Hikes

Thunder on the Mountain

Sporting mid-October splendor, the view from Waterrock Knob was gorgeous.

Sporting mid-October splendor, the view of the Plott Balsam Mountains from Waterrock Knob was gorgeous.

Drew Stevenson from Highland Brewing Company  and Kana Miller (SAHC AmeriCorps PR and Outreach Associate) fearlessly led our group of hikers into the clouds for a strenuous but fun October hike — the Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership hike to  Blackrock Mountain. Drew recounts this trek through the Plott Balsams in Jackson County, our 2nd Partnership  hike of the fall season:

“The hike group met at the Waterrock Knob overlook (elevation 6,292 feet), which gets its name from a cool stream where hunters and farmers came to quench their thirst. About 1/4 mile down from the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center we started the trail, which covers approximately 2.2 miles of up-and-down terrain, becoming very skinny at times to hug the steep mountainside.
Relics from old logging days merge with the moss-dotted forest.

Relics from old logging days merge with the moss-dotted forest.

With occasional views of puffy clouds floating in the valley below,  the route provided a handful of opportunities for hikers to display some simple rock climbing skills. We reached the summit of Yellow Face Mountain about a mile into the hike and enjoyed a water break with a view, surrounded by trees and blackberry bushes.

On our next descent into the forest, before the trail began to climb again, we stopped in a flat, mossy area full of lichen, fungi and a large metal structure left over from the days of logging around the area. It kind of resembled something Steebo, a local metal artist, would have utilized for one of his projects.
"British soldier," an interesting species of lichen named for its bright red color.

“British soldier,” an interesting species of lichen named for its bright red color.

We also admired all the British soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) growing on a group of fallen trees on the edge of the forest. They are a species of lichen with erect, hollow branches that end in distinctive red fruiting bodies from which the popular name is derived. Then, we headed back up the trail into thicker forest and hiked beside large rocks, some draped with smooth rock tripe that looked like slick strips of vinyl peeling  off from the surface. An abundance of ferns and moss also covered many of the rocks bordering the trail to the top.

A pause before the final push before the summit.

A pause before the final push to the summit.

After successfully maneuvering through a couple of the most challenging spots on the trail, we passed a “Conservation Area” marker, which signified the important work that SAHC has done in this particular area and provided us with an indicator that we were nearing our destination.

Before reaching the Blackrock Mountain crest, we approached our last difficult climb and popped out onto the rock that would be our lunch spot. Clouds engulfed the majority of the long range views in front of us, but as the wind pushed them through, we managed to get glimpses of Yellow Face and some sights of autumn color change.

SAHC member and avid hiker, Bob Roepnack points out interesting landmarks as the clouds break.

SAHC member and avid hiker, Bob Roepnack points out interesting landmarks as the clouds break.

This peaceful place provided an opportunity for fellowship with our hiking group and time to talk about the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership with those who were hiking with us for the first time. As we made our way back, the clouds lifted just as we ascended Yellow Face Mountain, allowing us the chance to get a peek at the beautiful view below.

On the way back to Asheville, Kana  and I stopped at the Thunderstruck Ridge overlook to see the ridge for which the latest Highland Brewing Company seasonal — Thunderstruck Coffee Porter — was named.”

About the “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership:

Highland Brewing Company (HBC) partners with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and US Fish & Wildlife Service in order to support our conservation efforts and heighten awareness of the unique peaks, natural features, and native species which make our area so special. As part of this partnership, Highland Brewing Company donates a portion of pint sales from each release party to SAHC to support land and water conservation.

The “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership activities, including free guided hikes, occur throughout the year, centering around each of HBC’s seasonal releases. Each HBC seasonal brew is named for a feature of the Southern Appalachian landscape.

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June Jamboree 2014

Before we head full into cold weather, here’s a sunny memory to tide you over until next year. For the June Jamboree this past summer, a group of around 50 people joined together for a beautiful day of hiking and exploring in the Highlands of Roan, celebrating 40 years of conservation with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. In addition to the classic Carver’s Gap to Grassy Ridge hike, Yoga on the Mountain, Kids in the Creek, and Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens, this year we also featured another strenuous challenge hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail. Our Former AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR & Outreach Associate, Anna Zanetti, helped co-lead the Challenge Hike, and here is her story…

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The Challenge Hikers head off single file down the Appalachian Trail.

“Early on the morning of the Jamboree, 16 people met to embark on our 12-mile, intensive Challenge Hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands of Roan. We all piled into cars and shuttled our way to the Appalachian Trail along 19E in Tennessee. It was 8:00 am and people were yawning, still waking up — but before we knew it we were at the trailhead ready to begin the day. Hikers trekked into the woods and steadily climbed steep rocks though a canopy of trees for three miles, taking our first group break at Doll Flats.

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Once proposed as sites for mountaintop resorts, Little Hump and Hump Mountains were protected in the early 1980s, due in large part to conservation planning efforts led by SAHC founders.

As we sat down to rest, we all tried to guess our current elevation, eventually learning that Doll Flats rests at 4, 560 feet. Sufficiently rested, we gathered our packs and headed off single file southbound along the AT.

The trail wound in and out of the trees until we reached the base of Hump Mountain, where we became fully exposed to the 360-degree views. The sky was clear, the breeze was cool and everyone was thrilled to see the surrounding peaks. We continued our ascent to the top of Hump Mountain (5,587 ft) where we congregated to hear a brief presentation from our Stewardship & Conservation Planning Director, Hanni Muerdter.

“This property was slated as a potential site for Beech Mountain Resort,” explained Hanni. “SAHC’s founders identified Hump and Little Hump Mountains as priority concerns in the early 1960’s, and they were protected by the early 1980’s.” Turning to take in the open surroundings, we all realized how lucky we were to be sitting amongst these protected peaks.

From a vantage point atop Hump Mountain, Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director Hanni Muerdter points out SAHC's protection work across the landscape.

From a vantage point atop Hump Mountain, Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director Hanni Muerdter points out SAHC’s protection work across the landscape.

It was 11:30 am when we reached Hump Mountain, so we decided to push forward and hike to Little Hump for lunch. You could see Little Hump straight ahead in the distance resting at an elevation of 5,459 ft.  It seemed like it would be a simple 2 mile stretch, but the AT takes a sharp left and zigzagged us through a thicket of trees with no site of the balds around us. As the trees became shorter and the sun became brighter we eventually made our way to the top of Little Hump with a few rocks and scattered trees to provide us with shade for our lunch. We were all happy to rest at this point. One of the hikers, Bev McDowell, brought food to share with the group — the hot ticket items were the chocolate bars that she kindly passed around.

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“The views were endless, the weather was perfect and the company was joyful.”

Once we ate and stretched we got back on our feet heading southbound toward the Red Barn shelter and the intersection of the AT and Overmountain Victory Trail. Along our descent the fields were filled with wild angelica. It is a species of plant that is tall and creates large compound white flowers. This section of the trail took us a little longer than expected because everyone was taking photos of the beautiful fields. We took a short break at the AT intersection for a group shot and then kept hiking toward the Stan Murray shelter. After a long steady hike to the shelter we all regrouped and began our descent into the National Trails Tract, where the post-hike celebration awaited us.

Flame

After a stunning day at the top of the world, Challenge hikers trekked down to SAHC’s National Trails tract for refreshments and fellowship.

Slow and steadily we followed Elk Fork Branch that started as a small water resource but progressed into a stable stream. We bushed whacked for nearly 45mins down a steep and slippery terrain till we connected with an established trail on the National Trails Tract. The hikers were able to walk out onto large rock slabs in the center of the creek to check out a few waterfalls more closely. After a couple hikers took a quick dip in the water we all hiked down to the post gathering on the National Trails Tract where snacks and drinks awaited the tired challenge hikers.

The day was an overwhelming success for all of the hikers. The views were endless, the weather was perfect and the company was joyful. The beauty of the natural grassy balds is unlike any other and they are always enticing hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to come back to the Highlands of Roan.”

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A Rattling Good Time

Our newest AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR and Outreach Associate, Kana Miller, jumped full into the outings program last month with her first “For Love of Beer & Mountains” guided hike — and a bit of a surprise along the trail!

The 2014 "For Love of Beer & Mountains" Clawhammer hike.

The 2014 “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Clawhammer hike.

“On September 20th, a beautiful and sunny Saturday, my initiation into the SAHC family truly commenced as I led my first event and “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership hike up Clawhammer Mountain. As the newest AmeriCorps Project Conserve PR and Outreach Associate, part of my responsibilities include teaming up with Highland Brewing Company and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to lead these partnership hikes to namesakes of Highland’s seasonal brews, raising awareness and support for our conservation efforts to protect clean water, unique plant and animal habitat and scenic beauty. While I was nervous about leading my first hike, I was quickly put at ease by the cheerful demeanor of our hiking group. Within the first couple of minutes on trail a fellow AmeriCorps member and Stewardship Associate, Andrea Thompson, heard the soft rattle of a young rattlesnake! The rattler was sunbathing just a foot of trail. How Andrea was able to hear the quite rattling still amazes me.

A young rattlesnake sunbathing just a foot off the trail.

A young rattlesnake sunbathing just a foot off the trail.

Our group was able to admire the rattler from the trail and everyone was able to keep a safe distance, respecting the snake’s privacy. From that exciting encounter, the day only got better. Saturday was a perfect day for a hike – you could feel Fall right around the corner! As we climbed through wildflower patches and rich forests, the small yet chatty group enjoyed conversations ranging from native species identification to beer and ‘old school’ Nike hiking boots.

View from the summit.

View from the summit.

The final push to the summit of Clawhammer Mountain is steep but worth the view. A beautiful vista of Looking Glass and Pisgah National Forest lies just a couple hundred feet past the summit. This rocky outcrop makes for a fantastic lunch spot, where we soaked up the sun and pointed out various features, like the Blue Ridge Parkway and a few of the infamous balds of the region.

Hikers at the summit of Clawhammer Mountain.

Hikers at the summit of Clawhammer Mountain.

After a while deserved and relaxing lunch, we made our way back down the mountain. The hike down was equally as enjoyable as our ascent. I’m very grateful my first group of hikers was such an amiable and awesome bunch! As we neared the trailhead, the group was both relieved and disappointed to see that our rattlesnake friend had moved on, to a different sunning spot. I can’t wait to see what my next hike will have in store!”

Interested in joining us for our next “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership hike?

The newly protected tract is visible from overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“For Love of Beer & Mountains” Thunderstruck/Blackrock Mountain Hike
Off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Plott Balsam Overlook (milepost 458.0)
Date: October 11
Time: 10:00 am

Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous

Enjoy views of Thunderstruck Ridge, for which Highland’s Thunderstruck Coffee Porter is named, and Blackrock Mountain, which SAHC protected in 2013. We will travel over 5 miles of rugged terrain, through red spruce and fraser firs, red oak forest, and other high elevation trees while occasionally stopping at rock outcroppings for views of Thunderstruck Ridge. The group will hike through the 1,595-acre Plott Balsam Preserve and eventually reach Blackrock Ridge at a towering 5,600 feet of elevation.

This hike is free for all participants, but pre-registration is required. For more info or to register, contact Kana Miller at 828.253.0095 ext 205 or kana@appalachian.org. Directions and additional details will be provided after registration.

We are pleased to offer this hike as part of our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership with Highland Brewing Company and US Fish & Wildlife Service.

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Community Farm/Discovery Trail Hike

SAHC's Community Farm in Alexander, NC, situated with a stunning mountain backdrop

SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC, situated with a stunning mountain backdrop

It was hot –  but not too hot – just the kind of bright summer sun you imagine plants loving to soak in.

On National Trails Day/Land Trust Day (June 7, 2014), we led a group of curious members, landowners, and local families on a two-hour tour of SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC. This first Saturday in June starts off Outdoor Month, and was given special designation to recognize the economic importance of trails across the nation as well as the land conservation work of local land trusts. It was a wonderful day to enjoy the 1.5-mile Discovery Trail and to showcase the many exciting programs going on at our Farm.

talking and pointing

Community Farm & Food Assistant Yael Girard (left) explains in detail about the many projects at the Farm.

We were led by Community Farm and Food Assistant, Yael Girard – with a little humor, a lot of detail, and an enthusiastic, jovial attitude. After meeting at the recently improved parking area and checking out the trail maps, our group of around 25 embarked on a pleasant walk down the mulched trail at the top of the pasture. With a sweeping view across the farm, Yael pointed out the newly installed livestock fencing, stream restoration area, and shortleaf pine restoration project. Then, we moseyed on down to the lower end of the stream, where native grass plantings in the riparian buffer had grown tall enough to tickle as we filed by.

The best part of roaming around the Discovery Trail for this tour was comparing the memories of past hikes, volunteer days and workshops on the property — the change is incredible! Yael explained how we had graded the stream banks to repair the incised, narrow canyon along the stream (created by years of erosion). We won’t lie to you – this project required some big earth-moving machinery – but the miracle is that we replaced the kudzu-covered tiny canyon with beautiful, sloping creek banks covered with native trees, bushes and grasses. On this day, the trail through the stream corridor was lined with tall silvery stalks, and many of the young native trees and shrubs planted in the stream buffer area were growing strong, too.

crossing stream

Crossing the stream.

We crossed the stream near one of the riffle-pools – features installed to promote aquatic life. Yael commented that  a naturalist has been examining aquatic organisms in the stream and was astounded by the rebound of growth since restoration construction finished last fall.

“You wouldn’t have expected to see stream life at this extent so recently after the construction was completed, so it’s surprising as well as gratifying to see it bounce back so well – and a testament to the planning and work done by Altamont Environmental and Riverworks,” Yael said. “I’ve already seen tadpoles, frogs, salamanders out in the stream – it’s pretty neat.”

Then, our tour continued up a rise along one of the steepest, most open parts of the trail and through the shortleaf pine restoration area. Here, SAHC contracted with the US Forest Service to plant over 25,000 seedlings. Yael paused to explain how we had found native shortleaf pine seedlings growing in this area and embarked on a restoration project to help re-establish this native tree species, which has been on decline in North Carolina.

jim houser looking at sign

New interpretive signs along the trail help explain the many projects ongoing at the Community Farm.

“As the trees mature, this restoration area will provide excellent habitat for native wildlife, too,” she explained. One of the recently installed interpretive signs for the Discovery Trail tells the how and why of the shortleaf pine restoration project.

We continued up the slope to the other access point for the trail. As the group looked out over the Farm, Yael pointed to the plowed field where the first of our new Farmer Incubator Program participants will be launching her own agricultural endeavor. Then, Yael pointed out the off-stream water tanks and new livestock fencing, important features that help create safe and healthy pasture for future beginning farmers while keeping cattle, sheep, or goats out of the stream we have just restored.

“If you look closely, you can see large blue balls floating in the top of the watering tanks,” said Yael as she pointed at one of several tanks installed across the pasture. “These floating balls help keep the water fresh for livestock. The balls float at the top of the water, supplied from a well below, and form a kind of light seal. It’s easy for livestock to push the ball down, then the water flows up. This keeps a lot of insects and debris from getting into their water. We researched programs across the country to find the best agricultural management practices for the Farm. One reason many farmers love these tanks is because, when it’s freezing outside, only a thin coat of ice can form on top of the ball. Livestock can break it fairly easily to get at fresh water underneath, and it’s better than having to go break up a huge tank full of ice.”

stream restoration area

Thank you to all who joined us for the Farm Tour. If you haven’t seen it yet, stayed tuned for the next hike!

With the bright sun almost directly overhead, our group continued down to check out the “before” and “after” photos on the stream restoration interpretive sign. Then, we followed a winding walk across a “hardened crossing” (another feature to prevent future erosion issues), up a section of pasture, and through the woods to the end of the Discovery Trail loop.

Thank you so much to all who came out to tour the Community Farm for Land Trust Day — and, if you didn’t make it yet, check our events at Appalachian.org for upcoming hikes. We will be hosting more Farm tours in the future!

Click here for more photos.

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June Jamboree – Saturday, June 14

Guided Hikes In the Highlands of Roan

Honoring our origin in the stunning Highlands of Roan, SAHC hosts a day of guided hikes each June to gather and enjoy our treasured flagship focus area.

This year we have five guided hikes planned, catering to a variety of skill levels and interests. Since the hike locations are spread out across the Roan, we will host post-hike gatherings at two different locations. Descriptions, details and start times for each hike, as well as the post-hike socials, are given below. You will receive directions to the departure location and carpool information upon registration.

Be sure to bring: sturdy hiking shoes, camera, walking stick, water, lunch, sunscreen, binoculars, and appropriate clothing for your hike. The weather may be sunny, rainy, windy or cool.
Hikes are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most difficult.
We hope you can join us in the Highlands this year! Click here to register online.

Click here to register online for the June Jamboree hikes described below.

 

Hike #1 — Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge

Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge hike

Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge hike

Start Time: 9:00 am
Leader: Bill Ryan
Difficulty: 7.5
Fellowship Location: Roan Cabins (2:30 – 5 pm)

This classic and rewarding hike is full of adventure atop the highest elevation balds in the Highlands of Roan, widely considered among the most spectacular scenery along the Appalachian Trail. Grassy Ridge, elevation 6,189 feet, is the highest point near the AT. Enjoy a natural, unobstructed 360-degree view and so much more — blooming rhododendron, flame azalea, patches of spruce fir forest and rare plants such as Gray’s lily and Roan Mountain bluets.

Hike #2 — Roll n’ Stroll in Rhododendron Gardens

Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Start Time: 11 am
Leader: Judy Murray
Difficulty: 2+
Fellowship Location: Roan Cabins (2:30 – 5 pm)

The Rhododendron Gardens on top of Roan will be blazing with color this time of year. Judy Murray, will take hikers along gentle terrain with stunning views of the Roan landscape. On this leisurely stroll hikers will learn about SAHC’s newest land protection projects including several tracts in Yellow Mountain State Natural Area like the Justice Creek property on Spear Tops and Hawk Mountain Farm. This hike is designed to give people of all hiking abilities the opportunity to get outside and enjoy some of the property that SAHC has diligently protected over the last four decades. *This trail is paved and wheelchair accessible.

Hike #3 — Yoga on the Mountain

Yoga on the Mountain group.

Yoga on the Mountain

Start Time: 11:00 am
Leader: Danielle Fath-Goldstein
Difficulty: 5
Fellowship Location: National Trails Tract (2:30 – 5 pm)

Lay your yoga mat in the open meadow, tucked within the stunning Highlands of Roan. Prepare to move into your exalted warrior or tree pose while feeling the sun warm your skin as the high elevation breezes simultaneously cool you. Enjoy an moderate 1.5  hike through our protected Natural Trails Tract in the Roaring Creek Valley. The trail is narrow and is steep in areas so please be mindful of this and wear appropriate clothing. We will hike along pristine streams and critical bird habitat for a gentle yoga practice. The fellowship gathering after the event will be held on this property. 

Hike #4 — Kids in the Creek

Kids in the Creek

Kids in the Creek

Start Time: 11:00 am
Leader: Lizzy Stokes-Cawley
Difficulty: 3
Fellowship Location: National Trails Tract (2:30 – 5 pm)

Bring your kids to play in the creek on SAHC’s beautiful National Trails Tract. This shorter hike is designed to get kids outdoors and explore some of the beautiful water protected by SAHC. Kids will learn about some basic stream ecology, look for crayfish and salamanders. Kids are welcome to bring fishnets, buckets, or other toys to play with in the creek. This hike is for kids 7 years and older. Parents are welcomed to participate as well. Please bring water appropriate clothing and shoes plus appropriate day hiking materials.

Hike #5 — Challenge Hike

Triple B Challenge hike

Challenge hike

NOTE – this hike is NOW FULL; registration has reached capacity.

Start Time: 8:00 am
Leader: Tom Gatti
Difficulty 10+
Fellowship Location: National Trails Tract (2:30 – 5 pm)

The June Jamboree Challenge hike will start where the Appalachian Trail crosses Highway 19E, 4 miles west of the town of Roan Mountain. Participants will steadily hike 5.4 miles climbing a total of 2,707 feet to the summit of Hump Mountain. We will continue south along the Appalachian Trail over Little Hump and then along the spine of Yellow Mountain to Yellow Mountain Gap at 8.7 miles. From Yellow Mountain Gap we’ll hike another 1.7 miles to Low Gap and the Stan Murray Shelter. From here we leave the trail (long pants are recommended) and make our way to Elk Hollow Creek which we will follow for a mile or so down to the National Trails Tract, celebrate, and ride back to our cars.

Click here to register online, or contact Anna Zanetti at anna@appalachian.org or 828.253.0095 ext 205.

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Devil’s Britches “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership Hike

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Devils Britches IPA

Hiking up the snow-laden Hemphill Bald.

Hiking up the snow-laden Hemphill Bald.

SAHC’s AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti recaps a snowy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike:

“Highland Brewing Company’s seasonal release of Devil’s Britches Red IPA kicked off the first “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike of 2014 at Cataloochee Ranch. Hikers trekked through deep snow to the top of Hemphill Bald (5,540 ft. elevation), where they leaned about SAHC’s first conservation easement as well as feral hog damage and the natural history of the area.

In late February the Southeast experienced a large snowstorm, accumulating 6 inches of snow in the Asheville area and more in higher elevations, but the Devil’s Britches hikers were undeterred. On the Sunday after the storm 17 hikers made their way out to tackle the mountain with SAHC, Highland Brewing and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

It was a beautiful morning, with fresh snow illuminated by a brightly shining sun and vibrant blue skies. Cataloochee Ranch was filled with people filing into the ski area, but we took the road less traveled — enjoying a deep appreciation for the quiet, calm and cool day along the switch-backing, snow-covered trail.

After the majority of the switchbacks we began a steep ascent, gaining high elevation views with every step. As the views grew larger the snowdrifts became bigger and deeper – eventually becoming knee deep – but we still pressed on. Trailblazing through the untouched snow was certainly something special.

Drew

Trailblazing the fresh snow

As we approached the top of Hemphill Bald, hikers shed extra layers and cleared a spot on a bench to bask in the bright sun. We sat and ate our lunches, relishing views that seemed to stretch into infinity and snow outlining every crevice of the mountains. The clear day allowed us to identify mountains in the distance, orienting ourselves with landmarks like Cold Mountain, the peak of Pisgah, and even the Highlands of Roan.

Once everyone was settled I talked to the group about feral hogs and the devastating damage they have created on top of Hemphill Bald. Feral hogs, native to Eurasia, use their snouts to root up prime habitat. These hogs have the capacity to create acres of damage within hours. Hog populations also grow exponentially; two hogs can become 164 animals in about four years in the wild. North Carolina and Tennessee have had a difficult time managing feral hogs because of their capacity for damage and high population growth rate. Cataloochee Ranch is doing what they can to manage feral hog impacts on their property adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We took a few group photos at the top of Hemphill Bald and then proceeded to hike back down the mountain. This outing was unlike any other partnership hike I have led in the past; the smaller group of 17 embraced the snowy conditions for a delightful winter adventure. We were all so happy to be outside with white-capped mountains surrounding us — we really felt like we were on top of the world.”

group pic devils britches

The group on Hemphill Bald

 

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Winter Tree ID in Montreat

Cold but pristine headwater streams in the wilderness area.

Cold but pristine headwater streams in the wilderness.

This year’s winter tree identification hike took place in the beautiful Montreat Wilderness. As our intrepid, aspiring dendrologists hiked near Montreat’s streams, cold conditions and overcast skies gave way to a wonderfully pleasant western North Carolina winter day. Our guests were treated to a variety of topics, including native plant communities, forest health issues, and the cultural history of Montreat.

Chris Coxen, SAHC's Field Ecologist, led the winter tree identification hike.

Chris Coxen, SAHC’s Field Ecologist, led the winter tree identification hike.

Chris Coxen, SAHC’s Field Ecologist, discussed basic tips for winter tree identification success. Examine the form of the tree — is it straight or does it dramatically bend to seek out sunlight (like a sourwood tree)? What does the bark look like? Are the twigs coming off of the main branches alternate or opposite?

Participants put the tips into practice along the hike.

Participants put the tips into practice along the hike.

One of the most important steps someone can take when identifying anything in the field, flora or fauna, is to think about the forest community in which it is located. When you consider the elevation, aspect (north or south facing slope), proximity to a stream, or soil (thin and rocky or dense and rich?), you can narrow down the possible forest communities and create a smaller pool of potential plant or animal species.

The group hiked a 3.5-mile loop along the Sanctuary, Harry Bryan and Grey Beard trails, stopping at various points to talk about tree identification and the history of the area. We hiked near the old hydroelectric dam, reviewing times past when it provided electricity to the community in the 1920’s. SAHC was fortunate to also have Bill Sanderson, a local high school teacher and ranger of Montreat, join our hike. Bill gave the hikers a behind-the-scenes tour of the dam, old reservoirs used for drinking water and general history of the town of Montreat, which was created in 1967.

Educating hikers about the impact of ginseng & galax poachers.

Hikers learn about ginseng and galax poachers.

Toward the end of the hike the group gathered at a rock outcrop near a small stream where Chris Coxen and Bill Sanderson educated the hikers about the ongoing poaching of threatened species in the area, including galax and ginseng. Ginseng is a fleshy root often used in energy supplements and herbal medications. This plant only grows in the Appalachians and in the Himalayans. Ginseng is not as plentiful and harder to find in comparison to galax.

Blog post author and SAHC's AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti on the trail.

Blog post author and SAHC’s AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti on the trail.

Galax is a small, high elevation, cool-weather plant with broad, waxy, heart-shaped leaves. It’s picked mainly for floral arrangements because the leaves hold their green color for up to several weeks after they’ve been picked. Galax poachers are hired to rummage through the woods of the Appalachian region, illegally packing duffle bags full of galax which can weigh as much as 100 pounds. Montreat has had a hard time curbing the poaching population that enters its woods. Once the galax has been picked it cannot be replanted. We hope that educating hikers about poaching problems for these unique plants will lead to better understanding and assistance in reporting illegal activity.

Overall, the 30 hikers on SAHC’s Winter Tree Identification hike not only learned how to identify the barren woody companions but also learned about the overall health of the forest and a community like Montreat that works hard to protect these features for present and future generations. Thanks to all who came out to join us!

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Hiking Into The Lost Cove

Although we are in the midst of an arctic freeze in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, we’re eagerly looking forward to the slate of outdoor adventures our outreach team has planned for this year. To whet your appetite, here’s a narrative from one of our 2013 fall hikes – a trek into the 95-acre Lost Cove tract that SAHC purchased in 2012, led by our AmeriCorps PR & Outreach associate Anna Zanetti:

Paddlers along the Nolichucky River on the edge of the Lost Cove property.

Paddlers along the Nolichucky River on the edge of the Lost Cove property.

“Lost Cove, once a self-sustaining community nestled on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, has become a mere ghost town with the occasional company of a destination hiker.

In late November I led 22 people on a hike to the old settlement where only abandoned and crippled buildings now exist. The group hiked up to Flat Top Mountain where we peeked over the edge looking down on the Nolichucky Gorge catching a glimpse of the Lost Cove Property. During the 1940s, from this point, you would have been able to see white buildings consisting of homes, the schoolhouse and the church, but all we saw was overgrowth amongst the color changing leaves. We headed west and began to descend two miles along the old soil bed road until we came to an intersection in the trail. This intersection marks the beginning of the Lost Cove settlement and to the left marks SAHC’s property.

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View from Flat Top Mountain looking down upon the Lost Cove.

We walked quietly under the dark clouds that came rushing in, covering the sun. Searching around the group examined the free standing stone chimneys and the decaying structures. Every few feet we would see old deteriorating cans, rusty car parts and we even found a wood-burning stove. We all navigated around on and off trail as if we were investigating an ancient civilization. Everyone was dispersed when a hiker called out, “Come up here, I found their cemetery.” We all rushed together to the top of a hill off of the trail to find a small gated graveyard with tombstones and some flowers. We knelt down reading the literature engraved in the stones — some had poems or just the family name, in places the letters were a little off and the p’s and d’s were backwards. On top of the hill we had a brief snack, but we were too engaged to turn around at that point. As a group we decided to push forward and hike down to the Nolichucky Gorge to see the train tracks and where the train platform once existed.

The group hiked about 1.5 miles descending through bolder fields with moss and lichen in every nook and cranny. It was like a sea of rocks flowing and rising within the tress. This section of the trail is by far my favorite because of its natural beauty. We reached the edge of our property looking upon the Nolichucky River and the train tracks nestled between the surrounding mountains. We all dispersed around the edge of the property to explore. Then we reconvened around an abandoned campsite,  all quiet and ready to eat our lunch. As I was getting settled the ground began to shake and we all stood up to see a train coming around the bend along the river. The graffiti covered railroad carts rushed by caring black coal and other cargo.

After the train was gone a fellow hiker said aloud, “These people had to hike 1.5 miles down here for goods and then proceeded to hike back up the steep and rocky trail with extra weight on their backs.”  This reminded everyone that Appalachian folk were and still are resilient people who don’t back down from a challenge. We packed up our belongings and I handed out trash bags and gloves to anyone willing to pickup and pack out the garbage from the abandoned campsite. Buddy Tignor, President of SAHC’s Board of Trustees, single-handedly packed out around 30 pounds of empty propane cans and debris.

The train was long gone and we were finishing packing up when it began to rain. We didn’t think much about it until the rain became worse, eventually turning into hail. We all looked at each other and understood that it was time to begin the trek up and out the gorge. The hail stinging our bare skin was not our only concern —  the slippery unsure footing made me nervous. A total of 45 minutes later and 1.5 miles up the steep terrain the rain and hail had stopped, giving us the opportunity to catch our breath.

The hike back was severely strenuous especially with the added weight from the trash we had picked up below. That morning we began the hike at 10:00 am and did not make it back to Flat Top Mountain till 5:00 pm. To say the least we were all exhausted, but we had formed an undeniable bond and gained a deeper appreciation for all the settlers who chose to call the Lost Cove their home.”

Group photo within the Lost Cove settlement.

Group photo within the Lost Cove settlement.

The next Lost Cove Hike will be held on April 26, 2014. Due to the increased popularity of this guided hike, we will open registration to SAHC members from March 1st through the 31st, followed by open registration for the general public after March 31. Please email Anna@appalachian.org for more info or to register.

Categories: Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fall “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership Hikes

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Group photo atop Blackrock Mountain for the Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike.

Our new AmeriCorps PR and Outreach Associate, Anna Zanetti, launched into a full schedule of fall hikes when she came on board with us in September. Part of that slate of fall hikes included our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Clawhammer and Thunderstruck partnership hikes — which luckily occurred on two lovely October weekends. The Thunderstruck hike also gave the group an opportunity to visit one of SAHC’s newly protected tracts  — Blackrock Mountain. Below is Anna’s take on the experience:

“SAHC partnership hikes with Highland Brewing and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are one of the highlights of my job. These popular group hikes feature protected peaks that are namesakes of Highland Brewing Company’s seasonal beers. The “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership, including our guided hikes, helps raise public awareness of the places and species that make our mountains so special.

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Twin Falls

The first hike I led was to Clawhammer Mountain in Pisgah National Forest, close to Brevard. Twenty-five people attended this hike in celebration of Highland’s Oktoberfest named after Clawhammer Mountain. The hike was a 12-mile loop that traversed along equestrian, biking and hiking trails. During our ascent up the mountain we stopped at Twin Falls for a beautiful view. With the top tucked into the tree line, the 150 ft falls appear as if they are flowing from the sky.

Group photo atop Clawhammer Mountain.

Group photo atop Clawhammer Mountain.

After enjoying a break at the falls, we continued along the trail. At the summit of Clawhammer Mountain we saw clear views of Looking Glass Mountain where the trees meet the large open-faced rocks. This made for a great lunch spot, and everyone relaxed before the long trek back down the mountain.

Hikers had to overcome some obstacles.

Overcoming obstacles on the hike.

On October 12th , we held our second autumn “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership hike across Blackrock Ridge to celebrate the release of Highland’s  Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. At the peak of Blackrock Mountain, you can see Thunderstruck Ridge zigzag like a thunderbolt on the horizon. We parked near Waterrock Knob Visitor Center and walked to the trailhead along the road. The Blackrock Ridge hike was a 5-½ mile out-and-back adventure crossing private, public and SAHC owned land.

Blue Ridge Parkway, visible from the hike.

Blue Ridge Parkway, visible from the trail.

During this time the government shutdown slightly affected our hike because parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed, including the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center where we had planned to park and rendezvous for the hike. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the hike, and we were fortunate enough to still go through with our plans.

View pic from the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of Perry Keys.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of Perry Keys.

The day of the hike there were many tourists on the parkway enjoying breathtaking views of the autumn leaves. It was nice to see people out and about, but many disregarded the barricaded areas and continued to use closed facilities. This caused slight issues due to the fact that no one was managing these areas during the shutdown. A new member of SAHC, Perry Keys, organized a trash pick up along the parkway after our hike. This was a great effort on the group’s part to help mitigate the impact of visitors within the Blue Ridge Parkway boundaries.

These partnership hikes continue to be successful due to the unique makeup of our partnership with Highland Brewing Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For those who love to celebrate local craft beer as well as the beautiful mountains of the Appalachian region, our “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership gives them a way to enjoy themselves and support land conservation at the same time.”

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No kidding – Goat herding rocks!

Hikers herd goats in the Roan Mountain mist.

Hikers herd goats in the Roan Mountain mist.

by Michelle Pugliese, SAHC Land Protection Director

The sounds of kids crying as they made their way along the Appalachian Trail caused ripples of giggling among our group of volunteers on Round Bald this morning.

“They’re so cute!” –  “I love it when they do that!” we exclaimed, with huge smiles.  You would have laughed at these kids too: they were baby goats among the herd grazing the grassy balds in the Highlands of Roan.

SAHC Farm Program intern Yael Girard herding.

SAHC Farm Program intern Yael Girard herding.

These goats, part of the Baa-tany Goat Project, are an integral part of SAHC’s and our partners’ long history of managing the grassy bald habitat in the Roan.  Thirty-four goats spent this summer grazing on Engine Gap.  By simply living and eating on the balds they are fighting back the invasive woody vegetation that threatens many rare species on the Roan’s grassy balds.  The Roan Mountain bluet, Roan Mountain goldenrod and Gray’s lily are a few of the rare flowers that depend on these open grassy habitats.

The group assembles for herding instructions before the hike.

The volunteer group assembles for herding instructions.

SAHC invites volunteers to help herd the goats up the mountain at the beginning of the summer and back down again near the end of summer.  As a first-time goat herder, I was delighted to be a part of the process.  About 30 volunteers gathered on the mountain not long after the sun rose over it.

The kids follow the adults down the trail.

The kids follow the adults down the trail.

After a short hike up the Appalachian Trail to the goat pen, we formed two lines on either side of the Trail.  Standing about 10 feet apart with our arms spread wide, we were ready for the gentle stampede of goats when the gate was opened.  Actually, it was more like releasing kids into a candy store…literally.  They ran for a few seconds and then stopped to graze the fresh blackberry bushes outside their paddock.  After some coaxing they moved along the Trail, some faster than others.  A few renegades tried to make a run for it, but our team of volunteers gently guided them back into line, across Engine Gap, over Round Bald, and down to Carvers Gap.  As the herd was loaded into the trailer to return to their home in Tennessee, my smile grew knowing I was part of an important step of SAHC’s habitat management.  It was one of many days when my work is as fun as it is meaningful.

Categories: Hikes, Volunteer & Stewardship Activities | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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