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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends of the MST meeting – before and after

The Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail 40th anniversary meeting and gala promises to be one to remember. It’s next weekend – Friday March 24 to Sunday March 26 in Elkin, NC. Besides the gala  and Saturday meeting,  there will be art stroll, music, and wine and beer, of course.

And we’ll be refighting the Revolutionary War in the South. OK, not fighting, just learning about the various battles.  On Friday March 24: 8:00-5:00 and Saturday March 25: 8:00-3:00, members of the North Carolina Historical Reenactment Society Revolutionary War Unit 6th NC Regiment of the Continental Line (the Sixth), the Yadkin Valley Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Surry-Wilkes Chapter of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association will present Overmountain Victory Trail Revolutionary War Days. Yes, there was plenty of revolutionary war action in the South.

Guilford Courthouse

There will be talks on the Battle of Kings Mountains and Guilford Courthouse – subjects of two national park units that I visited several times. I do hope that the speakers will go beyond “the red stood here and the blue stood there.”

Maybe they might explain one the most fascinating monuments at Guilford Courthouse, the “No North, No South” monument. This monument, erected in 1903, was an attempt to unify the country still raw from the Civil War by pointing out that we were all unified during the American Revolution.

But have no fear. These talks will only be 15 minutes each and be repeated throughout the day.

Muskets and rifles will be fired. Members of the company will be camping in authentic Revolutionary style. I wonder if anyone will be reenacting the redcoats, you know, the British Army soldiers.

OVVI

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVVI) unifies several battlefields. Its eastern end starts in Elkin. The western end is in Virginia. There’s a rumor that the Superintendent of the Historic Trail will also be there, talking about OVVI and stamping your national park passport.

But the most fascinating part of all of this for me is talking to the men who are the descendants of the OVVI soldiers. Imagine knowing about your grandfather (N times removed) who lived in the 1780s.

I could give you the schedule but there are so many activities. Just come to Elkin on Friday and enjoy. And though technically, you don’t have to register for the Friends of the MST meeting to participate in the reenactment, just remember who made this possible.

So sign up – I don’t think it’s too late.

 

Hiking Everywhere – Athens, OH

There’s hiking everywhere.

It can be glamorous and far away like Europe and New Zealand. You can hike in a national park like Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or you can hike locally in Athens, OH.

Mystery mushrooms

Athens, the home of Ohio University, is a smaller version of Asheville and just as hippy-dippy.

Local food, local art, music and spirit but no national parks. Located in the northwestern end of Southern Appalachia, the town has rolling hills and an amazing greenway, more suited to biking than hiking.

But, there’s hiking right from town. My son, Neil, had designed a hike which started at Dow Lake in Strouds Run State Park and took us to Sells Park and back – a total over about 10.5 miles.

It was only 22 degrees when we started out by climbing on top of the Dow Lake dam. With no other information, I assume that the lake was created for recreational use – primarily boating and fishing. We walked along the long narrow lake and I had my doubts if my frozen fingers would ever work again.

In Stroud Run SP

But there was just enough altitude gain (not much) and I was so bundled up that after about an hour, the heat from my core spread out to my fingers. By then, it must have been in the low 30s.

Once we left the lakeside, we encountered artifacts of past homesteads. Daffodils are a dead give-away that people lived here. The flowers must have been freezing, like hikers.

No native spring flowers yet. But we did see red mystery  mushrooms. Though they look plastic, I assure you that they are real.

Once we got to Sells Park, it wasn’t long until we reached E. State St., the main shopping street and Cafe Sol, a Cuban and Caribbean restaurant. What a brilliant idea! No need to have our sandwiches outdoors in the freezing weather.

I had a Spanish omelet with potatoes, cheese and beans. It was wonderful. I could eat that every night in Spain.

And then we went back the same way. By the afternoon, mountain bikers and dog walkers had come out to enjoy the cold sunshine. An easy all-day hike which can be modified to try other intersecting trails. There’s hiking everywhere.

PS I finally looked up where daffodils are natives. They’re from Spain and Portugal. I wonder if I’ll see them on the Camino de Santiago.