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Bearwallow Mountain: Worth a 2,000-Mile Walk
You, my readers, are lucky that the Appalachian Trail doesn't pass through Henderson County. If it did, you'd be subjected to my infatuation with that storied path again and again each month.
Instead, I hope you'll endure my columns about one of my local fascinations: Bearwallow Mountain. But I doubt you'll tire of reading of its tales, because there is no shortage of interesting stories associated with that mountain. And I'm always on the lookout for more, so if you've got one, please be in touch.
My columns typically focus on local people who have longtime associations with the lands in our region. This month I want to share a personal story related to Bearwallow Mountain.
While my relationship with this special mountain might be more recent than many others, I feel a deep, personal connection with it. I hope that this connection will ultimately have a long-lasting effect upon our region — one that results in protecting such special places forever.
It was, in fact, Bearwallow Mountain that lured me to reside in Henderson County. More specifically, it was Bearwallow that led me to Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and the beginning of what I hope will be a long career of protecting our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
The tall fire tower jutting up from the top of Bearwallow Mountain was what first called me to its summit years ago. I like fire towers because they allow you to climb above the trees for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. But on my first visit, I fell in love with the beauty of the mountaintop. Its high-elevation grassy meadow had vistas in all directions; you didn't even need the height of the tower. Bearwallow is a truly inspiring destination.
After many more visits over the years, I also became interested in the history of the mountain and the many stories tied to it. I developed an appreciation for both its natural and cultural charms. At the same time, I also noticed housing developments encroaching upon the mountain as new homes were constructed nearer and nearer to its top. I long held a pessimism that the mountain I had come to love would inevitably succumb to development. I feared both its views and its local heritage would be subdivided into oblivion and lost forever.
During the five months before I moved to Henderson County, I attempted to fulfill a lifelong dream of hiking the length of the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail — from Georgia to Maine — in one continuous walk. Having visited this region nearly every weekend for years — exploring its hollows, conquering its summits and reveling in its beauty — I had decided before I left that I was bound for Western North Carolina at the end of my trek.
John Muir once said, "The mountains are calling and I must go." Well, I was going all in. But where I'd settle in this region and where I would find work, I didn't know for sure.
That was until I learned about Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy's efforts to protect, forever, the top of Bearwallow Mountain. I was so thrilled to learn that an organization was actively seeking to conserve this mountain that I held so dear, that I knew instantly where I wanted to work.
Six weeks into my Appalachian Trail journey, I stopped in Damascus, Va., for four days to compose an application for CMLC's AmeriCorps Project Conserve program. The Project Conserve program offers 11-month public service positions in land conservation and other environmental fields at conservation organizations across Western North Carolina. Several weeks later in the backwoods of Virginia, I interviewed for a position at CMLC by cellphone while standing on the Trail — my head cocked at just the right angle to retain the minuscule cellular coverage I could find.
In June, while hiking through Shenandoah National Park, I received a message that I had been chosen for the position at CMLC. I couldn't have been more elated. It was one of my most memorable experiences during my entire adventure. My dream to pursue a career in land conservation protecting Western North Carolina — and more specifically, to help protect Bearwallow Mountain — was coming to fruition.
Before offering me the position, CMLC asked me a startling question: "Is there anything that would prevent you from beginning your service on the first of September?"
Realizing that the position was contingent upon a firm start date, I insisted that I would have no problems reporting by that date.
No problems? I had a big problem! With slightly more than two months before I would begin this opportunity in North Carolina, I was still in Northern Virginia — less than halfway along the Appalachian Trail. I had more than 1,300 miles to go and suddenly not much time to hike it. But having traveled by foot for nearly 900 miles already, I wasn't willing to abandon one dream for another.
Though I hiked among a sea of mountains and up and down countless summits every day during my journey, one mountain was always on my mind: Bearwallow.
I averaged more than 20 miles per day and took only two days of rest during the remainder of my trek. Though hiking north toward Maine, I always felt like the final mountain to climb on my journey was Bearwallow, and that once I did, I would be home.
With that motivation, I completed my thru-hike in Maine by the end of August and started my career in land conservation just over 24 hours later on Sept. 1.
In the two years since, I have been fortunate to help CMLC protect Bearwallow Mountain — to date we have conserved 81 acres atop the mountain. Ultimately, CMLC hopes to protect more than 400 acres at Bearwallow — including 85 more acres by the end of this year. I've also been thrilled to assist in making Bearwallow Mountain more accessible to the residents of our region by helping CMLC build a one-mile public hiking trail to its summit.
Now protected and accessible, I hope you and anyone else can experience the joy and excitement I feel at the top of that mountain, and I hope that the mountain inspires you, too.
The Appalachian Trail proved to be an adventure of a lifetime, but coming home to Western North Carolina was the fulfillment of my biggest dream. Bearwallow Mountain was worth the walk.
Barr is the trails and outreach coordinator for Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. CMLC has protected more than 21,000 acres in Henderson, Transylvania and surrounding counties.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.