Ten years ago, Carolina trail conservation specialist Peter Barr crawled hand-in-hand over boulders and rock faces and cruised over sheer cliffs to reach some of the most spectacular views the veteran hiker had ever seen. views in the area.
Struck by the beauty of the immense panorama overlooking Lake Lure, Rumbling Bald and the Hickory Nut Gorge, Barr left with a mission: to preserve private property and open it to the public.
On Wednesday morning, Barr and Conserving Carolina celebrated the culmination of the first phase of its mission with the official opening of the 2.1-mile Youngs Mountain Trail near Lake Lure, which takes hikers to the top of its namesake.
At 2,500 feet, the prominent summit offers year-round views. The trail to the top of Youngs Mountain crosses 437 acres of forever protected land that provides a haven of biodiversity, including many rare and endangered plants and animals, Conserving Carolina said.
Anyone can enjoy the trail if they take their time, Barr said of its design, but the second half is hilly and arduous with exposed and steep cliffs, and hikers are advised to use caution.
The first half mile of the trail winds gently through the forest, passing large boulders and several streams before starting its ascent.
The trail gets steeper over the next mile and a half but has plenty of long distance views along the way. It tapers off to cross a rock face close to the halfway point, but hikers who don’t want to continue will have already been rewarded with stunning views from the first rocky outcrops.
The trail includes 300 steps as it passes wildflowers and overhanging rocks 1,200 feet to the top, ending on a rock face with stunning views of the gorge.
Since the trailhead is accessible in the closed area of ââTatanka north of Lure Lake, and only a small parking area for up to six cars is available, trail users must register for a leave. -pass daily free at https://conservingcarolina.org/youngs- montagne /.
Over the next year or two, Conserving Carolina plans to work on the second phase of the project, which is a larger parking area. In three to five years, the organization hopes to extend the trail to Buffalo Creek Road to allow barrier-free public access.
The mountain is home to bears, deer, bobcats, turkeys, and many other types of wildlife.
âThis project is a wonderful combination of conservation and sustainable recreation. Critical habitat for over 380 species of plants and animals, including 25 rare species, is now permanently protected, âsaid David Lee, Natural Resources Manager at Conserving Carolina.
All the while, the Youngs Mountain Trail expertly winds through spectacular hardwood forests and low-lying glade communities before ending atop a granite dome.
“This trail really shows some of the best North Carolina has to offer.”
From concept to trail
To make Barr’s Trail a reality, Conserving Carolina would need to convince landowners to sell their plots, find the money to buy them, and then design a trail through the cliffs that didn’t require ropes or climbing.
But Barr’s patience is as good as building his trail. Over a decade, Conserving Carolina has gone through three stages of land acquisition while securing funding, assessing the environment and finally building the trail in 2020.
âI remember standing on the property … about 10 years ago, thinking this was perhaps one of the spectacular, if not the most spectacular, views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and at what it would be amazing to protect it and get others to take advantage of it. Barr said.
“At the same time, there were so many obstacles and hard work to be done that it seemed pretty unrealistic at the time.”
Ninety-six acres were purchased from landowner Tommy Hartzog in 2013 by Rutherford County using a grant from the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, a process facilitated by Conserving Carolina.
In 2017, over 300 acres were purchased from Tim Sweeney, a conservation landowner, and the last 19 acres fell into place in 2018, acquired again from Hartzog, who also had a vision to protect and share the land. .
After:Stories from the Earth: Conservation of Youngs Mountain
Most of the trail was completed over four months in 2020, followed by six months of work to install the 300 steps along the trail and complete the rock work along the cliffs.
The result? âIt has the most spectacular view of any trail we’ve developed to date,â Barr said. He refers to Youngs Mountain as the “crown jewel” of the current Hickory Nut Gorge State trail.
“The perspective is really special as it looks out over the rest of the Hickory Nut Gorge and the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Despite the expansive views from the top, Barr’s favorite spot is a rock outcropping almost halfway down the trail.
âIt has an uplifting feel – a great view, and you feel like you’re standing on the edge of the Earth,â he said.
The hardest part of building the trail was handcrafting the gravel with a team of rock crushing volunteers to build the stairs. The biggest logistical challenge was figuring out how to get the mini excavator back to the trail halfway – where it was blocked by cliffs and couldn’t go any further – to get it to the top to start working on the trail. .
Construction was completed by Singletrack Trails and its award-winning trail builder Shrimper Khare and completed by the team at Conserving Carolina’s Rock Crushers. Additional features on the trail were built by Benchmark Trails and American Conservation Experience.
Over 1,000 volunteer hours and over $ 150,000 were spent building the trail, Barr said.
âTen years of hard work and exploration, and for the most part still optimistic and patient, brought it all together,â he said, adding that he was proud of Conserving Carolina’s ability. to “maintain the conservation mission while creating a world-class network.” experience for all who walk the trails. “
Opening of public access
Seeing such panoramic views of the rock faces, forests, and cliffs that line the lake below has not always been an option for the public, with this opportunity mostly limited to private owners of gated communities.
Now these doors are opening to residents and visitors.
âHickory Nut Gorge has always been spectacularly scenic, but before 10 or 15 years ago there was very little public access,â Barr said. “Until Conserving Carolina begins to work with landowners to retain and acquire.”
Youngs Mountain is the last link in Conserving Carolina’s chain of protected lands in the Lake Lure region, joining Bearwallow Mountain, Eagle Rock Climbing Crag, Florence Nature Preserve, Weed Patch Mountain Trail, and Wildcat Rock Trail. Conserving Carolina also helped establish Chimney Rock State Park in 2005.
A sustainable trail
There are a few old logging roads on the property, but Barr did not want to use them for the new trail.
âIt’s an old and outdated method of building trails, and it has a lot of pitfalls,â he said. These pitfalls lead to erosion and widening of the trail, and lead to the penetration of sediment into the waterways.
âPlus, they end up not being a pleasant experience for hikers,â Barr said.
Instead, it started from scratch, using frequent climbs, dips, and curves to drain water from the trail while showcasing all of the scenic features it found along the way. In the steeper sections, hundreds of sturdy stone and log steps prevent erosion.
The trail was built to the highest standards of sustainable trail construction, Conserving Carolina said, to reduce erosion, protect water quality, and minimize future maintenance needs.
The trail includes creative trail-making features as it takes hikers over boulders and streams, past land owned by Conserving Carolina, as well as Youngs Mountain Trail Park, owned by Rutherford County.
Conserving Carolina has won national awards for two of its sustainable trails – Wildcat Rock Trail and Weed Patch Mountain Trail.
Other critical funding for land acquisition and trail construction came from the RHI Legacy Fund, the NC Land and Water Fund, the Open Space Institute, the Recreational Trails Program, and Fred and Alice Stanback, a said Conserving Carolina.
Conserving Carolina is a local land trust that has protected nearly 46,000 acres, primarily in Henderson, Polk, Transylvania and Rutherford counties, as well as the Landrum area of ââSouth Carolina. Conserving Carolina’s mission is to protect, restore and inspire appreciation for nature. Get involved or become a member at conservingcarolina.org.