth and Environmental Sciences (with a good dose of chemistry) at Furman University, he worked in environmental consulting at The Fletcher Group (now SynTerra) from 2004 to 2006. Following a brisk thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail between April and July 2006, he entered a doctoral program in Geosciences at Virginia Tech and focused his research on the evolution of the Escarpment zone from northeast Georgia to Virginia. After defending his dissertation in 2011, he remained at Virginia Tech as a teaching faculty and researcher until 2016. For the last 4 years, Prince has worked primarily in geologic mapping in the Appalachian Mountains and continues his work on the Escarpment through academic research and landslide mapping. An avid whitewater paddler, he can often be found contemplating Appalachian Geology in the Green River Narrows.