All posts by Danny Bernstein

About Danny Bernstein

I'm a hiker, hike leader for the Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Smokies and an outdoor writer.

Friends of the MST Celebrates 40 years!

This past weekend, Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail celebrated its 40th anniversary in Elkin, North Carolina with a gala, meeting and lots of activities. The evening gala attracted about 260 members, the meeting about 290. Here are a few highlights.

Howard Lee and Doris Hammett

Friday evening went back to the past. In 1977, Howard Lee, then Secretary of the NC Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, announced that there would be a hiking trail through North Carolina. Howard, now on the board of Friends of the MST, was at the meeting. So was Dr. Doris Hammett who had chaired the Fourth National Trails Conference where Howard spoke. Doris was also a leader in the trail building Task Force in Haywood County.

Saturday was all about the future. What would the trail look like in the next 40 years, in 2057? Each table brainstormed the future of the MST. Our table came up with:

  1.  One million hikers have completed the trail.
  2. The MST is all on footpath
  3. Hostels and campsites will enable hikers to hike the whole trail smoothly.

Even I won’t be around in 40 years to see this happen but these are important goals.

Kate Dixon and her award

Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST since 2008, received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, a major, major award in North Carolina. Pretty impressive.

Here’s a little information about this award.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society
Among the most prestigious awards conferred by the Governor of North Carolina is The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. It is awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.

Jennifer Pharr Davis, who we all know as the past record holder of the fastest person on the Appalachian Trail, was the keynote speaker.

Jennifer Pharr Davis

She will walk the MST starting in August to publicize the trail and encourage everyone to get out there. Her husband, Brew, will handle the logistics for Jennifer’s hike. It takes support of all kinds to walk the MST.

Jennifer will hold events in the communities around the MST and will invite hikers to walk with her. She emphasized the healing and uplifting power of nature.

No, Jennifer won’t be running. This is a different kind of project. I managed to take a picture of her with Gus, her younger child.

To my amazement, I received recognition for my involvement on the MST.  I received a beautifully framed print of the certificate now given out to MST completers.

Kate and me with a plaque

In my thank you remarks, I emphasized that in our efforts to get the MST off the road, we don’t forget that the MST is more than a walk between two sets of trees.

I hope we don’t lose the history of our state that we can now see on the road – the mills, cabins, tobacco barns, historic plaques, hamlets, old advertising – and major reminders of the American Revolution and even a little of the Civil War. 

Speaking of history, the photo at the top of the blog post is of an American Revolution encampment in Elkin set up for the weekend. The town is the eastern end of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and very proud of its part in the Revolutionary War.

It’s going to be difficult to top this meeting. So let’s just get on the trail.

Great Smoky Mountains Association picked up FAB

I am thrilled to let the world know that the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) picked up  my book,

Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South.

Swain County Visitor Center

You know GSMA as the park partner which manages the bookstores in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Surely you’ve stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands, or maybe, at the Swain County Visitor Center to buy a book, honey or a T-shirt. They have nine stores in and around the park.

But GSMA is also a publisher of all things Smokies.

They are the authority on trails, flowers, birds, salamanders … of the Smokies. If you’re a hiker, you should have Hiking Trails of the Smokies. If you’re a birder, they have Birds of the Smokies in a small-format book.

GSMA has carried all my books including Forests, Alligators, Battlefields. But now they’re going to publish it as well. They might put a new cover, change the price, make all the decisions that a traditional publisher does.

And they’re going to distribute it as well. That is always be the biggest challenge with independent publishing.

So if you’re thinking that you might want a copy (or two or three), go to the Official Park Store and buy a copy from them. Or in a Smokies store, of course.

That’s buying local.

The Smokies – What happens at the border?

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.

Frozen weeds

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.

CMC Hikers

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.

Drayton Robertson

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?

At the Swag

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.