Category Archives: Mountains-to-Sea Trail

MST-in-a-Day – the Celebrity Hike

Today, I had the pleasure and honor  to lead a celebrity hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for MST-in-a-Day. We walked from the Folk Art Center to the Visitor Center and back – an easy, popular stretch.  We were one of many groups walking the trail from Clingmans Dome to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST, said that she helped kick off MST-in-a-Day at midnight on a hike at Falls Lake State Recreation Area in the Raleigh area.

If you want to know about the features of this section of trail, read my scouting trip report.

We were so lucky to have wonderful weather – sunny, cool and dry. And all the celebrities who said they were coming showed up on time, in the right place, and ready to go. So who were the celebrities? In no particular order,

Dan Brown, retired superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway (in the yellow shorts)

Phil Francis, retired superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway (somehow missing from the group picture)

John Slaughter, current acting superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway (in NPS uniform)

Jennifer Pharr Davis, writer, long-distance hiking record holder, currently hiking the whole MST for Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, holding Gus, her second child

Karen Chavez, Outdoor editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times with a pink jacket

Carolyn Ward, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, in a dark blue shirt, next to Karen

Esther Manheimer, lawyer and mayor of Asheville, in the middle row with a  dark blue long sleeve and sun visor. The boy in back of Esther is her son. Jamie, the woman with the dog, works for the city of Asheville. All three and the dog took off in a run, right after the photos.

Lauren Fortuna, actress. I saw her in the Jeeves play at the NC Stage Company.

John, Danny, Phil and Dan

Those are celebrities!!

Robert G., a new but strong hiker, came along. He wanted to know all about Carolina Mountain Club. I gave him a CMC bookmark and said,”

“I’d love to talk to you but we are in such famous company. Talk to the superintendents. You’ll learn a lot.

Here I am with the three men.

I, too, learned a lot, including that John S. is leaving to go back to his home in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution parks on September 30. JD Lee, of Big Cypress National Preserve, will become the acting superintendent of the Parkway. Hopefully, by the beginning of the year, the most visited park unit in the country will get a permanent superintendent.

Alarm at The Cove

In case you’re wondering if my hike was just a rerun of the scouting hike, I can report that that we had a little excitement of the non-natural kind.

John and I were deep in conversation, when an alarm started screeching in the woods. It seems that I missed a turn and headed for a fenced-off area of a Christian retreat. We were so stunned that it took us a a moment to figure out what we did.

Everyone but Robert and I (the non-celebrities) stopped at the Visitor Center and found other ways of getting back to their cars. The two of us walked back to our cars at the Folk Art Center. On the way, we made a point of setting the alarm off again. It was fun!

Thank you, all, for coming out… And keep on hiking!

Scouting for MST in a Day

I’ve done the whole Mountains-to-Sea Trail but there are parts of the trail that I go back to over and over again. These sections are close, easy and can work in many circumstances.

So I was thrilled when Kate D. and Betsy B. of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail asked me to lead a “celebrity” hike for MST-in-a-Day on Saturday September 9 – this coming Saturday. We’re going from the Folk Art Center to the Visitor Center and back.

You may wonder what a celebrity is – so did I. We’ve invited Carolyn Ward of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Brad Cave of Eastern National, John Slaughter, the current acting superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and several retired superintendents. I don’t know who will show up but I know I will – rain or shine.

No matter how many times I do a hike, I scout it before I lead it again. So a couple of days ago, I drove to the Folk Art Center and walked MST-west to the Visitor Center – 2.9 miles or so.

The trail was manicured, as you would expect since it is a popular section. On a Saturday morning, there were lots of runners, dog walkers and three hikers who recognized me.

The photographer, Jennifer Mesk,runs the website Humans of Asheville  and she interviewed me a while back.

“You’re the one with the book,” she said.

“Yeah, several..”

Hearts-a-Bustin

Fall flowers abound: hearts-a-Bustin also known as strawberry bush, bowman’s root, goldenrod and jewel weed. Spring flowers may be more popular when we come out of winter but fall flowers are just as fascinating.

But the most surprising were the cows in the pasture under the Blue Ridge Parkway. See the picture above.

Twenty cows blocking the trail were intimidating but they moved and mooed as soon as I approached.

Swannanoa River

The trail crossed the Swannanoa River and climbed up past a house or two and eventually reached the Visitor Center. After chatting to Eastern National employees and having a snack, I retraced my steps.

I will be at the Folk Art Center by 9 am. The hike will start promptly at 9:30am.

Please come and join me. Let’s see what celebrities show up.

Fall on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Chestnut tree

Are you ready for fall? It’s only the end of July but on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at 5,000 feet, you can see the signs of fall.

Yesterday, Marcia B. led an easy downhill hike from Grassy Ridge Mine Overlook (5,250 ft.) to Balsam Gap. We parked a couple of cars at the maintenance yard, drove to the overlook and started hiking.

Nine Carolina Mountain Club hikers walked in a line. The trail was damp and green, with trees, vines and flowers in abundance. The trick was to observe the trees (and flowers) for the forest.

Some hikers were new to the environment, some were (literally) professionals. So there was a lot of discussion of the land around us.

Were the small, scrawny trees we saw entangle with others, chestnut oaks or real chestnuts? I have it on good authority that we saw real chestnuts. Chestnut oaks have scalloped ends while chestnuts have pointy ends. See the first picture on the left.

Indian pipes

Marcia, our leader, was pretty sure that the Indian pipes doubled as periscope. Fairies and other underground creatures were watching hikers and trail maintainers as they passed through.

But who did they report to and what did they do with their information? Marcia had not fleshed out her story well enough to make it credible.

Mushroom, AKA f airy baths

Then we had the fungus, mushrooms that were used as fairy baths by the underground fairies.

They had everything they needed in the woods. Still they stay hidden, but must come out sometime for a bath. When nine hikers walk on a well-marked, downhill trail, the imagination can get going.

Trillium berries

Other signs of falls – doll’s eyes, the seed from the white baneberry. No one notices the baneberry flower in the spring because it has so much competition but doll’s eyes are different.

Red trillium berries – those three large leaves are unmistakable.

Plenty of white and red bee balm, without bees – thank goodness – but with butterflies drinking in their nectar.

Bridge on MST

Black cohosh – I couldn’t tell this tall, foamy, white flower from others but Linda B. could. One of the benefits of walking with a group.

Once we got to about 3,500 feet, the vegetation changed. No more flowers, just vines and trees. We crossed a wooden bridge, erected by the Carolina Mountain Club trail crew and reached Balsam Gap.

Thanks, Marcia, for leading this hike!