Hikes

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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Looking Back: June Jamboree 2015

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the June Jamboree this summer! As we prepare to bid adieu to our Project Conserve AmeriCorps Conservation Education and Volunteer Associate, Kana Miller (whose 11-month service term ends next week), we’d like to share her account from the day:

“Organizing the June Jamboree was like the grand finale of my experience with SAHC; it tested all the skills I’ve honed leading the outreach program. With five different hikes in one day on the Roan Massif, and close to 100 people participating, it’s a big event to organize — but for me, this year’s June Jamboree proved to be nothing but rewarding!

June Jamboree is our annual day of free, guided hikes and social gathering in the stunning Highlands of Roan.

The Breakdown – This Year’s Hike Offerings:

Hike #1 Ed Schell Memorial Hike – From Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge

Hike #2 Birding Hike with Simon Thompson

Hike #3 Roll n’ Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Hike #4 Salamander Scavenger Hunt

Hike #5 Challenge Hike

 In addition to coordinating all the hikes and hike participants, I also led the Challenge Hike. A fairly new tradition, the Challenge Hike is notorious for being a long hike (12 + miles) with strenuous route and rewarding, beautiful views. This year’s Challenge hike was no different – I planned a 15-mile trek across the Appalachian Trail and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

A break in the clouds provided the rewarding views of grassy balds, long stretches of mountains, and the familiar Appalachian Trail, for which the Roan is known for.

A break in the clouds provided rewarding views of grassy balds, long stretches of mountains, and the familiar Appalachian Trail, for which the Highlands of Roan are known.

I was eager to get on the trail as we gathered at Hughes Gap, and I could sense the rest of the group was, too. We had a long day ahead and thunderstorms threatening to hit Carvers Gap in the afternoon. After a brief introduction and safety talk we took off on the Appalachian Trail, heading up Beartown Mountain and Roan High Knob, a 3-mile climb with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain. It was early in the morning with a cool breeze as we headed silently up trail, enjoying the newly routed section of the AT. We could see where the trail originally went straight up the mountain and were thankful for the new, gentle curves along the contours and switchbacks. It didn’t take long for folks to splinter off into groups with different hiking speeds as we tackled the long climb.

After about two hours, the group made it to the top and the highest point along our route, the old Cloudland Hotel Site and Roan High Knob. We took a break here and could already tell the mountain was alive with visitors. During this break, we ran into our staff representative on the Roll n’ Stroll, SAHC Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. While a brief encounter, it made June Jamboree feel like a close-knit community event – it was rewarding to see my hard work and coordinating come together!

The Grays Lily is a rare plant species, native to the Highlands of Roan. This year, the timing of June Jamboree was perfect for catching these blooms!

The Grays Lily is a rare plant species, native to the Highlands of Roan. This year, the timing of June Jamboree was perfect for catching these blooms!

Although Roan High Knob was the highest point along our route, we had only traveled a few miles. We sped right through Carvers Gap and continued up Round Bald to get away from the crowds. Dark clouds were lingering on the horizon. My worst nightmare seemed like it might come true – getting stuck in a thunderstorm on the open balds. The clouds were rolling right over the grassy balds and folks were getting hungry. We pushed on to Engine Gap, making our way to a sunny spot out of the clouds. A lunch break seemed to be exactly what the group needed to re-energize. With a map highlighting SAHC properties in the area, I spoke about SAHC’s involvement in protecting and managing the Roan Massif before we made our way back on trail.

The Ed Schell Memorial Hike, from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge, made their way down Jane Bald just as we were heading up. It was awesome to run into this group, especially since it constituted the biggest hike of the June Jamboree and had the presence of many current and former board members. As a light sprinkle began, I couldn’t help but notice that despite raincoats and clouds blocking our views, everyone was smiling and talking about  enjoying the great day. The excitement and camaraderie on trail was exactly the pick-me-up I needed to motivate our group and power through the second half of our route. We made it past Grassy Ridge, Elk Hollow Ridge, the Stan Murray AT Shelter and onto Yellow Mountain Gap in good time.

After a strenuous downhill hike into Hampton Creek Cove, this beautiful view (and flat trail!) was a welcome sight for the Challenge hikers during their last couple of miles.

After a strenuous downhill hike into Hampton Creek Cove, this beautiful view (and flat trail!) was a welcome sight for the Challenge hikers during their last couple of miles.

Although we still had about 4 miles to go, the trail junction at Yellow Mountain Gap was an important one. Yellow Mountain Gap is the four-way intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and also marked our turn off of the AT. We had 11 miles under our feet and food and drinks awaiting us at the end of Hampton Creek Cove! Folks took a break as I gave a brief history of Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. We were standing on the border of Cherokee National Forest, before rapidly descending into Hampton Creek Cove. The trail was overgrown and steep, but still very beautiful. We hiked though dense hardwood forest, crossing several small streams before popping out into cow pasture.

The Challenge Hike celebrating the end of a 15-mile day, with sunshine, food and good beer. Cheers!

The Challenge Hike group, celebrating the end of a 15-mile day, with sunshine, food and good beer from our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partners at Highland Brewing Company. Cheers!

A slow drizzle started up as we finished our 15-mile day. We had endured a long, but fun, day of hiking. Our group was welcomed with ‘hoots and hollars’ as we made our way to the post-hike social. A delicious spread of fruit, crackers, cheese and refreshing beverages awaited us. Then the sun came out and a peaceful, rewarding sensation came across me as I sat back and relaxed. The day was done; June Jamboree 2015 was a success!”

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June Jamboree 2015 – Hikes and social in the Highlands of Roan

Saturday, June 20

Please join us for our annual day of FREE, guided hikes and social gathering in the incredible Highlands of Roan. These five group hikes include outings for all age and ability levels. Descriptions, details and start times for each are provided below. You will receive directions to the departure location & 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!

Social Gathering

Join us on our recently protected SAHC property just outside the Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area. Enjoy fellowship with friends and family and learn about our recent conservation initiatives. We will provide light refreshments and beverages. Drop by between 2 to 6 pm.


Hike #1 — Ed Schell Memorial Hike from Carver’s Gap to Grassy Ridge

Start Time: 9 am |  Estimated End Time: 2-3 pm |  Leader: David Smith
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous (7-8)  |  Location: Start at Carver’s Gap

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 is the highest point near the AT, reaching 6,189 feet in elevation. 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.
Along the way, former Seasonal Ecologist and Trustee David Smith will discuss the significance of the balds and the best practices for managing this pristine habitat. For those desiring an easier hike, there is the option of hiking out to Round Bald or Jane Bald, to enjoy the flowers and expansive views, instead of going all the way to Grassy Ridge. This year’s Carver’s Gap to Grassy Ridge hike is offered in memory of active, long-time member Ed Schell, who passed away early this year.

 

Hike #2 — Birding Hike with Simon Thompson

Start Time: 8 am |  Estimated End Time: 1 pm |  Leader: Simon Thompson of Ventures Birding and Nature Tours
Difficulty: Moderate (5-6) |  Location: Roan High Knob

The Highlands of Roan provide some of the best mountain birding in the high elevation ranges of North Carolina. Join us for a hike to Roan High Knob with Simon Thompson of Ventures Birding and Nature Tours, as we take advantage of the pristine habitat found in the Roan. The medley of spruce-fir forest to open grassy balds offers great wildlife diversity.
Roan High Knob is the pinnacle of the Roan-Unaka Mountain Range, a rolling expanse of highlands in northwest TN. Rising some 6,286 feet, the summit sits atop a modest rock outcropping some 30 meters from the Roan High Knob shelter, the highest shelter on the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail. On a clear day you can see the nearby Roan High Bluff, Round Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald and much more.
About Simon: Originally from Suffolk, England, Simon has lived in NC for 10+ years. He has travelled extensively and spent six months in China studying the crane and bird of prey migration as a member of the British “China Crane Watch” expedition. As director and originator of Ventures Nature Travel program in Tryon, NC, Simon has led birding trips all over the world.

Hike #3 — Roll n’ Stroll in Rhododendron Gardens

Start Time: 11 am |  Estimated End Time: 1 pm |  Leader: Judy Murray
Difficulty: Easy (2)  |  Location: Rhododendron Gardens

The Rhododendron Gardens on top of Roan will be blazing with color this time of year. Volunteer Highlands of Roan Advisor 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 Big Rock Creek and two retired Christmas tree farms. 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/stroller accessible.

Hike #4 — Salamander Scavenger Hunt

Start Time: 11 am  |  Estimated End Time: 2 pm |  Leader: Marquette Crockett
Difficulty: Moderately Easy (3-4) |  Location: Hampton Creek Cove

A twist on our usual Kids in the Creek, this shorter hike is designed to get kids outdoors and explore the beautiful waters of the Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area. Led by Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, kids will learn about basic stream ecology while discovering different features of the surrounding landscape.

In the creek, kids will look for crayfish, salamanders, and other aquatic creatures. On land, Marquette will point out the historic fruit orchard and explore the cow pastures. 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 gear.

Hike #5 — Challenge Hike

Start Time: 8 am |  Estimated End Time: 5 pm |  Leader: Kana Miller
Difficulty: Very Difficult (10+) |  Location: Starting from Hughes Gap, ending at Hampton Creek Cove

Join us in traversing 15 miles across the longest contiguous stretch of grassy balds in the world. The Highlands of Roan is our flagship focus area; we’ve protected over 20,000 acres of globally significant, rare habitat and incredible views here – and we want to show it off!

The Challenge hike is the most difficult, but also most rewarding hike we offer during June Jamboree – and this year’s route is no different! Beginning on the Appalachian Trail at Hughes Gap, we will make our way up Beartown Mountain to Roan High Knob on the newly re-routed trail. From Roan High Knob, we’ll continue down to Carvers Gap and then up and over Round Bald, Jane Bald, past Grassy Ridge and on to Yellow Mountain Gap. Yellow Mountain Gap marks the 11th mile and the hike doesn’t stop there.

We will leave the AT and head down into Hampton Creek Cove on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. This final four-mile stretch is no rest for the weary; expect several stream crossings and short sections of incline, before finishing this long hike in the beautiful mountain pastures of Hampton Creek. Need an extra incentive to sign-up for this hike? The post hike fellowship will be within arm’s reach at the end of the trail. Challenge hikers will be able to wander down the street for some hard earned snacks and beverages.

Register Now

Register online now, or contact Kana Miller at kana@appalachian.org or 828.253.0095 ext 205 for questions or more information.

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Wild Hogs invade the Highlands of Roan

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Invasive wild boar, caught on candid wildlife camera.

Over the past year, SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director, Marquette Crockett, has been talking to conservationists, wildlife agencies, landowners, and farmers about something deeply disturbing in the Highlands of Roan — the growing frequency of invasive wild hog damage.

“The hogs are causing noticeable damage to globally rare ecosystems, including grassy balds, and are spreading into private lands,”  said Marquette. “At our spring Roan Stewardship meeting, I was tasked with coordinating our efforts to learn more about these invasive animals and how we can control them.”

She’s been actively been coordinating with partners on a plan to address the problem, and has a lot of information to share (including  some tips about what to do if you come face to face with a bristly beast on the trail).

What is a feral hog?

The invasive wild boar are hybrids of escaped Russian wild boar.

The invasive wild hogs are hybrids of feral hogs and escaped Russian wild boar.

Let’s start with the basics – the word “feral” refers to a domesticated animal that has escaped and is surviving in the wild. Feral cats, dogs, pigs, and even donkeys are common, depending on what part of the globe you are in. So, when we refer to feral hogs, we are technically discussing domesticated animals that have escaped and are surviving in the wild.  There are records of this type of “feral hog” from Roan Mountain and other areas in North Carolina in the late 1800s.  However, it is important to understand that these are NOT the same hogs that we have today. The invasive hogs we are dealing with today are hybrids of feral hogs and Russian Boar.

According to the Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at Mississippi State, Russian boar were introduced to Hooper Bald in western North Carolina as a game species in 1912 and moved from there to locations around the country for hunting.  Eventually, these hogs escaped from game farms and began to breed with escaped domestic hogs to create the hybrids we have today.  Recently, these invasive hogs have been introduced into new areas of the state by humans in an effort to establish populations of hogs for hunting. They have been documented around the Roan Highlands since 2009, but may have been there longer. These invasive hybrid hogs are very aggressive and vigorous – they have no natural predators in Western North Carolina. Typically, hogs live 5-8 years and grow to about 200 lbs, but males may be much larger. Hogs begin breeding around 8-10 months old and have 1-2 litters (10-12 pigs) per year.

What are the impacts of invasive feral hogs?

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In addition to destroying fragile ecosystems and native species, these invasive hogs carry diseases that can infect domestic livestock and humans.

One of the major problems caused by invasive hogs stems from their diet – they are opportunistic feeders, eating plant material including grasses, tubers, acorns, nuts, fruits, bulbs and mushrooms. They also feed on invertebrates (insects, snails, earthworms, etc.), reptiles, amphibians, carrion (dead animals), and eggs, as well as live mammals and birds if given the opportunity. Feral hogs frequently feed on domestic agricultural crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, and melons.

Many of the rare plants and animals found in the Roan Highlands including Gray’s Lily, spruce-fir moss spider, endemic snails and rare salamanders could be eaten by feral hogs. Eggs and young of the golden-winged warbler, Henslow’s sparrow, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and other ground nesting birds would also serve as a food source. Other rare species, including Carolina flying squirrels may indirectly suffer from competition by hogs for their preferred foods including truffles and insects. In addition to direct predation and competition with rare species, invasive hogs can cause significant physical damage to seeps and springs, grassy balds, and other sensitive habitats.

Invasive hogs are a source of disease for both domestic livestock and humans. They carry and can transmit to livestock: pseudorabies Virus (PRV), swine brucellosis (Brucella suis), bovine tuberculosis (TB), FADs, African swine fever, Classical swine fever (Hog Cholera), and Foot and Mouth Disease. They may also carry and can transmit to humans: leptospirosis, brucellosis, E. coli, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, rabies, swine influenza viruses, trichinosis giardiasis, and cryptosporidiosis.

What can we do?

Invasive hogs can be especially aggressive when defending their young.

Invasive hogs can be especially aggressive when defending their young.

Unlike other large-scale environmental problems, we can eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) feral hog populations from our landscape with successful trapping and removal programs. For example, hog eradication has been very successful in Kansas – the latest reports indicate that numbers are below 400 individuals statewide.  The success of the Kansas program was due to a two pronged approach – the state removed hogs as a “game” animal which made it illegal to hunt them (and thus removed the impetus that hunters had to introduce them into new areas) and then began an aggressive eradication program.

Currently, SAHC and our state, federal, and NGO partners have created a working group to address the problem of invasive hogs in the Roan Highlands.  We are currently working to monitor and pinpoint areas of high hog activity, to plan trapping programs, and to educate landowners about the impacts of feral hogs.  Hopefully, through a partner and community  based effort, we can keep these aggressive animals from destroying our fragile highland ecosystems.

Hiking Safety Tips – What do you do when you see a wild hog?

Invasive hogs can be aggressive, especially when defending their young. They may weigh up to 300 lbs, have sharp tusks, and can charge very quickly.

  • Be alert! Know the signs and tracks of hogs and avoid heavily used areas, especially at dusk or dawn when hogs are most active.
  • Avoid water sources that have been used by invasive hogs – humans can contract multiple diseases from water sources contaminated by hogs and their feces.
  • Hogs will generally try to avoid contact with humans, but may become aggressive if surprised, especially if piglets are present.
  • If you encounter a hog on the trail, re-route your hike to avoid them. If a re-route is not possible, keep a safe distance and wait for the hogs to leave before continuing.
  • If faced with an aggressive hog, the best option for protecting yourself is to climb the nearest tree.
  • If directly charged by a hog, you should quickly sidestep out of the direction of the charge and climb the nearest tree or boulder.
  • If using a firearm to protect yourself from a feral hog, ensure that it has enough knock-down power to be effective (otherwise it may be best to avoid the encounter and move to safety instead).
Categories: Conservation Field Journal, Hikes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Image

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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