11 Dec How the Hickory Nut Gorge Trail Came About
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.
Recreational hiking became more prominent in the 1920’s when the Appalachian Trail was conceived as a long distance corridor from Georgia to Maine, a distance of over 2000 miles. The popularity of hiking has been growing ever since, and now it is a favorite outdoor activity.
A few years ago, I began imagining a hiking trail that would run the entire length of Hickory Nut Gorge, encompassing its dramatic natural features. It would run along ridgelines with distant mountain views, beneath soaring rock cliffs and along streams with tumbling waterfalls. Hikers could walk through a variety of verdant ecosystems and diverse plant communities along the way.
Having worked for non-profits for nearly 27 years, with many of those years spent with trail organizations and land trusts, I was familiar with the process of getting permissions for a trail. Because there was never much money available for buying land for trails, we usually relied on asking private landowners for permission to walk over their lands on a simple dirt footpath. My personal experience with this approach was that if I asked enough owners, and if I was willing to persist long enough, eventually some of them would agree to grant us permission. This was usually a “revocable permission” meaning that they could change their mind at any time in the future, if problems arose.
In Hickory Nut Gorge, we had already built three miles of trail on our lands at Hickory Nut Forest on Little Bearwallow Mountain. We then linked these to another three miles in the Florence Nature Preserve across the road on Little Mount Pisgah. The state had recently purchased Chimney Rock and was acquiring more land for a new state park near Lake Lure.
My vision was to connect by trail the upper gorge, where we were in Gerton, with the lower gorge in Bat Cave and Chimney Rock. I began by getting maps of all the owners along the proposed route and calling them up to present the idea. It was slow going at first, with some false starts and dead ends, but gradually I began to piece together a feasible route. Through the permission and generosity of one large landowner, we were able to begin work on the first half of the proposed trail corridor last spring. Our first “Hike the Gorge” event is in November , and hikers can experience this portion of the trail.
Stay tuned for the next blog to find out more about what we had to do to get this much of the trail open and walkable…