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Fall is Not the Only Time to Visit
Each October, a peculiarly dressed man with an Irish accent named Stingy Jack — and his illuminated pumpkin patch — transform Katherine Taylor's Pisgah Forest mountainside into a Halloween wonderland.
Already this month, nearly 10,000 visitors have experienced the plethora of activities at Stingy Jack's Pumpkin Patch, an outdoor fair featuring pumpkin carving, music and an assortment of tasty treats to satisfy the appetites of young and old alike.
A wooded trail lined with more than 3,000 illuminated jack-o'-lanterns is the festival's centerpiece; other attractions such as a corn maze and an enchanted hayride are big draws, too. Stingy Jack's even boasts a contraption that hurls pumpkins more than 400 feet high into the air — and across a distance of one-third of a mile.
And while the outdoor festival's many visitors come to enjoy the spectacles of the season, they're also reveling in the natural beauty and intrigue of the land that hosts it.
"It's beautiful. I just love it here," Taylor explained of her property. She suspects that the enjoyment had by so many isn't only because of the Halloween decorations, but also a result of the land itself.
"It's just really special," she added.
Though Stingy Jack's is only in its second year, Taylor has owned the property that hosts the festival for more than 40 years. She and her father, Baxter H. Taylor, spent decades camping, riding horses and constructing a log cabin on the land. It had long been her getaway and she cared for it so much, it's now where she calls home.
Taylor's love and compassion for the property was so deep that she put 150 acres of her land into a permanent conservation easement with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in 2009.
"Anything that reminds us of our God-given gifts is sacred. And as far as I'm concerned, (this property) is a gift," Taylor explained. "The Native Americans say that the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. That's true. I've only ever felt like I am just a caretaker here. And I want to be a good steward of the land."
Taylor wants her land to always retain its natural beauty and rural character.
"I've seen (the development) that's gone on in Mills River, Horse Shoe, Etowah. All the land is being eaten up … all the beautiful farmland is gone, and now there's house after house. You can almost spit on the house next door, it's so close," she said.
"It's out of hand; I watch that going on, and I could not stand to think that it could ever happen to this property."
Surrounded on three sides by the national forest, the conservation easement creates a protected buffer along the border of the 150,000-acre Pisgah Ranger District. By preventing development on the forest's boundary, CMLC's easement expands wildlife corridors and maintains scenic viewsheds.
It also safeguards the water quality of tributaries that flow through the property — water that is still clear and clean, having just emerged from the ground high up on the ridges of adjacent federal lands.
When it's not consumed by a Halloween festival, Taylor calls her protected land "Mountains and Meadows at Turkeypen," a name that captures the contrast of its rugged, forested slopes and rolling, grassy pastures where her horses graze.
Adjacent to the Turkeypen trailhead — a popular public access point in Pisgah National Forest — the name also reflects the area's cultural history. The location was used by both Native Americans and European settlers to trap turkeys by constructing "pens" that the wily birds could enter but not exit.
Now conserved forever, Taylor is eager to let others experience the wonder and excitement that she feels for her property. And it doesn't at all surprise her that so many people enjoy it.
"Everyone who comes here loves it, just like I do," she said.
Taylor shares her land with others throughout the year, not just in October. Mountains and Meadows at Turkeypen hosts about a dozen weddings a year, and the log cabin that she built with her father is available to rent.
Stingy Jack's mysterious lights
And while Taylor hosts Stingy Jack only in October, his legend just might be lurking in her forests at other times of the year as well. Taylor has witnessed peculiar floating lights at her property over the years.
"They appear only when it is really dark," she explained. "I first thought it was a cluster of fireflies. They just float about five or six feet above the ground."
Taylor described the lights as bright yellow and recalled them disappearing as they approached the edge of her meadow.
Her festival's namesake, Stingy Jack, is a character of Halloween lore conjured to explain these strange lights — like those seen by Taylor — floating in the forest. An old Irish legend tells of a mischievous man named Jack who made a misguided deal with the devil. When cursed to forever roam the earth trapped between heaven and hell, the devil bestowed him with an ember to light his way.
Jack placed it inside a hollowed-out turnip to make a lantern. Our Halloween tradition now has us carve pumpkins and light them with candles to represent Jack's lantern, and thus the term "jack-o'-lantern."
While the legend attempts to explain the phenomenon of these peculiar floating illuminations, they have long perplexed witnesses. Though they have been reported all around the world, no consensus yet exists as to what they are and why they exist.
Like most, Taylor doesn't know either. "I just don't know how to explain it," she admitted.
Standing the test of time
As the legend of Stingy Jack has endured generation after generation, Taylor's conservation easement ensures that the natural beauty of Mountains and Meadows at Turkeypen will too.
"I really appreciate the opportunity that CMLC has given me to conserve my property, and to be able to maintain the integrity of the land and its water sources, forever," she said. "They've given me the opportunity to conserve my land, and it's a privilege to know that it is always going to be safe. I feel lucky to be able to do it; to know that when I die, I'll die knowing it's preserved."
Stingy Jack's Pumpkin Patch hosts its finale tonight in Pisgah Forest. For more information, visit www.stingyjackspumpkinpatch.com. For more information about Mountains and Meadows at Turkeypen, visit www.mountainmeadownc.com.
Since 1994, CMLC has protected nearly 23,000 acres of land in Henderson, Transylvania and surrounding counties. Visit www.carolinamountain.org to learn more about land conservation in our region.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.