Archive | Recreation

Gaining a Foothold in the RAD

Rendering of Smoky Mountain Adventure Center by Glazer Architecture

Rendering of Smoky Mountain Adventure Center by Glazer Architecture

Twenty-one years after opening Climbmax one of the nation’s first indoor rock climbing gyms in downtown Asheville, Stuart Cowles is on the sharp end again.

In the early 1990’s Cowles left his job as a manager and designer at a climbing gear enterprise in Conway, NH with the goal of opening a climbing gym.

“That was the motivating factor to move to Asheville. I wanted a small city with a solid climbing community that might be able to support it,” he says. Since then, he’s roped in a loyal following and introduced hundreds of folks to the edgy sport.

Fast forward two decades and construction is underway on the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center in the River Arts District (RAD) that will open its doors later this spring or summer. On a small wedge of land on Amboy Road nestled between Carrier Park and the French Broad River Park, the enterprise will feature a state of the art climbing gym, a yoga studio, a beer tap, as well as bike, stand up paddle board and other gear rentals. The outdoor adventure facility was designed by the local architectural firm Glazer Architecture.

Cowles, however, isn’t jumping on the RAD bandwagon. In fact, the entrepreneur took the lead  of the Mountain Sports Festival as the first executive director over a decade ago. While it’s original venue was downtown, “the goal was always to move the festival to the river,” says Cowles.

In 1994, when Climbmax opened on Wall Street, downtown was just on the verge of its renaissance, much like the river district is today. “I decided I wanted to be in the heart of downtown. I looked at opening along the river 22 years ago — at the time it just wasn’t the right place,” he recalls.

Framing of the SMAC commenced on February 11, 2015

Framing of the SMAC commenced on February 11, 2015

But as the rejuvenation of the river district started to turn the bend, Cowles launched a search for another indoor rock gym venue in the RAD. The crux, he says, was finding a workable building for a climbing gym. With assistance from a Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority grant, Cowles decided to take the leap and design and build a new facility in the RAD. While he’ll continue to operate Climbmax, he’s hoping to tie into the growing demand for recreation along the French Broad.

“It’s really a perfect location since the river brings so many active people together,” says Cowles who intends to create a one stop destination for outdoor adventure. “We hope to be an anchor point, engage active people and keep them within the city limits.”

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ABCs for the New Year

Jonah Igelman walks the line

Jonah Igelman walks the line

I’ve never been the type of guy who’s stuck to my New Year’s resolution (but who has?). So this year I decided to take a novel approach: a list of activities to make the most of the outdoors and my neighborhood without all the driving. While gas prices may be at a two decade low, time is scarce, so here are my ABCs of New Year activities just beyond the front porch.

Arrange gear in my garage
Boulder the dam remains on the Hominy Creek Greenway
Cycle to the store more often
Discover five new running routes
Examine the ecology of a local watershed
Float the French Broad
Garden
Hang in a hammock and read
Identify edible plants
Juggle
Kick a soccer ball
Live outside more
Maintain a derelict piece of public space
Name every tree species on my street
Observe the night sky
Pack a picnic at the local park
Quote Walden in the woods
Run a local 5K
Slackline at the park
Track animal footprints
Unicycle
Volunteer for a park workday
Wage a water balloon fight
X-plore Buttermilk Creek
Yoga in the backyard
Zip down Sulpher Springs Road on a longboard

 

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Going Green with Blueways

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There are many ways to salvation, and one of them is to follow a river.

                                          – David Brower

 Most of us are familiar with the benefits of greenways in our communities. The recent completion of Asheville’s Reed Creek Greenway Phase III is a good example: The 1,300-foot section bridged the existing paved trail to Glenn Creek Greenway, creating a green corridor from Magnolia St to Merrimon Ave. A connected community of parks, trails, recreation, transportation and health makes our region more livable and sustainable. But what about blueways? What are they, and what are their benefits?

Understanding Blueways

To begin exploring the concept of blueways, think “water trails” or “navigable waterways.” Blueways offer compatible and multiple use resources similar to greenways, and, realistically, they already exist. Lakes and rivers have always drawn people to their waters, and, by law, navigable waters are public thoroughfares. However, the lands along their banks and shores may be privately owned. So, blueways—or developed water trails—provide legal access points, signage, maps and other amenities.

Additional community support from user groups, government agencies, landowners, volunteers and outfitters can greatly expand a blueway’s development. Facilities such as boat ramps, camping areas and restrooms extend recreational opportunities along a trail and enhance a users’ experience. In some cases, the connectivity of multiple resources can transform a day outing into a multi-day excursion.

Blue Trail Issues

Blueways garnered a lot of national attention in May 2012 under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The Department of Interior unveiled an ambitious, albeit ambiguous, federal initiative establishing national water trails as a class of national recreational trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

The Secretarial Order established a network of designated water trails on rivers across the country. Key focus points of the program promoted outdoor recreation and national recognition to existing, local water trails.

Unfortunately, the non-regulatory program was dissolved two years later due to increased opposition from landowners, stakeholders and several politicians. Most of these skeptics cited an increased threat of federal regulation and an infringement on their property rights. However, regional and state blueway development efforts have propagated and have continued to prosper around the country.

 

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Blueways in the Carolinas

The Carolinas’ currently have a number of blueway initiatives underway. The Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of greenways, trails and blueways that meanders through 15 counties and two states. The “thread” includes 220 miles of trails throughout the foothills and piedmont of North and South Carolina. These multi-use trails are open to the public and accessible to nearly two million people who live, work and play within the region.

Smoky Mountain Host of North Carolina currently showcases a number of western NC’s rivers and lakes in their promotion of Smoky Mountain Blueways. The destination marketing organization serves seven western NC counties and the Qualla Boundary of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. According to their website, “Blueways (also known as blue trails) are the water equivalent to land based trails and greenways.” The organization reports that recreational trails often stimulate the local economy, preserve natural areas, promote healthy lifestyles, improve water and air quality, and connect people to natural places.

Southern Appalachian blueways and paddle trails also connect borders when their rivers and lakes meander through state lines. Close to home, the French Broad Paddle Trail includes a developing recreational water trail with designated campsites and boat ramps that stretches close to 140 miles through western NC and eastern Tennessee. In Tennessee, the paddle trail joins the French Broad Blueway, which includes a 102-mile section that flows to the confluence of the Tennessee River.

Connecting corridors with blueways, greenways, recreation, culture and natural areas links our heritage to our landscape. Some advocates treasure their rivers and lakes as tributaries to the past while others envision a blueprint for the future. Still others living along proposed corridors often oppose public trails and right of ways. Whether they are adjacent landowners, businesses or farmers, some express concern over privacy, government regulations and increased foot traffic.

TELL US: What’s your take?

We hope to open up a discussion and invite others to write about their ‘connections’ to rivers, parks, trails and other outdoor recreation topics. Send us your ideas, comments or news to Sammy Cox, coordinator: ashevillepocketguide@gmail.com.

 

 

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Birder Bucks

Birders at Beaver lake - Simon Thompson photo

Birders at Beaver lake – Simon Thompson photo

Birdwatching used to be for little ole ladies in tennis shoes. Those birdwatchers are joined today by “birders” that roll in Escalades with $1,000 Swarovski binoculars, spotting scopes at twice the price and enough photographic gear to make Ansel Adams roll over in his grave – driving cross country to tick off a common crane or scheduling a guided trip to India in quest of a mangrove whistler.

Of course, most people fit somewhere in between, but they all have one thing in common – a fascination for our feathery friends. A 2011 survey – National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR) –teased the birders out of the overall group. They found that there were around 47 million birders over 16 years of age in the U.S. The greatest percentage, by far, of these birders (88%) were “backyard birders.” You know who you are – you put out seed feeders and hang hummingbird feeders and keep a cheap pair of Tasco binoculars and a 20-year-old Golden field guide on the table by the window. Thirty-eight percent of birders (yes there was a little double-dipping) said they take part in birding trips at least a mile from their home.

Birders spend money on a wide range of goods and services related to their passion. The list is extensive and includes optics, field guides, birdhouses, bird feed, lodging, transportation and more. And all of these expenditures have ripple effects throughout the economy. According to the FHWAR report the 47 million U.S. birders generated $107 billion throughout the birding industry, supporting 666,000 jobs and creating $13 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue. A 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study reported that “wildlife-watchers” in North Carolina spent about $827 million pursuing their hobby.

The Old Home State is a premiere birding destination and for good reason. North Carolina has recorded more than 460 species of birds, fifth highest of all states east of the Mississippi. Pelagic (offshore) species are a big draw to the state. The confluence of warm Gulf waters and cold Atlantic currents provide a melting (or cooling) pot of pelagic species. Inland, North Carolina has the greatest elevational range of any eastern state providing opportunities for low-elevation, marsh and estuarine species plus high-elevation specialties as well as anything in between.

 

Scarlet tanager - Simon Thompson photo

Scarlet tanager – Simon Thompson photo

Around 2003 a group of partners including Audubon North Carolina, North Carolina Resources Commission, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Sea Grant and the North Carolina Extension Service came together to begin work on the North Carolina Birding Trail. Part of the mission of the NCBT is, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”

During the next six to seven years the partnership worked to produce a series of guides or “Birding Trails” to help birders and other visitors to the state find great birding destinations plus “birder friendly” businesses and accommodations. They did this by creating three trail guides geared to the three distinct geographical provinces of the state – the Coastal Plains Trail Guide, the Piedmont Trail Guide and the Mountain Trail Guide. The area around Asheville and all of Western North Carolina is featured in the 105 sites listed in the Mountain Trail Guide. Some sites in and around Asheville include Beaver Lake Sanctuary, The Biltmore Estate and Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other sites in Western North Carolina include Kituwah Farm in Cherokee, Whiteside Mountain near Highlands/Cashiers and Lake Junaluska. Site descriptions in the guides include directions, access information, focal species and habitat listings, and on-site visitor amenities.

Birder friendly businesses in Asheville include Wild Birds Unlimited, The Compleat Naturalist and the North Carolina Arboretum. Ventures Birding Tours of Skyland offers guided tours year round in Western North Carolina, statewide, across the country and around the world. To find out more about birding trails and birder resources across North Carolina check out the NCBT at http://ncbirdingtrail.org/.

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Autumn Trip Tips, Part III: Go West, Brew Enthusiasts!

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You’re definitely a local if…you’ve visited all of the 18 breweries in Asheville and Buncombe County. But now it’s time to spread your wings and experience the unique charm and treasures of other WNC Breweries. Our Oktoberfest pick includes the three sweet craft beer breweries of Haywood County. Just a short and scenic 30-minute drive west of Asheville, the town of Waynesville offers a great weekend outing full of adventure, shopping, fine restaurants and locally crafted beer! Nestled in the shadow of towering Cold Mountain, the town’s historic district and Main Street begins the brewery tour. If you’re looking for the perfect combination of food and drink, start the day with lunch at The Tipping Point Tavern. The tavern started brewing and serving its own beer in 2012, and it has a great selection of pub fare served by a friendly staff. Our first pick-of-the-day is their Hiking Viking Blonde. I stopped by last month and had an interesting seasonal Blueberry Blonde. Perfect! To ensure you have enough fuel for the day’s tastings, invest in their Grandma’s Oatmeal Cake.

Sammy Cox shares an autumn brew with Frog Level Brewing Co.'s owner/brewer Clark Williams

Sammy Cox shares an autumn brew with Frog Level Brewing Co.’s owner/brewer Clark Williams

Next up, and only a short drive or hop down the hill, is the historic Frog Level area of town. This revitalized railroad district includes a delightful collection of shops, galleries, antique stores, an artisan coffee house and Frog Level Brewing. As soon as you walk in the restored brick warehouse you’ll feel right at home. Inspiring, wide-angle landscape photography and local art greets you as you walk into the friendly space. You’ll feel like a local “level-head” as soon as you order up and start talking with the servers, brewers or patrons.  Check out Lily’s Crème Boy Ale for a “light and refreshing” second beer of the day. Be sure to step out on the shared back porch (Panacea Coffee Co.) and patio overlooking Richland Creek. One of the best brew porches in Western Carolina!

To complete the Waynesville Brewers’ Tour, place your last call at Bearwater’s Brewing . The award-winning brewery offers a variety of small batch brews including several of their 2013 Carolina Championship of Beers. I recently enjoyed one of the silver medal finalists, the Shining Creek Ale, inside their cozy taproom. Be sure to sample some of their barrel-aged beers and their collaboration beers with other local breweries. For more info about WNC Breweries and self-guided tours, visit: A Guide to the Craft Breweries & Pubs of Western North Carolina.

 

 

Brew to view outing: Old Butt Trail/Shining Rock Creek/Shining Creek Trail/Big East Fork. Highlights include streamside trails, high country views and house-size boulders along the Big East Fork. This is a strenuous hike but like the beer with its namesake, a smooth finish to the day! 

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Autumn Trip Tips, Part II: Hotlines and Fall Color Reports

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The Blue Ridge Parkway may be the most popular and convenient fall leaf-viewing drive, but there are lots of other less-traveled opportunities to see the colors of the season. Explore Asheville offers one of most comprehensive digital guides to the area. The official Asheville Tourism site has a convenient one-stop guide to autumn that includes ongoing coverage from early to late fall. So whether you’re traveling by car, bike, motorcycle or by foot, you can select a variety of tours and hikes throughout Western NC.

 Trust us on this one!

You may have been to Hot Springs, but have you ever been to Trust, NC? Try this mid-fall excursion and head north from Asheville to Weaverville and stop by Well-Bred Bakery for a morning snack and a to-go cup of java. Take US 25/70 to Hot Springs and enjoy the brilliant colors of fall along the Walnut Mountains. The descending trip into the quaint river hamlet offers a dazzling array of fall color along the ridge tops and forest coves. Take a break in town and walk along the river to get an excellent open view of the autumn landscape. Better yet, schedule a half-day rafting trip down section nine of the French Broad and immerse yourself into four miles of fall splendor. Trip note: most outfitters require you to book your trip at least a day ahead. Climb out of Hot Springs along Hwy 209 for approximately 15 winding miles and take a left turn in Trust, NC onto Hwy 63. This last section includes beautiful vistas and historic farmlands of western Buncombe County. The 80-mile fall color tour can be driven comfortably in three hours. Take your time and enjoy the ride!

Follow the yellow blaze: Take a detour off Hwy. 209 south of Hot Springs to Rocky Bluff Recreation Area and the Spring Creek Nature Trail. The 1.6-mile trail offers a convenient leaf-lookers’ day-hike along the cascading mountain stream.

 Next up: Go west, brew enthusiasts!

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Autumn Trip Tips Part 1: Parkway Passages

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Sometimes when it comes to trip planning, we can’t see the forest for the trees: Sorting through the endless seasonal options of entertainment, recreation and tours is so daunting we can’t even decide on a destination. Our biggest challenge comes before we take the first step out our front door. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Whether you want to live like a local or act like a tourist, here are helpful hints and tips to get you jump-started on your autumn adventures and outings. Plan wisely, invite some friends and enjoy the season!

More than 12 million visitors travel the Blue Ridge Parkway each year. However, I’m always surprised to find that most of my local pals have never visited the Blue Ridge Destination Center. The multi-agency information center might be one of the best regional travel resources in our area.

The LEED Gold certified building includes a tree-house design that appears to float above its natural mountain landscape. The facility showcases green building and sustainable design, including a living roof, natural ventilation and a variety of passive solar strategies. Inside, the center features exhibits, videos, an information center, seasonal displays and other valuable information to assist travelers along their parkway experience.

destin

Check out the 22-foot, multi-media I-Wall that allows guests to navigate the parkway and interactively experience places along the parkway. And be sure to stop by and talk with the staff at the Blue Ridge Natural Area Visitor’s Center to learn more about the region’s natural and cultural history. Children and adults will enjoy the 70-seat theater, which is currently featuring the 24-minute film entitled The Blue Ridge Parkway—America’s Favorite Journey.

The Blue Ridge Destination Center at BRP milepost 384 is a “go-to” stop whether you’re touring the entire 469 miles of the parkway or are en route to Craggy Gardens for a late-afternoon picnic.

 

Autumn starts early in the high country along Bass Lake, Milepost 295 - photo by Carson Cox

Autumn starts early in the high country along Bass Lake,   BRP Milepost 294 – photo by Carson Cox

 

 

Next up: fall color hotlines and reports.

Early fall leaf-looker’s ramble: Fresh air options include a stroll around the Federal Energy and Water Management’s award-winning facility, or take a 1.2-mile circuit hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Visitors Center parking lot.
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Get Outside with Kids

Boating is an adventure all ages can enjoy.

Boating is an adventure all ages can enjoy.

There’s no better time than the crisp days of autumn to explore the outdoors and take in the region’s spectacular show of color. Here’s a quick guide to bona fide adventures within a couple hours radius of Asheville that are fun for kids and adults too.

Hike: Sam Knob

The highest points of North Carolina’s backcountry may seem out-of-reach for young explorers, but the short hike to the 6,050-foot peak of Sam Knob is one an entire family can conquer. This double summit near the Blue Ridge Parkway is an ideal outing to take in colorful fall vistas at the roof of the Pisgah Crest and for snapshots of the Shining Rock Wilderness which was among the original fifty wild areas designated by the Wilderness Act in 1964. The route up has a diverse landscape of lush vegetation, rolling meadows, steep rocky slabs, and two grassy knobs separated by a shallow gap. With few trees to obscure the view, the peak highlights captivating vistas across rows of wild ridges and well-known landmarks, such as Shining Rock Ledge and Devil’s Courthouse. In all, a 2.2 mile round trip.

Getting there: From Asheville, follow the parkway south for 26.5 miles. Just past milepost 420, turn right on Forest Road 816 (Black Balsam Road), and follow to the terminus at the Black Balsam parking area.

Paddle: French Broad River (Hot Springs to Murray Branch Picnic Area)

An ideal canoe float or introduction to whitewater on the French Broad. This portion of section 10 is peppered with easy rapids along a four mile section of the river from the town of Hot Springs to the Murray Branch Picnic Area just upstream of the Tennessee state line. Paddle through a few wave trains and look for great spots to swim.

Getting there: From Hot Springs take U.S. 25/70W across the bridge, turn left at the end of the bridge, then right on SR 1304 for four miles. Reserve a raft from the Hot Springs Rafting Company or contact Bluff Mountain Outfitters to arrange a shuttle.

Mountain Bike: Jackrabbit Mountain – Mountain Biking and Hiking Trails

In 2010 Clay County leaders unveiled a 15-mile playground for fat-tire lovers on a hare- shaped peninsula of land bordered by Lake Chatuge near Hayesville. A great ride for families with kids is the gentle 3.1-mile Central Loop that sprouts a handful of shorter branches — all junctions are well marked with maps and color-coded blazes. Don’t forget to bring a bathing suit for a dip in the lake and keep your eyes peeled for a rope swing near the trail.

Getting There: From Hayesville, take U.S. 64 east to N.C. 175. Head south for 3.4 miles and turn right on Jackrabbit Road. In a half mile, turn left into the trailhead parking lot.

If you’re planning a outing with kids, here’s a list of ten essentials to consider to make your next adventure a grand slam!

 

1. Plenty of water
2. A first aid kit
3. An abundance of healthy snacks and a special treat for the summit
4. A best friend
5. Rain gear
6. The Lorax
7. An extra outfit and a back-up pair of socks and shoes
8. A magnifying glass
9. Patience
10. A back-up plan

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From the Backwoods to the Backstory

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Last week, I treated myself to a birthday run along the Appalachian Trail (AT). While traversing a steep switchback, I slowed to a walk and began reflecting on the past. My mind played a revolving slideshow of frames, memories, photographs and experiences. During the nostalgic tour, it dawned on me that the historic trail has been part of my life for 50 years!

I was seven years old when I took my first step on the trail—a wonderful beginning to a life-long relationship with the outdoors. That day, my friend and I rode on horseback above Georgia’s Vogel State Park through a beautiful cove forest. Years later while in college, I spent weekends day-hiking sections in north Georgia. After I graduated, I started section-hiking the 2,100-mile trail in 1982. My future wife, Candace, and I tackled the climb along the strenuous approach trail in the dark. We camped at Nimblewill Gap and we hiked up to the AT’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain.

Thirty years later, I’ve covered more than 800 contiguous miles through four states. On my recent reflective journey, I rambled along one of my backyard hikes along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. During my two-hour adventure, I ran through an open meadow adorning Turks Cap Lily, Wild Bergamot, Queen Anne’s Lace and Great Lobelia. A rufous-side towhee sang in the thicket, and a ruby-throated hummingbird hovered above.

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Even though it was early August, I could detect the early signs of a changing season. At 4,000 feet above sea level, the constant breeze revealed the sizzling sound of drying leaves. Birch and cherry trees began to turn, and their yellow leaves littered the ground beneath them. Earlier in my run, I had seen bear scat chock-full of cherry pits, their fruit providing the mammals with one of summer’s last natural sweet treats. Food becomes scarce for bears between the berry and mast season. During this transition, bear sightings in backyards become more common as they search for convenient food sources such as bird feeders and trash cans.

Whether I’m on the trail for a couple of hours or a few weeks, the AT always treats me well. After all, the trail, whose path travels through 14 states, ultimately led me to my 25-years-and-counting side trip to Asheville. Like many others, I find the journey more interesting than the destination. But sooner or later, we all have to settle down long enough to generate funds for our next great adventure, build an abode, raise a family or grow a garden.

Next month, Asheville Pocket Guide is introducing an exciting series entitled The Backstory. We’ll share the entertaining lives and stories of others who have landed in Asheville after a life-changing adventure, personal quest or an intriguing cross-cultural experience. In some cases, these sensational exposures and experiences have inspired local Ashevillians to open up boutique nurseries, outdoor adventure businesses and exotic teahouses. Others have committed their lives to making a difference in the region they live in. Some have become community leaders, directors of nonprofits or successful professionals in their field. What they all share is a vagabonding spirit and a deep-rooted sense of adventure. Come join us for these fireside chats, storefront discussions and heartfelt testimonials.

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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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