The sun had barely risen over the Pisgah Ridge, but the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Devils Courthouse pull-off was teeming — mainly with women, mainly older, wearing pins and clad in skirts and stoles and scarves, some of which were made of bona fide mink.
They were the Daughters of the American Revolution, and they were excited to commemorate an achievement of their predecessors, the Daughters of nearly a century before.
High in the Plott Balsams, there’s a swath of property riddled with panoramic views, sparking waterfalls and high-elevation solitude that was once destined for development. But more than a decade after purchasing it, America’s Homeplace has yet to build a single structure — and now the homebuilding company is offering the 912 acres at a reduced rate for long-term conservation.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property, kind of a one-of-a-kind piece,” said Stacy Buchanan, regional president for the company and a Jackson County native. “There’s not many pieces this large left in the Southern Appalachians.”
It’s not unusual for Waterrock Knob, which boasts some of the best views on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to see its parking lot test the limits as summer reaches its zenith. More people visit the Parkway than any of the 412 units in the National Park Service, and it’s hard to resist Waterrock’s high-elevation coolness and sweeping vistas when mid-year heat grips the valleys below.
When President Woodrow Wilson scrawled the signature that brought the National Park Service into being — 100 years ago, on Aug. 25, 1916 — many of the parks now integral to America’s national identity had yet to be created.
There was no Great Smoky Mountains National Park, no Blue Ridge Parkway, no Appalachian Trail. No Grand Teton or Olympic or Mammoth Cave or Acadia National Park. At the time Wilson signed the Organic Act, only 35 national parks and monuments existed, with America the only country to have any.
If Garrett Fisher had his way, he’d live on the side of a mountain with a glacier as his next-door neighbor.
Some people might consider his Wyoming home, located at 5,633 feet above sea level, to be close enough, but Fisher craves more elevation than that. So, he satisfies his thirst for altitude with aviation.
Though a mixture of rain and ice pelted the windshield as I headed toward the Balsam Gap access of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the forecast was calling for a high of 52 and the car thermometer read 48 degrees.
I was headed up to see what springlike weather down below translated to when sitting at 6,000 feet on the scenic mountain road, because, let’s face it, I was skeptical. The Parkway had been closed for much of the winter, including the previous week, when temperatures in Waynesville climbed up to the sunny 60s.
Brian Railsback learned a valuable lesson when he missed a September meeting of the Western Carolina University Honors College Student Board of Directors: skip a meeting, and you just might wind up volunteered to do a century bike ride through the mountains. As Railsback, Honors College dean and English professor, found out later, the meeting concluded with a decision that he should pedal 118 miles to the top of Mount Mitchell to raise scholarship money for the college.
“What happened was I missed that meeting, and they voted unanimously to move forward with it,” Railsback said.
A small section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, between Milepost 420 (near Black Balsam Road) and Milepost 423 (at Hwy. 215), will be closed from Nov. 3 through May 2015.
With park funding falling and visitation increasing, keeping those iconic views open along the 46 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County — without breaking the bank — is a challenge. Fast-growing trees and shrubs grow up around the overlooks irrespective of budgets, so when Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods visited the Haywood Tourism Development Authority’s board meeting last week, it was with a view to talk about how to make those dollars stretch.
By mid-August, there’s already a chill in the air outside Pisgah Inn. Employees and experienced guests walk around in pants and long sleeves, while visitors who didn’t realize August could be this cool sport shorts and tank tops. At 5,000 feet, the panoramic view stays year-round, but autumn comes early.
“This time of year, it’s full every night,” said the inn’s owner/operator Bruce O’Connell.