What if you discovered that one of America’s most beautiful roads was right in your backyard, and it wasn’t the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Blue Ridge Parkway

The famed scenic motorway winds through the best scenery the mountains have to offer, studded with overlooks to stop and soak in the views. The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Smoky Mountains boasts the highest elevation and most panoramic ridgelines of the 469-mile route. 

 

Tail of the Dragon

No doubt one of the most famous motorcycle routes in the world, the Tail of the Dragon offers 318 curves in 11 miles. There are plenty of great rides on roads off U.S. 129 so its best to plan your trip before you go. A great resource is tailofthedragon.com. The route is ranked No. 3 in the nation by American Motorcyclist magazine.

 

Cherohala Skyway

Long corners and endless vistas make this sky-high road and enthusiasts dream.

Serving up 60 miles of scenic mountain cruising, the Skyway climbs to 5,400 feet from Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, Tenn. But be prepared. There are no restrooms or gas stations along the 36-mile Skyway.

 

Newfound Gap

U.S. 441 twists and winds its way from the Oconaluftee River Valley up and over a 5,000 foot divide in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering long-range views, forested tunnels and rushing rivers. The scenic route is studded with points of interest, including the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Mingus Mill, picnic areas or Clingmans Dome.

Reach for the Skyway

art frThey say the easiest way to hide something is to place it right in front of someone.

Well, what would you say if I told you one of the most beautiful roads in America is right in your backyard, and it’s not the Blue Ridge Parkway?

“I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life and I never heard of the Cherohala Skyway,” said Phillip Davis. “It’s one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on and I found it completely by accident.”

Perks of Adult ADD

The other morning I was in the wilds of the Cheoah Ranger District below the Cherohala Skyway sawing and dragging trees out of Forest Service roads so I could get to my bird points for this year’s survey. Rather than paying attention to where my digits and/or limbs were as I was sawing and where the “pressure” points were and how to saw so that I wouldn’t bind my blade, my ADD kicked in. I remembered the last Waynesville Watershed hike and Dr. Pete Bates, professor of natural resources at Western Carolina University and lead researcher of Waynesville’s Watershed Management plan, talking about the watershed’s restoration plan. Bates noted that the management plan’s focus was on restoration of a healthy, diverse forest and the best way to achieve that was to mimic (as closely as possible) nature. One of the silviculture tools he talked of was creating gaps.

There is a lot of talk today about “edge species.” These are species like white-tailed deer in the mammal world and golden-winged warblers in the bird world — species that thrive in new, often, brushy growth. If you listened to some people, you would be led to believe that the survival of edge species depends on more and more frequent clearcuts.

Truth is white-tailed deer, golden-winged warbler and other ‘edge” species thrived in the “New World” long before timbering and/or forestry was ever introduced. How did they do it?

The answer is gaps. In mature or old growth forests, trees often tumble to the ground. There are a myriad of reasons. It could be old age — after 500 or 600 years, some trees just die. It could be hard winters or windstorms or any combination. It could occasionally be fire.

What is lost in most of today’s forests is scope and perspective. A 400-year-old red oak crashing to a primeval forest floor, taking collateral damage with it as it falls, could easily create a two- to three-acre clearing. This clearing — or “gap” — is home to edge species.

Forest gaps are where and how edge species survived, thrived and/or ebb and flowed as time marched relentlessly onward. The need to have burgeoning populations of white-tailed deer or other gap species as targets for hunters in hopes of keeping wildlife agency coffers full has little “natural” appeal for me.

The idea of managing properties and/or forests in a holistic way that mimics (to the best of our ability) natural processes is an idea our grandchildren and the wildlife that makes their lives complete can live with.

Damn! How did that chain get stuck!

OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: The Forest Service with all its budget shortfalls and incredible workload does an amazing job with maintenance upkeep. Many of the roads I traverse to get to my bird points are “fire” roads and they are cleared regularly — thank you, thank you. Some of the backcountry roads are not fire roads and they get cleared as time and resources allow. If you’re a FS employee with a chainsaw in the back of your truck and happen to bump into a tree blocking one of these roads during your travels, instead of selecting an alternate route how about cutting that tree out of the road and I will gladly compensate you with the beverage of your choice!

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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