I don’t believe in walking on private land, even if I know I’m not going to get caught. There’s plenty of public land in the Southern Appalachians.
But Sunday, I was invited for a hike at Balsam Mountain Preserve.
The Preserve is a high-end gated community near Sylva, North Carolina off of US 74.
I had met Barbara and Rob at a Friends of the Smokies hike and they invited me to bring a Carolina Mountain Club group to hike on their land. I didn’t need to be convinced. After several delays because of awful weather, I finally appeared at the Preserve gate on Sunday morning. I proceeded to drive up, and I mean, up, to meet my hiking hosts.
According to their website, Balsam Mountain Preserve has 4,400 acres but 3,400 acres have been put in a permanent conservation easement under the protection of the Balsam Mountain Trust. That means that the developer can’t build houses on it. That land is kept in woods and trails, creeks and cascades.
As we walked, I learned a little about its history. Champion Paper owned the land, as it owned so much of Western North Carolina. It sold the acreage in the 1960s, and land was eventually bought by a developer that meant to develop. Now summer visitors own most of the houses, though there is a small cadre of permanent residents.
We started the hike somewhere in the middle of the preserve at 3,250 feet above sea level. It was cold.
We walked on wide logging roads and trails. As we hiked, friends, family and dogs kept joining us and dropping away. I felt like the Pied Piper.
We walked along Dark Ridge Creek. Our first destination was Dark Ridge Camp, a horse camp with all the amenities where residents can stay overnight. We had our first lunch here, and several people shown in the picture left for other activities.
Rob and I kept walking above the creek.
The autumn colors and views were at their best, as we looked at the mountain tops. The site was very quiet. It didn’t matter if we walked on trail, logging roads or modern roads; we didn’t see too many people. To be more precise, except for our group, we only met a security van driving the roads.
We passed Licklog Falls, a high, thin waterfall but I can’t tell you exactly where it was on the loop. I had a map but there are no corresponding trail signs or blazes. Like most private land, those that know the way know, and most don’t hike anyway. The latter are just happy that the land is protected.
After the hike, Rob took me to the Nature Center, where they have birds, snakes and even an alligator. Most animals were rescued and can’t live in the wild now. The BM Trust does a lot of educational programs in schools and even has a summer camp for the resident children.
Altogether, a great visit. Thank you Barbara and Rob. I’m scheduling a hike at Balsam Mountain Preserve in April. I’m sure many CMC hikers will be interested. Check the CMC website in the spring.