Every national park has boundaries. There’s no question when you’re in the park and when you’re out. Today’s Carolina Mountain Club hike showed this off at its best. Our hike went back and forth from “town” to “gown” or Great Smoky Mountains National Park in this case. Because of the park’s history, dwellings and farms can be right over the border.
Our hike started at the gate to Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, informally known as Purchase Knob. In the winter, the Science Center is closed-it is over 5,000 feet in altitude, so hikers have to walk about 1.5 miles to the Cataloochee Divide Trail. It was cold and windy and my fingers were frozen.
The land on which the Science Learning Center is located was owned by Kathryn McNeil. She and her family had built a summer home. But in the year 2000, she donated the house and 535 acres of land to the park. Now, school children and scientists use it as a base for scientific exploration.
But once we reached Cataloochee Divide Trail, we were in between two sets of trees and I felt a little warmer. I could at least find my fingers.
Cataloochee Divide Trail forms part of the eastern boundary of the park. If you have any doubts about that, you can see the fence separating the park from private land.
We reached a small cabin, called Taylor’s Turnaround. It used to be a shelter but now is a full-fledged cabin. We all thought that it belonged to the Swag, coming up, but no… We met the owner in the afternoon who said his property adjoined the Swag.
Now the Swag.
Dan and Deener Matthews built this upscale lodging in the mountains. first as their summer home. Dan is the Rector Emeritus of Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York City.
The Swag is open from mid-April to the end of November. The rooms, with all meals, go from $625 to almost $900 a night. It’s a beautiful place for a honeymoon or anniversary or just to see the Smokies in comfort.
You can always figure out when you’re on private land, since there are always more signs. The most puzzling one is a memorial to Drayton Robertson. Look at the photo. The memorial is no older than about two years. Any idea who this person was?
Cataloochee Ranch is the last piece of private property. It’s a ranch where you can ride horses, rent a cabin or just have lunch. Much of the top of Hemphill Bald has been saved as a conservation easement, guaranteeing that it can never be developed.
We then headed back.
By now, the sun was shining and we stopped on the porch at Purchase Knob before walking the road to our cars.
If you want to see unbroken wilderness, this hike is not for you. But I love seeing the different ways that our land is being used.
Thanks, Laura F. for leading the hike.