Heather Cotton

Planning and Development Director, City of Marion
Marion, NC

Heather Cotton’s diverse service in the public sector is defined by her dedication to the effective use and preservation of culturally significant lands and structures. Beginning her career as a field archaeologist, she worked on site evaluations and excavations in Fort Drum, New York, and Belfast, Ireland, and parlayed that experience into her work as a post-grad researching climate change and land use in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After receiving her Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning, she went on to work as a city planner in Florida for both Monroe County Planning and Environmental Services and Islamorada, Village of Islands, roles in which she evaluated plans for land development and their impact on environmental and historical resources. For the past 12 years, Heather has served as the planning and development director for the City of Marion, North Carolina, where she has no shortage of tasks to keep her busy: supervising planning and building inspections, writing and managing grant projects, reviewing site plans and zoning requests, and a lot more. In her capacities as an advocate for responsible land use, she has served on a number of local and regional boards to promote tourism, economic development, health, and natural resource management; she currently serves as a McDowell County Rotary Club Member (where she previously served as president) and as a Board Member and Executive Committee Member of the McDowell Health Coalition.

Heather recently completed the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail which spans approximately 1,100 miles from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, and 220 miles of which are on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She thinks there is no better way to experience the Parkway than on foot, in order to explore its rich diversity of flora and fauna. Heather loves the boundless recreational opportunities the Parkway offers visitors of all ages, and hopes to protect its unique natural and cultural environment for future generations. She lives in Marion, North Carolina, with her husband, Nate, who serves as a Planning Director for Buncombe County and loves spending her free time in her garden.