Can Sylva Become an MST Trail Town?


Yesterday I took a trip to Jackson County for two purposes.

I wanted to go to Western Carolina University to see where the 2013 Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial meeting was going to be held. I had been to Western several times but now I was paying attention.

But the main reason was to explore Sylva as a possible trail town. When Sharon and I did the Mountains-to-Sea Trail close to Balsam Gap in Jackson County, we stayed on the highway and went into Sylva for dinner. Sylva could be a great MST trail town. To qualify as a trail town, in my opinion, the people in town must know about the MST. That will take a long time but it’s never too early for hikers to educate business owners about the MST.  

If you’re reading this as a Board member or part of the staff of Friends of the MST, rest assured that I know that the MST is not ready for trail towns. But I can speculate.

A trail town should be small so that residents get to see MST hikers as assets that bring in money and publicity to the town. Conversely, hikers get a good feel for the town. Sylva is less than three square miles and has only about 2,600 people.

But for most hikers, a trail town is all about services. Traditionally, long-distance hikers look for cheap food and a laundrymat – Sylva has both and more.

The old County Courthouse is on a hill overlooking Main St. See above. When the new Jackson County Justice and Administration Building was completed in 1994, the old building stayed empty until it was completely restored and reopened as a library complex in 2011.

I walked the 107 steps. But after I reached the top, I saw that the steps no longer lead to the entrance. Now you go into the building from the parking lot. A majestic entrance was lost in the redesign.

At the top of the stairs, a statue of a Civil War soldier guards what was the front of the building. That was the last major war in the U.S. before the building opened. Every town in the South needs a Civil War memorial. The complex includes a room for the Jackson County museum. When I got there at 12:35 pm, the room was closed. The museum was supposed to be open at noon. I asked several employees about the museum but all I got was a polite shrug.

Sylva-general storeMain Street is the classic small town street – a hair salon, a fly fishing shop, bicycle shop, an outfitter, and a used bookstore that benefits the library.

Massie Furniture Store carries 1950s furniture, the kind in my parents’ apartment in Brooklyn.

A hardware store and Jackson General Store have clothes and dishes and everything else that’s supposed to keep you from going to Wal-Mart. Peebles, a one-floor department store that seems to pop up in small towns, sells 1960s clothes. The craft gallery is closed for January and February. Free wifi is advertised everywhere. I need to go back to Sylva in the spring when it comes back to life again.

Up on a hill, City Lights Bookstore is very much alive and stays open until 9 pm. Under the bookstore is a coffee shop and cafe that also serves meals and beer and wine. It’s the best place for coffee and goodies.

Mill Street parallels Main Street. By the railroad tracks, Bridge Park has a great looking picnic shelter. Wouldn’t that make a good place to camp for long-distance MST walkers? The town would have to install a couple of Port-o-Johns. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon but hikers could stay at Blue Ridge Inn. It’s a privately owned nonchain motel with rocking chairs and outside entrance to each room. Don’t look for rave reviews on Trip Advisor.

Most of what a long-distance hiker needs is on US 107 including Ted’s Laundromat and several supermarkets for resupply. All types of fast food are available on the highway. Two all-you-can-eat buffets, Ryan’s and Jade Dragon, will fill up anyone.

But this may be an old-fashioned stereotypic view of long-distance hikers. Not everyone who does a long-distance hike walk is trying to do it the cheapest way possible.

Sharon and I wanted slow food. Lulu’s on Main Street is the classic place.

But Soul Infusion further north has, well, soul. They offer over 60 different teas, served properly in a tea pot with boiling water.Sylva2012-Soul Infusion That’s the infusion part. The soul is the 1970s funky decor – posters, signs, lei hung on the wall – and friendly people that will talk to you. The food is good and, yes, they serve beer and wine. 

So when the time comes, Sylva has a good chance to compete as a MST mountain trail town.

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