Art History: Explore the Art Loeb Trail

A small hiker on Black Balsam along the Art Loeb Trail.

A small hiker on Black Balsam along the Art Loeb Trail.

 

“Named in tribute to Arthur J. Loeb, industrialist, conservationist, and hiker who so deeply loved these mountains …”

These are the words on one of my most cherished mementos: a folded program commemorating the dedication of the Art Loeb Trail—one of Western North Carolina’s most revered footpaths—on November 9, 1969. I came across it years ago while researching a magazine story marking the route’s 40th anniversary.

The thirty mile path, named after the late Brevard trail blazer, covers some of the finest terrain in the region. Much of it is doable in short day-hikes, including Black Balsam. The mountain is a 6,200 foot behemoth within an hour walk of an easily accessible trailhead near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it’s one of my favorite hikes.

To be sure, I’m fond of the ridgetop path’s glorious views. But I have a soft spot for Loeb, too. I wish I’d met him—he died in 1968 at age 54 after a brief battle with cancer. In a wool Pendleton shirt, hiking boots, and a worn leather backpack, Loeb got out in the woods every weekend to explore new trails or hike some of his favorites, sections of which eventually became the Art Loeb Trail.

He didn’t start out as an avid hiker. The Philadelphia native moved to Brevard at 26 to work at the Ecusta plant, which once stood along the Davidson River. After suffering a heart attack in his mid-forties, he began walking as part of his recovery. And he walked … and walked…

His healthful jaunts eventually led him to the woods where he discovered a delight in being outdoors. He also became a dedicated trail volunteer: One of his projects involved linking sections of hiking trails from the Davidson River near his home in Brevard to Cold Mountain.

He never finished, but a few months after his death, the Carolina Mountain Club and the U.S. Forest Service finished the trail and named it in his honor.

Nearly a half century after his death, the trail is as popular as ever and a fitting tribute to the WNC hiking pioneer.

To pay homage to Loeb, day-hike to the grassy top of Black Balsam or continue north on the trail into the Shining Rock Wilderness. To access the trailhead to Black Balsam, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 420 and turn on FS Road 816. Follow the road to one of several trailheads, or park in the lot at the end of the road.

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