Category Archives: Blue Ridge Parkway

Waterrock Knob Park?

Big news on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Waterrock Knob has been in the news lately. On National Trails Day, Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail opened a section of the MST around the Knob.

Now the Conservation Fund has been acquiring thousands of acres around Waterrock Knob over the last few years. The Blue Ridge Parkway is planning to turn the
Knob into a park similar to what it has done at Price Park and Doughton
Park. They are having a big announcement on August 23rd and all are
invited.

WaterrockKnob steps
WaterrockKnob steps

The Conservation Fund says that “An effort to conserve more than 5,000 acres in the Plott Balsam Mountains and much of the spectacular views from Waterrock Knob will be achieved through collaborative efforts led by The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service, with significant donations from The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

This tremendous conservation success was made possible in part with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, Brad and Shelli Stanback and other private supporters.” A lot of groups had a hand in this.

But an interview with  Bill Holman, NC state director of The Conservation Fund, done a couple of years ago by Smoky Mountain News, hints at more than picnic tables and even camping spots.

What if the NC Wildlife Commission managed the land as open meadow? Could it attract elk?

Elk in the Smokies
Elk in the Smokies

Elk are getting crowded in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and could move into Waterrock Knob Park, given the right circumstances.

Wow! That might be the only place where MST hikers might see elk in their natural habitat!

A lot to think about! In the meantime, plan to go to Waterrock Knob on August 23 and ask questions.

Here’s the formal invitation. Waterrock Knob 8-23-16 Invitation

Mt. Pisgah off the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

MSTPisgah 016AI hate the overused expression “get back to basics”. Usually it means overpriced, overprocessed foods and cosmetics in a environmentally acceptable green color. But sometimes, the saying does work.

When a hiker asks me what trails they should start with in Western North Carolina, I always suggest climbing Mt. Pisgah. Not only is it a classic, but it allows you to orient yourself to the area. Mt. Pisgah is a classic and a basic hike.

From the top of Mt. Pisgah, you’ll see Cold Mountain, Looking Glass Rock, and the Frying Pan Mountain tower.

Sunday, I went on the Carolina Mountain Club half-day hike, led by Bobbi Powers. Since the climb is just 2.6 miles and 750 feet of elevation gain, Bobbi needed a couple more miles to make it a decent half-day hike. So we started and ended at Pisgah Inn. The mile from Pisgah Inn to the bottom of Mt. Pisgah must be the most manicured mile on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the mountains.

Looking into the Springhouse
Looking into the Springhouse

We went past the Buckspring Lodge site and peeked into the Spring house, just off the trail.

Some hikers call it a secret. It’s not a secret, folks. Read Walt Weber’s book Trail Profiles and maps from the Great Smokies to Mount Mitchell and Beyond and my two hiking guides.

Up to Mt. Pisgah
Up to Mt. Pisgah

Then we started climbing Mt. Pisgah. I had forgotten how steep and rocky the trail is.

I’ve been hiking in the Smokies for so long that I sometimes forget that most WNC trails in Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway are full of rocks and roots. I have become so spoiled.

I had to stop a couple of times to take a drink and catch my breath. Since this was an afternoon hike, we were walking in the hottest part of the July day. It wasn’t easy.

Look at the picture to the left.

Now look at the quality of the Chimney Tops Trail. It’s longer and steeper but the trail quality is so good.

Chimney Tops Trail
Chimney Tops Trail

Of course, Chimney Tops has been completely rehabilitated with money from Trails Forever, donated by Friends of the Smokies. I wrote about this a few weeks ago.

What does it all means?

*  Mt. Pisgah is actually on Blue Ridge Parkway land. But the Parkway puts fewer resources into quality trails than the Smokies.

* When deciding on a trail, look at distance, altitude gain and terrain. The latter is the hardest information to get, but it’s important.

* Hike up to Mt. Pisgah. It’s worth the effort.

Up to the icicles on the Blue Ridge Parkway

What does the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s favorite drive, look like in winter without its cars?

It was 45 degrees this morning, a heat wave at least by January standards. I went on a Carolina Mountain Club hike thinking that the icicles, the highlight of the hike, would have melted away. But we were not disappointed.

Eight of us hiked up Case Camp Ridge Trail in Pisgah National Forest, a long steep climb.

On the way, we saw the strangest thing, a mirror stuck in a tree. Was someone going to use it to put on lipstick? We figured a mountain biker probably lost it on the way down and someone shoved into a tree trunk.

At this point, no one would think of pulling the mirror out of the branch. So the question is “When does a piece of litter, the mirror, become an artifact?” Maybe in fifty years.

The Parkway is closed to cars but not to hikers. It is perfectly fine to walk the road. We accessed the Mountains-to-Sea Trail close to Cherry Cove Overlook for a short while, then went down on the Parkway. We kept looking out for cars, knowing full well that there weren’t any.

Magnificent icicle formations clung to the rocks. See the picture above. Some pieces had fallen on the road and were still falling as we walked. We were careful not to stand too close to the rocks, lest we get hit with chunks of ice on its way down.

The fog prevented me from taking prize-winning photographs but that same fog added to the eery atmosphere. I just wasn’t clever enough to record it right.

We walked down Seniard Ridge Trail, first very steeply, then on a comfortable road, back to our cars.

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