Headwaters Exploration

Nodding Trillium were found all over the trail, during a scouting trip back in April. This beautiful native flower is a sure sign of spring.

Nodding Trillium were found all over the trail, during a scouting trip back in April. This beautiful native flower is a sure sign of spring.

Tucked away in the hills of Black Mountain, NC, lies the headwaters of the Catawba River and the popular hiking destination, Catawba Falls. During the last week of May, we had the pleasure of leading a group of hikers to the upper portion of Catawba Falls, a rarely visited section of this favorite waterfall spot. Most hikers access Catawba Falls from the bottom and rarely see the upper portion of the falls, but we were able to gain access to this unique route by beginning the hike on a tract on which SAHC holds a conservation easement. This particular property in Black Mountain is a real favorite, for its incredible plant diversity, high water quality and most notably the headwaters of the Catawba River.

Thick rhododendron and relatively flat trail made for an adventurous  and fun hike.

Thick rhododendron and relatively flat trail made for an adventurous and fun hike.

We met early in the morning, with dark storm clouds lingering on the mountaintops. Although not too concerned about weather rolling in, since we would be at a lower elevation for most of the hike, we certainly hoped the weather would hold out, since a creek stomp isn’t as fun in the driving rain. A local historian met us at the property and shared the historical significance of the land. We certainly weren’t the first travelers to set foot on this land! The group eagerly listened as tales of families traveling through the mountains and across this very property were told.

The size and scale of Catawba Falls can hardly be captured. The massive and beautiful falls rises about 40 feet above the pool below.

The size and scale of Catawba Falls can hardly be captured. The massive and beautiful falls rises about 40 feet above the pool below.

At the last couple of stream crossings, it became obvious we were getting closer to our destination. The stream had widened as more water flowed by. Then, the top of the falls emerged out of nowhere, popping up behind a row of rhododendron. At first glance, it seemed unimpressive. As the group climbed down the final steep descent, we could hear the water raging and knew we had arrived. The thick rhododendron made it difficult to the see the falls until the last bend in the trail, and as we come around, the view revealed the waterfall towering above, cascading over mossy boulders. “Oohs” and “aahs” were released at the sight of the massive falls. The group split off, enjoying the large exposed rocks and small beach area as the perfect lunch spot.

Our hiking group, feeling tiny next to Catawba Falls.

Our hiking group, feeling tiny next to Catawba Falls.

A sense of relaxation and relief seemed to come over the whole group. The only sound was that of the water falling over rocks and splashing into the pool below. We enjoyed lunch slowly, exhilarating in such a beautiful location. In between bites and conversation, folks explored the pool below the falls. A couple crawdads were spotted and some people even went for a swim! As everyone relished stunning beauty of the falls, hike leader – AmeriCorps Conservation Education & Volunteer Associate – Kana Miller highlighted the importance of conservation in Black Mountain and in particular this property. Protecting the water sources and land surrounding the headwaters and tributaries of the Catawba River has lasting impacts across the state. The group listened and was grateful – Catawba Falls provides a clear and obvious reminder of why protecting these precious water sources is so important!

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