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November 2008 On the weekend before Thanksgiving, we had our inaugural hike of the completed section of the Hickory Nut Gorge Trail. We had just finished some new sections at Raven Rock and put up some new trail signs the week before. We were ready to show off our new creation. It was a beautiful clear sunny day, cold and crisp. 19 people came out for the adventure. We carpooled up to Raven Rock to begin the hike. The Upper Raven Rock loop is a short hike, but with quite spectacular vistas. The trail goes to the very top of the cliff and looks out over the whole gorge. Scrambling over the giant boulders, the hikers made their way along the crest and then down along the trail under the base. From below, they could look up at the hundred foot high walls of vertical and overhanging granite. And this was just the beginning!

In Part 1, I discussed how I went about getting permissions for the trail. Once that was done for a large portion of the trail, we began the on the ground work to clear the trail and make it walkable. Looking at maps and envisioning a possible route from the topo lines is one thing, but getting out on the ground is something else. The land never quite looks like one imagines it from a map. The first few trips out, we just explored the land. Since the first 3-4 miles of the trail lay on over 700 acres of land, there was a lot to explore. We knew we wanted to get from the Florence Nature Preserve to Chimney Rock State Park eventually, so we looked for a possible route that would take us in that direction. Also we wanted to pick the most scenic and interesting route along the gorge. This meant looking for outcrops with views, waterfalls, ridgelines and different types of forests.

Going for a hike sounds like a pretty simple thing to do. You put on your hiking boots, grab some water and trail mix, and go. But what goes into getting the trail ready to be hiked? The history of trail making in this country goes way back. Of course, the original footpaths were created by Native Americans and used for hunting, gathering and traveling between summer and winter areas.

Last Sunday we held our First Annual Halloween Monster Jam at Hickory Nut Forest. We could not have picked a more beautiful day – bright sunny skies, mild temperatures, colorful fall leaves and a slight breeze. M.o.n.s.t.e.r. stands for mountain music, organic foods, natural building/permaculture, sustainability, treasure hunt, eco-friendly and renewable energy – all components of our eco-community vision. With bluegrass music playing in the background, people dropped in all day long to press apple cider, eat pumpkin pies and dip caramel and peanut butter apple slices.

Today we had 25 people of all ages out in our organic apple orchard, Honey Bear Orchard, shaking trees and picking apples. We had a great abundance of apples this year, and we wanted to find a way to share this with people in need in the surrounding community. The Society of St. Andrews came out with all of these volunteers to gather apples from our trees. They are an organization that does gleaning, which is the gathering of fruits and vegetables from farmer’s fields at the end of the season that would normally go to waste. They then distribute the food free to hungry people in their community.

Gurgling, Burbling, Chugging, Giggling, Warbling syncopation.
I sit on a moss-covered stone throne on a temporary island in the middle of the creek, misted by the water hurtling by. Tiny sandy beaches with mossy benches, big enough for one person, dot the banks. Rhododendron and hemlock groves frame the creek to the water’s edge. I imagine the massive rocks being tossed downstream from the Continental Divide by ancient gods in the beginning of time, when the mountains were so high that they touched the sky.

Apple picking, cider making, apple bobbing and eating homemade apple pies – an old time fest for families and kids of all ages. What a day! People came to climb ladders, shake trees and catch the apples as they fell. They carried bags of apples to the cider presses and made fresh juice the old-fashioned way.