Follow me, into the wild

out caitlinwoodcraftThe last time I went camping I was 10 or 11. I was in my grandparents’ backyard, snug in my sleeping bag between my older sister and cousin Jake. I laid awake nervous about a ravenous bear attacking the tent, or maybe a ghoul from one of the scary stories my dad had just finished telling.

Prepping for the AT 2,184 miles to be ‘in the moment’

out fr1During the next several weeks, thousands of people will leave from Springer Mountain in Georgia and begin the 2,184-mile trek to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.

SEE ALSO: Follow me, into the wild

For some, the trip is a lifelong dream. They have meticulously planned what to bring, where to stop, how many miles they want walk each day. They have queued up their own resupply boxes, packed with fresh headlamp batteries, deodorant and their favorite candy bars, ready and waiting to be shipped to “mail drops” along the trail.

 

Trail triage? Tough choices ahead as forest service weighs 1,600 miles in trail plan

out frFor the past year, the National Forest Service has been taking inventory, collecting public input and meeting with outdoor interest groups to wrangle its expansive web of nearly 1,600 miles of trail in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests into a better, more sustainable network.

This month, the forest service will share its preliminary assessment from the “Trail Strategy Initiative” with mountain residents.

Carrying the torch through history

out frIt’s all started with a phone call.

A lifelong thirst for adventure led Ronald R. Cooper to a love of backpacking, where he soon began hiking around the Grand Canyon and beyond. But, he was in search of a new challenge, one that ultimately tied together his Native American ancestry with his own modern existence.

A clear path

out natcornLast Saturday, Sept. 15, was surely a gorgeous day to be ridge running high in the Plott Balsams — clear blue skies dotted with white puff-clouds; temperatures in the low to mid 60s; a great day for a hike. Not even the weight of chainsaws, brush cutters, loppers and/or swing blades could dampen the spirit or curb the enthusiasm of the dedicated crew of trail-keepers that set out from Waterrock Knob to Yellow Face and on to Blackrock.

AT celebrates 75 years

out frAs the legend goes, Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike the Appalachian Trail from end-to-end in 1948, used leather footwear without socks. He only sprinkled foot powder in his boots each morning — some say he used sand — to keep them dry and prevent blisters.

The first women to solo-hike the trail in 1955, 69-year-old Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, forewent the boots and sand and opted for Keds tennis shoes and a light knapsack.

The changing face of WNC’s national forests

 coverA million acres of national forests sounds like a lot, and indeed it is. But consider the 8.6 million people who visit the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests every year and those vast green swaths that checker any map of Western North Carolina don’t seem quite so big after all.

Bartram Trail: Mystery tract with no heirs provides critical link for long-distance hiking trail

It took more than a decade, a lot of detective work and a protracted legal case to clear the way for a new portion of the Bartram Trail in Macon County now under construction.

The Bartram Trail Society maintains a 100-mile memorial trail in Western North Carolina in honor of the naturalist William Bartram, who traveled through the region in 1775 on a botanical mission to collect exotic, new-fangled plants from the New World for the English crown.

A large section of the trail in Macon County is stymied either by private land or the Little Tennessee River. Hikers trying to do the entire Bartram Trail have to come out of the woods and hoof it along the highway through Franklin from the Fishhawk Mountains section to the Nantahala section, or they must find a canoe or kayak and boat down the river.

Some 10 to 15 years ago, Burt Kornegay, then president of the Bartram Trail Society, began an effort to cut down on the amount of highway hiking. The Bartram Trail Society wanted to reroute a portion of the Bartram Trail in the Otto community, specifically from its Buckeye Branch exodus in the Tessentee Creek area to Hickory Knoll Road.

“This would knock out several miles of road hiking,” Kornegay said. “We were trying to reduce that.”

Kornegay saw a for-sale sign on one piece of property where the society wanted to reroute the trail. He and his wife went out on a limb, he said, and bought the piece of property for about $17,000 in expectation that the society would buy it from them, which it ultimately did.

“But then, there was still a little weird piece of private land,” Kornegay said. “For some reason, it had just been sort of a lost piece of land and had sat there for all this time, for over 100 years.”

Unsorting the story of that “weird” piece of land — a critical link to get the trail rerouted — became the task of Highlands lawyer Richard Melvin, who donated his time to helping the Bartram Society on the matter.

Deciphering boundary lines and surveys of old tracts are never easy.

“In the old titles, you’ll often find overlap with descriptions to this rock and that tree,” Melvin said. “We had to find out where it lies.”

But, there was a rather unusual hurdle for this particular tract: figuring out who the heck owned it.

“We finally found out the last owner was Nimrod Jarrett,” Melvin said.

Nimrod Simpson Jarrett was a major landowner across Western North Carolina, owning thousands of acres. Jarrett also farmed, traded ginseng, and owned mica and talc mines. He owned slaves and served as a colonel in the Macon County militia. Jarrett lived in the Nantahala community where Appletree campground is today.

In September 1871, Jarrett set off for Franklin from Nantahala on a business trip and was robbed and killed. A man named Balias Henderson was found guilty of the crime and was subsequently hanged in May 1873.

Melvin said he couldn’t determine that there were any heirs to the piece of property in the Hickory Knoll area of Macon County that Jarrett had owned. Melvin said that Jarrett had had children, but that those children had moved west or otherwise left the county and abandoned this particular piece of property. Perhaps he had so much land, the executor of his will couldn’t keep track of it all, and this piece was simply lost in the shuffle. But for whatever reason, the title was still in his name — 150 years after his untimely murder.

The land is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land on all sides but one.

Melvin filed a quitclaim deed on the land on behalf of the Bartram Trail Society. The group, after the seven required years passed, gained legal title after no one came forward to contest the claim.

Walter Wingfield, current president of the Bartram Trail Society, said the land was then sold to the U.S. Forest Service for its appraised value.

The Bartram Trail Society does not build trails on private land because of liability issues, which is why it sold the property to the forest service. Some of the money from that sale will be used to help build the new 3.8-mile section of the Bartram Trail.

The new property is very steep and rugged, Wingfield said, meaning that private contractors with trail-building equipment will be required, not just volunteer labor. A grant is also being sought to help pay for the new trail.

As for the robbery and subsequent murder of Jarrett that led to this legal quagmire?

“I think the murderer got 50 cents and a pocket watch out of it,” Wingfield said.

Welcome AT hikers: Franklin gears up for stream of thru hikers with annual Trail Days bash

Susan Sakna and her two dogs were far from their home in Massachusetts. But like many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, Sakna discovered the perfect temporary respite for the night staying at a hotel in Franklin.

This was an opportunity to rest her weary feet — and the dogs’ weary paws — before tackling more of the nation’s most-famous hiking trail. Stopping in Franklin has become routine for AT hikers such as Sakna.

Franklin serves as a chance to get rid of equipment found to be useless and to stock up on items discovered to be essential. Most of the hikers taking breaks here are about one-week in to their six-month journey; Franklin is 100 miles from the trailhead in Springer Mountain, Ga. This means that Franklin serves as the first place to closely evaluate and correct gear needs and equipment problems.

The AT passes just 11 miles from Franklin at its closest point near Winding Stair Gap.

“It’s very pretty here,” Sakna said as she sat outside a Franklin hotel surveying the surrounding mountains with dogs Max and Shay. Sakna was waiting for a shuttle to arrive and transport her and the dogs back to the AT. “And it’s good to get away from the trail — in some ways, you really can’t even see the mountains when you’re on it because of all the rhododendrons around.”

As AT thru-hikers pour into Franklin at an ever-increasing rate each year, town officials and business owners seem to increasingly relish and appreciate their role as an AT trail destination. Twenty years ago, even 10 years ago, the hikers generally came and went with little notice or fanfare. No more: Franklin, these days, prides itself on having close ties to the AT. And, the town is gearing up for April Fool’s Trail Days on March 30 and March 31, capitalizing on the town’s close proximity to the 2,181-mile long trail stretching from Georgia to Maine.

 

Franklin as hikers’ paradise

“We see the Appalachian Trail as one of our main economic drivers,” said Linda Schlott, Franklin Main Street Program executive director. “And Trail Days just continues to grow.”

Franklin started April Fool’s Trail Day’s four years ago. In March 2010, the town officially was designated an Appalachian Trail Community at the invitation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Franklin became the first location in the South to receive the conservancy’s designation as an official trail community.

The Appalachian Trail Community designation is a relatively new program designed to promote the economic benefits of the trail to nearby communities and to foster local stewardship of the trail. For its part, Franklin showed its tie to the trail by creating a trail advisory committee, hosting an annual trail event, initiating an AT-focused education program through the school and library systems and getting the county planning department to commit to considering the trail in its land use plans.

Franklin has bigger eyes than just mining the AT, however.

“We’re not only looking at AT hikers but to use this as a base for all hikers,” Schlott said of the town’s trail-friendly status.

Macon County, in addition to the famous AT, has a substantial portion of the Bartram Trail, plus easy access to hundreds of miles of hiking trails within the Nantahala National Forest.

 

Important economic boost

Rob Gasbarro, co-owner of Outdoor 76 in downtown Franklin, said the gear-heavy store on Main Street gets a lot of AT thru-hiker traffic.

“It’s a big deal for us,” Gasbarro said. “And, Trail Days is a great opportunity to introduce locals to people doing the six-month pilgrimage.”

Down the street at the Life’s Bounty Gift Shop and Bakery and Café, co-owner Tony Hernandez has grown very fond, too, of the thru-hikers — they come in hungering for the carbohydrates, sweets and the breakfast specials offered there.

“Basically, most of my customers this morning all have been hikers,” Hernandez said one day last week. “And, they are wanting lots of carbs or breakfasts.”

Hernandez welcomes the hikers in, packs and all; just as Franklin these days is doing, too.

 

Franklin a do-or-die town for A.T. hikers

Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail — those who attempt an entire 2,181-mile trek from Georgia to Maine, from start to finish — are starting to show up in Western North Carolina.

To finish the trail before the New England winter sets in, hikers must set hit the trail in Georgia in March. Of the 2,000 or so who set out to thru-hike the trail, only 25 percent actually make it. Most drop out the first month. That makes the Nantahala and Smoky mountain ranges do-or-die for hikers — this is the stretch of trail where they decide to either pack it in or keep on packing.

Hikers who hop off the trail in Franklin to restock on provisions will find a little extra encouragement in their trying early weeks with the annual April Fool’s Trail Days on March 30 and March 31. Here’s the lineup:

• Hiker bash at 6 p.m. both nights at the Sapphire Inn on East Main Street. A chance for hikers to connect and share stories and advice.

• Trail Days event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 31, with outdoor gear vendors, food, entertainment and more. There also will be workshops, a rock climbing wall, children’s activities. One of the day’s highlights will be the 2012 Go Outside and Play Road Show presented by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. This exhibit encourages participants to become more involved with their local outdoor community and to inspire spectators to be more active in the outdoors.

828.524.2516 or www.aprilfoolstraildays.com.

Hitting the trail not so easy in Jackson – at least not yet

Thanks to work obligations that have put me in Franklin several days at a time these last few weeks, I've had the opportunity in recent days to run, walk and stagger along that town's greenway.

I know I've plucked on this harp, honked this horn and beat on this drum a few times before, but I'd like to replay an oh-so-familiar tune again: greenways are cool. Greenways are great. Greenways, in fact, are just about the best legacy I can imagine elected officials creating to mark their times served in office.

I write this in the fervent hope that Jackson County will continue in its pursuit of something similar to what Macon County has created. Because if any community could use a greenway, it would be this one: I live just outside Sylva, and I'm here to tell you that this is a hard place to walk and run safely about. Or at least, to do that anywhere enjoyable — running beside the four-lane highway in the bike lanes is not my idea, or many other people's idea, of particularly enjoyable.

Swain County, my home turf, is unusually blessed in that the community has easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Go out to Deep Creek any morning and you'll find scores of local residents walking the 4.2-mile roundtrip loop. Those more intrepid souls easily can add harder terrain and distance — Indian Creek Falls, Noland Creek and more. When the lake is down, many residents opt to take their walks and runs along Fontana.

What Swain County lacks is an indoor recreation center. But that's a column for another day.

Haywood County has Lake Junaluska, a great gift to those in the community looking for somewhere safe and scenic to walk and run. Back when I worked everyday in Waynesville, I'd spend early morning hours working out at Lake Junaluska, adding distance and variety by trotting along the roads winding about within the Methodist community.

Sylva is much harder than these other communities for those seeking a place to exercise outside.

Occasionally I simply run and walk the roads in the community where I live. But one gets bored, or I get bored, with doing the same workout day in and day out.

There is a trail around Southwestern Community College. And though I appreciate its existence and on occasion avail myself of that trail, frankly SCC's path would challenge a mountain goat. Some days I'm just not up to that level of workout.

When there's time I drive to the end of Locust Creek Road, navigate through the trash pile at the bottom, and run those rough roads and paths for an hour or so. That's fairly enjoyable, but I do feel odd when I round turns and come face to face with pickup trucks and ATVs with local guys four-wheeling away the day. We just wave and go our respective ways, but I worry I'm in their way and that my presence adds a potential safety issue to their traditional mud-flinging fun.

Western Carolina University, I should certainly mention, is working on a five-mile long multi-use trail.

Keep in mind that volunteers are needed to help with trail construction there this spring and summer and with ongoing maintenance. To that end there's a trail-building workshop on campus Saturday, March 24. The workshop includes a required classroom session in The Cats Den in Brown Hall from 9 a.m. until noon led by a trail care crew from the International Mountain Bicycling Association, plus lunch and afternoon work on the trails. The training will prepare volunteers to build that five-mile trail at WCU for walkers, hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers this spring and summer.

I am concerned about mixing all users together. I used to run regularly at the region's most famous mountain bike destination, Tsali Recreation Area on the Swain-Graham county lines, which has four trails. The trails are open to hikers, bikers and riders on horseback, but on a strictly enforced rotating schedule. I would never have run on a trail with the mountain bikers on a heavy-use day — it would have been dangerous for them and me.

That said, I'm happy to see any trails being built in the area, and I'm sure WCU will work out any kinks in usage as problems, if any, play out.

But what I really hope is that Jackson County moves forward with acquiring the land needed to build a true greenway system. This community, of all of the communities in this region, could truly use one.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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