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Hike #10: Coontree Loop

10 Sep

512DbD3pegL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_Several weeks ago I visited a trail that I learned about from a great new book collecting 35 trails in and around Asheville. The author is Jennifer Pharr Davis, who took on the entire Appalachian Trail solo at age 21; since then, she has hiked the AT twice more, setting endurance and speed records. She is going to be a guest of The Compleat Naturalist (where I work) Friday, Nov. 15, to speak as part of our “Meet the Naturalist” series.

The trail I chose to explore is called the Coontree Loop. It’s actually what Pharr Davis calls a “balloon,” which means there is a “string” that you hike in on, and then the trail divides into two directions. I went left, at the book’s suggestion, so that the grade would not be as steep heading up to the ridgeline.

One of the great things about this little hiking guide is that it shows a diagram of each hike’s elevation gain. This one is basically a typical bell curve: the hiker starts out going up up up, and finishes going down down down.

Something else that sets Five-Star Trails: Asheville apart from other area guides is that all the trails are rated for scenery, condition, difficulty, solitude and appropriateness for children. Also provided is a list of which of the 35 hikes are best for: convenience, geology, history, kids, scenery, seclusion, waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife.

IMG_2156Pharr Davis divides her book into geographical sections: Central, North, East, South and West. Coontree Loop is in the South section and is part of Pisgah National Forest not far from the town of Brevard. It is accessed across US 276 from the popular Coontree Picnic and Parking Area, which is right beside picturesque Coontree Creek, also visible from much of the loop itself, along with another small mountain stream.

The weather was perfect for mid summer and the dense canopy on this trail provided a natural cooling system that comforts the ascending hiker. However, I was thankful that I had chosen to bring along my Camelback to stay completely hydrated during the somewhat strenuous climb.

One of the mild disappointments of hiking the Coon Tree Loop in summer is that after one has ascended approximately 1,000 feet, the reward of a sweeping view of the landscape below is never delivered. The upper part of the trail is a wooded ridge, whose overlooks of Chestnut Knob and Black Mountain are only easily visible during winter.

Going downhill is always easier for me than up, but for those with knee concerns, this trail may not be the best choice. Pharr Davis warns that during rainy periods the descent can be tricky due to some erosion; she suggests bringing hiking poles.

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While I’ll never have the endurance of a Jennifer Pharr Davis, I am thrilled that I can tackle a trail with the short but steep elevation gain of Coontree Loop. As I write this, exactly 30 years ago this week I was on a respirator in an intensive care unit in Kansas, having had a code blue – I stopped breathing following an asthmatic episode. For years after that I was on many asthma meds and rarely walked far. Today I take only seasonal allergy meds, keep a mostly unused inhaler on hand and get out in nature and hike as much as I can.

I’ll remember Coontree Loop as a beautiful short trail providing a nice, steady workout. Wading in the rocky Coontree Creek at the picnic area is an exhilarating way to cool off and relax after the hike.

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Distance traveled: 3.7 miles

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous with some erosion

Flora of note: sycamore, beech, hemlock, mountain laurel, rhododendron, several fern and moss varieties, oyster mushrooms, red brick top mushrooms, Heal All or Prunella Vulgaris

Some photos by Nate Miller

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Hike #9: Pink Beds Trail

13 Jun

As I suspected would happen upon moving to Western North Carolina, my hiking is starting to get ahead of my blogging. I hiked this trail the last day of May, and want to return soon.

The Pink Beds Trail is in “The Cradle of Forestry in America,” not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The name is derived from the fact that there are many mountain laurel and rhododendron plants here, which, when in full bloom, make the trail pink. I, however, prefer to think of it as the land of ferns.

IMG_0144I first visited the trail two years ago, almost exactly, and I think I need to return in a few more weeks when the pinkness should really be happening. So I’ve never seen it in its full hue.

My favorite thing about the trail is that it’s a 4.3-mile loop around a high-elevation valley, but with only a 500-foot elevation gain – so it’s a good one for a group with people of varying endurance and hiking experience. If you want to cut the loop short, there is another trail bisecting Pink Beds (Barnett Branch).

The trail passes through several different micro-ecosystems, the fern haven being the most picturesque. I’ve never seen so many ferns together in one place. It’s like the forest is carpeted with them and you can see into it for miles, it seems.

It also passes through mountain bogs, which are pretty rare from what I understand – and there are rare plants here: Swamp Pink, for one. Beavers have done some damage to the forest here by damming the river. You’ll also stay close to streams most of the way, which is refreshing and convenient if you have a dog for a companion (which I don’t, yet, but I’m thinking ahead for my future hound).

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The Hike WNC web site, which provides an amazingly detailed description, a GPS map and directions, ranks this as one the best hikes in Western North Carolina. I plan to bring several friends on this trail later this summer when they visit me. If you are reading this and you want to go, just let me know. From where I’m living, I can actually drive to it along the parkway at elevation without going through town!

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Distance traveled: 4.3 miles

Difficulty: Easy with some roots and water crossings

Flora of note: tall pines, oak, tulip poplar, rhododendron, mountain laurel, ferns

Some photos by Nate Miller

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Oh, and a bonus, just after you turn right out of the Pink Beds Trail parking lot, there is a cool gravel road (Mills River) on your right that you can explore before heading back up to the parkway. One section along it has very tall older pines planted in perfect rows (shown above).

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Hike #8: Laurel River Trail

18 May

A week ago, I found myself alone in my new town on Mother’s Day weekend, and decided to do a solo hike to a place I’d been before, the Laurel River Trail.

IMG_9851When I left Asheville around noon, it was starting to rain, but I decided to think positively and by the time I’d passed the turn for Marshall and reached the gravel parking lot near the intersection of Hwy 25/70 and Hwy 208 in Madison County, I’d made it out from under the clouds.

Not long after you set off from the parking lot, a string of out-of-commission train cars can be seen resting peacefully through the trees on your left. Converted from an old railroad, this trail follows the tumultuous Laurel River as it reaches the larger French Broad River, for which many things are named in Western North Carolina, including my favorite chocolate lounge.

What’s most energizing about this trail is one’s proximity to the ever invigorating river. Not only the sights, but the accompanying constant rushing sound of water gushing through the rocks, keeps one feeling perky and quite alive!

When I visited here two years ago, I saw highly skilled and experienced kayakers making their way through the awe-inspiring rapids, which are ranked at Class III-IV at normal water levels. But on this day, if I’d seen a paddler, I would have considered them “loco,” as the water level was very high from recent rain and the current extremely swift through the boulder-strewn passes.

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I usually keep my camera in my pack until something comes along to prompt me to get it out. Last Saturday that something was a cute young garter snake, which I watched glide off into the woods and into a hiding spot from which she peered out at me curiously for quite a while. I thought how many times we are probably watched as hikers by a silent and camouflaged resident that we’d never be able to spot unless we happened to see them retire to their hideout.

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The Laurel River trail is ideal for families or groups in which someone is moving slower, as it’s fairly level and there is little elevation gain. However, low areas can retain mud and in many places your path is covered with thick roots, and in others laced with embedded rocks. Footing can be tricky in these sections.

IMG_9864After about two miles in, the sky began to turn dark and I took this as a warning sign to turn around. About a mile from the trailhead, the rain did come – and I was prepared with my trusty Patagonia rain jacket, in which I stayed dry and warm. I kept a slow pace in the slick mud, made my way out while watching the water beside me slowly rising, and headed for the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

Distance traveled: 4 miles

Difficulty: easy with some mud, root and rock obstacles

Flora of note: rhododendron, mountain Laurel, pine, maple, oak

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Hikes #6 and #7: Pisgah National Forest

28 Apr

Upon officially resettling in North Carolina two weeks ago, one of the most important items on my “to do” list was to go on a hike with the friends who helped me move into my new apartment overlooking Asheville and the surrounding mountains. We ended up choosing two short hikes in different parts of Pisgah National Forest; it was my second visit to both.

IMG_9375The early part of the afternoon was spent exploring the Shope Creek section of the forest, a trail system in the Riceville area near Oteen. Old wide logging roads lead up and into a series of forested footpaths that traverse Shope Creek at various points. Many tall old growth trees shade the trails, despite logging in the not-so-distant past.

Getting across the creek makes for some tedious balancing acts when water is running high, as it was this day due to recent rains. My crossings reminded me of how you sometimes have to make decisions fast and intuitively to keep your balance when in the middle of transition.

Whether you decide to de-shoe and cross the creek barefooted, as one of us did, or keep your hikers on for better traction, which was my choice, you’re bound to come into direct contact with the cool water at some point. Three of us came out of the woods with damp shoes and socks.

In two visits to Shope Creek I’ve only seen one other hiker, so it’s a wonderful choice if you want to be out in nature without a crowd. This is a good place to hunt for morels, I am told. Birding is also great here, with many spring migrants flitting about, including fast-moving warblers high up in the dense canopy.

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Finishing a loop slightly more than a mile long, we headed out of Riceville under impending rain clouds and headed for Barnardsville and the lower approach to Douglas Falls in the Big Ivy section of Pisgah.

IMG_9458Some hikers like to approach these falls from Craggy Pinnacle just below the Blue Ridge Parkway. But the way we love to go is via Dilligham Road, which turns into a gravel road, FR 74. Amid a few raindrops, we climbed slowly up the mountain in the Prius for nine miles of gorgeous scenic woods, passing a dozen small waterfalls along the way! On an earlier visit, we actually saw two Barred Owls along this nine-mile stretch.

By the time we got to the parking area, the sun was out and the trail only a little muddy in places from recent showers. Along the short hike into the 70-foot waterfall, we were surrounded by thick forest that includes large Eastern Hemlocks, dead due to the Wooly Adelgid. The trail is moderate in places, but mostly easy with no elevation gain unless you go beyond the lower falls.

The falls themselves were enchanting, relaxing, marvelous and rejuvenating. What a fantastic reward for our long drive and short hike! We all just wanted to stay and bask in the sights, sounds and smells of this picturesque wooded scene.

Returning to both these favored hiking areas of Pisgah gave me a feeling of coming home. Going to the woods, I am making North Carolina mine, and loving it.

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Distance traveled: less than 3 miles

Difficulty: easy to moderate in places

Flora of note: Hemlock, Pine, Rhododendron, Trillium, Violets, Fiddleheads

Guest photographers: Joseph Lamirand and Nate Miller

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Hike #5 Mountain Springs Road

13 Apr

DSC06454“Look, Daddy, it’s a natural tree tunnel,” shrieked the six-year-old girl in delight.

From behind the wheel of the sky blue Valiant Station Wagon, Ross Figart clapped his strong, olive-colored hands together once and smiled his biggest, sweetest smile. This signified his approval of the moniker his daughter had coined for sections of curving mountain roads where the trees were so old and their branches so outstretched that they literally joined each other over the roadway, forming a canopy.

The diminutive child arched her back, lifted her pointed little chin, pushed her unruly camel-colored hair behind her elfin ears and breathlessly took in the overwhelming vision of deep green hues rushing by and encasing them in wonder.

“It’s like a dream world,” she cooed, peering out the window and into the shady branches as they careened past, hoping to glimpse at least one fairy.

DSC04799The year was 1970 and the roads took us through the forested hills of Eastern Kentucky, where my father made his living as a Southern Baptist minister. He preached not hell and brimstone, but compassion and forgiveness. People adored him wherever he went, whether it was to Hyden or Hazard, Pikeville or Prestonsburg. And he adored the mountain people and their culture, a love he also instilled in me – along with his love of nature and of trees. The greatest gift he and my mother would give me was an idyllic childhood that could rival that of Wordsworth in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, on the wooded premises of a summer camp that was part of their ministry.

After I grew up and left Kentucky, whenever we would connect on the phone, I could hear Dad smiling as he’d say, “You’d like where I went today.” He would have just returned home from a trip to some remote community like Whitesburg, Grayson, Pippa Passes, or Booger Branch (yes, this is an actual place). “There were lots of natural tree tunnels.”

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Thirty years later in 2000, eight years after my dad had passed on, I finally got an opportunity to realize a lifelong dream: I went on a quest to find some forested property to purchase in Eastern Kentucky. I will never forget the first time I ever drove down Mountain Springs Road in Estill County, in search of a remote cabin that was listed for sale in an area called Furnace.

DSC06151My sidekick that day was my spiky-purple-haired New Yorker friend Cindi, who had implanted herself in Estill County a few years prior, and quite staunchly I might add. Even streetwise Cindi, who is rarely caught off guard, was taken somewhat aback when I began to shriek like a child at the amazing trees, whose branches bent and met as if in prayer over the winding gravel road. “These are the natural tree tunnels!” I screamed at her over the din of the Rav4’s tires on the thick gravel.

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The cabin itself was situated on a knoll that crowned six acres, two miles in at the head of this heavenly mountain “holler.” The greater forest of which this small plot of land was part teemed with wildlife! To a wood spirit like me, the place was perfect. Tree-covered, rustic, comfortable, private (the nearest communities were all 30 minutes away) yet accessible (I could get to my office in Lexington in an hour) – and with a few improvements and embellishments, it became utterly and completely home. My plan, very simply, was to live out my life on Furnace Mountain.

But fate had other ideas. In a few short years, everything would change. And it all started because I loved – and lost – the trees.

DSC06115About five years into my stay, much of the land around the cabin was unsustainably and mercilessly logged, the beautiful forest habitat ravaged by the largest and most ruthless equipment used in the state. Catalyzed by this catastrophe, which I worked for a year to try to prevent, changes would lead me to let go of the one thing I thought I’d always keep: I sold the cabin.

DSC04808But letting go of what we can’t imagine letting go of always leads to new adventures – to realities that before could have only seemed like dream worlds from a childhood fantasy. Before long, I would be riding through natural tree tunnels in the lush forests of Costa Rica. And from that land of diversity, I’d eventually return to Kentucky to help my mother die, two decades after losing my father.

As I write this, I’m getting ready to spend my last day as a Kentucky resident. Tomorrow I’ll head south and try to make a new life for myself in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ll be living at 3,000 feet elevation overlooking the city and surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, with abundant bird life, resident white squirrels, black bears passing by and natural tree tunnels surrounding me once more.

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Last week, I returned to Mountain Springs Road for a hike with my dear friend Jane, who now has a small cabin not far from my erstwhile home, which is well cared for by its new owners. Every bend in the two-mile road brought memories flooding back. We hiked on Forest Service Road 2057, which I used to walk with my dogs almost every day for the six years I lived there; I was walking on that road when the planes hit the towers. We visited the special rock sanctuary there, a sacred formation known only to a handful of locals. And I said my goodbyes.

I love Eastern Kentucky. And, although I’m not sure what is coming next, I cannot deny that I also love change – probably as much as I love mountains, mountain people, and trees. North Carolina, ready or not, here I come.

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Hike #4 Sand Gap Trail

11 Mar

When I hike alone, the process is usually about discovery, solace and hope. I approach the woods in stealth mode, hoping to spy some member of the animal kingdom, paying attention to types of trees and what bird calls I recognize, and relishing the quiet time alone.

Yesterday’s hike with two of my best friends was more about relief, celebration and delight. It was a social time of catching our breath, reflecting on the huge changes going on in our lives, and preparing ourselves for the unknowns that lie ahead.

IMG_9091We went to the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky after a weekend of physical work centered around the fact that I recently got a contract on my house in Kentucky, and so Mary and I are preparing to move on to different living situations in the next month and a half. I chose the trail in Natural Bridge State Park that was the first one I went to for refuge last summer not long after my mom’s funeral.

It’s the 7.5 mile Sand Gap Trail, but don’t get excited; we only went 3 miles. Some of my favorite aspects of this trail are its changing terrain – sometimes shrouded in deep thicket and other times offering wide vistas across ridges with glistening streams below – its many moss-covered rocks and older trees, and the solitude it provides.

My modus operandi on Sand Gap is to start at the bottom, from the Sky Lift parking lot, and hike “up.” Normally, unless it’s high season, I never run into a single other party because any traffic coming “down” the mountain would have had to have taken the chairlift up, and then chose to come down the 7.5 miles (or picked the trail inadvertently, as I’ve seen folks do). I occasionally find others who, like me, will hike in on this trail and just pick a turn-around point, but even this is rare unless it’s peak hiking season.

Alone out here, I’ve sneaked up on groups of Pileated Woodpeckers, hearing their high-pitched warning calls and watching them flee once my presence has been made known. But today, I knew they’d stay far off the trail, hearing our good-natured banter long before we approached their nesting grounds.

The weather was exquisite, between 70 and 75 degrees with a gentle breeze, the streams were running fast and furiously with new rainfall, providing an aural backdrop that could only signal the coming of spring, and, no, we didn’t see another soul.

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Sometime before my house closes in late April, I’d like to do the full 7.5 miles of Sand Gap down from top to bottom. The Sky Lift doesn’t begin operating until mid April, so fitting this in around moving to North Carolina could be dicey, but I’m willing to commit to it if someone wants to join me.

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Distance traveled: 3 miles

Difficulty: easy to moderate in places

Trees of note: Beech, Sugar Maple, White Pine, Hemlock, Oak and Hickory

Guest photographer: Joseph Lamirand

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Hike #3 Fighting Creek Trail (a.k.a. The Frog Blog)

29 Jan

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was my hiking destination yesterday. Leaving Asheville at 9 a.m., I traveled to Gatlinburg for a meeting with Todd Witcher, executive director for Discover Life in America, a non-profit organization that manages a thorough scientific inventory of all the park’s species that has been going on for the past 15 years.

After talking with Todd about the project and viewing the park’s LEED Certified Twin Creeks Science and Education Center with its vast collections room, I was excited to get out into the woods and see if I could spot some live specimens. I didn’t have a great deal of time, and so chose a short, easy trail that begins behind the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center. It was 64 degrees and about 1 p.m. when I started out on the Fighting Creek Nature Trail.

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I hadn’t been hiking long when I heard quite a ruckus of high-pitched vocalizations just a “tad” off the trail. Following what I at first mistook for bird chatter, I spied a small green pond, tucked behind a grove of trees. Immediately upon seeing the water, I realized the source of the raucous sounds.

IMG_8844Upon my arrival at the tiny pond’s bank, all was quiet; only the final plops of retreat echoed across the surface, now muddy from what was sure to be dozens of diving frogs!

How long does one have to sit beside a pond before the frogs will start peeping again? I decided to attempt to find out. I sat very still in the soft leaves, watching and listening. Finally, after some 20 minutes, I began to see slow movement in the water, and tiny heads with great bulging eyes began to emerge one by one all over the pond. Before long I realized I could see at least 15 pairs of eyes, all fixed on me!

Once when I lifted my binoculars to get a better view, the gleaming amphibians darted down in retreat once again. But this time, it didn’t take long for them to come back up. They seemed as interested in studying me as I was in watching them.

I adapted to making much slower movements, and they adapted to my presence. Finally, after nearly an hour, they relaxed and stopped staring at me, drifting lazily with out-splayed legs in what I suppose is their usual fashion when unmonitored. Then, with them facing away from me, I was able to get a few zoomed photographs without causing a stir. But, alas, their peeping never did resume during my surveillance.

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What I did was not unlike the way that scientists involved with Discover Life in America’s All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory work to identify and record the locations of various species throughout the park. The people who combine efforts on this project are not just scientists with university degrees but also everyday armchair naturalist types who are, like me, just really interested in nature. They are what DLIA proudly calls “citizen scientists” – and without them the ATBI would not have exceeded all expectations and discovered more than 900 species in the park that are new to science!

IMG_8843The nature trail loop was pleasurable and felt fairly “out there” for being so close to the visitor’s center and a major park thoroughfare, although I’m sure during warmer months there is little solitude here. There was plenty of picturesque intersection with the beautiful creek and signage pointed out a few tree species’ names that were new to me, including Hop-Hornbeam, used by the Cherokee as a painkiller. I was happy to encounter a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos – to balance the taxonomic specimens I had seen earlier. For those interested in historic structures, the restored 1860s John Ownby Cabin stands at about the half-way point. Had I not practiced patience at the peeper pond, I’d have completed the entire hike in under an hour.

After capping off my solo adventure with a quick jaunt up to Cataract Falls (off the nature trail), I rejoined the Fighting Creek loop that led me back near the frogs’ habitat. I could hear their cacophonous chorus loud and clear, and was tempted to return to their secluded domicile for more amphibious fun.

But the sun was getting low in the sky and I had several hours’ drive ahead. It was time to set a course for my own old Kentucky home, where late last night I learned from Wikipedia that in Cherokee lore, the Sugarlands was part of the area known as “Walasi’yi,” or “Frog place.”IMG_8849

Learn more about Discover Life in America and the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory.

Distance traveled: 1.6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Birds spotted: Dark-eyed Junko, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse

Flora of note: Hop-hornbeam, Box Elder, Sycamore, Yellow Poplar, Paw Paw, Sweet Gum, Sassafras, Moosewood

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Hike #2: Rice Pinnacle at Bent Creek

13 Jan

Today I returned to the Bent Creek area near West Asheville; it was 72 degrees when I started out on a solo adventure around 1 p.m.

IMG_8819Parking at the Rice Pinnacle Trail Head, I first explored the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station’s Bent Creek Centennial Interpretive Trail. This easy loop offers great signage (although each placard was extremely muddy) about the species and work being done in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, which comprises some 6,000 acres and houses the North Carolina State Arboretum.

IMG_8814While on this trail, I decided to practice my intuitive navigational skills. When I came to a sign with an arrow indicating I should stay on the trail by going right, I instead deviated from the marked trail and took an unmarked but decent trail to the left. This took me about a mile into the woods, during which time I made at least seven departures onto different trails, ending up at a pump station and a private property sign. Retracing my steps was fun and challenging – and I only saw a couple of other hikers over in this unmarked area.

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Back on the interpretive trail, I came upon a disturbing sight; a grove of pine trees with huge numbers painted on their trunks! I learned from the muddy placard that “canopy density is related to basal area, which is the total area of trunk cross sections. It determines the amount of light allowed to reach growing seedlings. Studies conducted here compare basal area and canopy density to light penetration. Results help foresters make management decisions and predict future tree species.”

IMG_8797Wondering what it means to predict a species, I returned to the parking area, from which I set off on the Rice Pinnacle Trail, which crosses many of the bends in Bent Creek and eventually links up with the Bent Creek trail loops and Lake Powatan. Because this cluster of trails is convenient to town, it attracts a diversity of outdoor enthusiasts, including mountain bikers, joggers or runners, couples or groups sharing time together as they walk, people walking dogs, and solitary hikers like me.

IMG_8833As I passed these various demographic examples, I thought about the fact that people get out into the woods for different reasons. I go for the exercise of hiking and peace that comes from immersing my senses in the smells, colors and quiet of nature, the only welcome sounds being those of wildlife.

But nature is also a backdrop for social activities, and for adventures that bring people closer together, which usually means sharing the trails with those who enjoy being a lot louder in nature than I would ever choose to be. That being said, everyone I encountered today was polite, especially the mountain bikers, who made a point to slow down when passing me and to tell me how many more of their cyclist friends were coming along behind them.

Even with the flurry of activity around me, I was able to find moments of the peace I was seeking. I got just the right amount of cardiovascular exercise as well. And, my favorite part of the trip was hearing pileated woodpeckers at work just off the beaten track. Leaving the trail, I crossed the creek and sneaked up on them close enough to see the pair distinctly (though lighting was not good for a photo) and got to hear their shrill warning calls for a good five minutes before they unceremoniously departed.

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Distance Traveled: 3.75 to 4 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Birds spotted: Black-capped Chickadee, American Crow, Pileated Woodpecker

Flora of note: Yellow Poplar, Black Cherry, White Pine, Mountain Laurel, Club Moss

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Hike #1 of 2013: Bent Creek

10 Jan

I had planned to go to the gym after today’s lunch meeting with a tourism industry colleague in downtown Asheville. But when I emerged from Tupelo Honey, it was a whopping 64 degrees and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds hovering over the mountains. So I called Nate and suggested we get outside for exercise instead.

117Today we explored the Bent Creek hiking area, located just 15 minutes from downtown Asheville in the northern tip of the Pisgah Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest. This watershed is a federal Research and Demonstration forest that backs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to the south and a moderately high ridge to the North. The trails here connect with the Mountains to Sea/Shut In Trail, two of Pisgah’s most popular long-distance trails.

The easier trails are close to Lake Powhatan, which features a swimming beach.  Three loop trails – Deerfield Loop, Pine Tree Loop, and Explorer Loop – provide short, easy hikes. We stayed in this area and shared the trails with families, other hikers walking their dogs, and mountain bike enthusiasts.

Bent Creek has a community vibe, yet it does not feel at all crowded. The trails offer plenty of birding opportunities, and run alongside the creek or skirt the lake, allowing many chances to see and hear water. My favorite moment was lying down on the ground near the beach area under some huge white pines and listening to a kingfisher making its rattling call while darting about in the marsh area nearby.

132Distance Traveled:
Approximately 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Birds spotted:
Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Fox Sparrow

Flora of note:
Hemlock, White Pine, Rhododendron, several varieties of moss

Photos by Nathaniel J. Miller

Learn more on the Hike WNC web site, from which some of this information was derived.

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