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Land Trust Releases New Lineup of Hikes on Protected Property
Emily and Sarah Cobourn were the envy of their second-grade class at show-and-tell when they revealed their white squirrel patches to fellow students.
To earn the patch, the girls hiked to waterfalls, traversed ridges and climbed mountains. Their adventures were part of a quest to complete the CMLC Hiking Challenge — eight hikes on lands protected by Hendersonville's Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
"It's a wonderful program. It gets my family outdoors. And it showed all of us firsthand the importance of land conservation," said the girls' father, Sean Cobourn of Inman, S.C. Cobourn accompanied his daughters on the hikes and earned a white squirrel patch, too. The family trio is now eager to embark on the new hikes in CMLC's Hiking Challenge Version 2.0, the second release of the popular program.
"Our children are our future, and showing them up close and personal why it's important to set places aside for the enjoyment of everyone is crucial," Cobourn said.
Before they completed last year's challenge, Cobourn said they hadn't realized the scope of land conservation in this region of Western North Carolina. But the family's hikes also reminded them that a lot of work remains to keep the mountains beautiful.
"There's a lot more that needs protected. I hope that these lands and many more will always be available for my girls in the future," Cobourn said.
CMLC's newly released Hiking Challenge 2.0 features a new line-up of eight hikes on lands protected by the conservancy and a new opportunity to earn the program's now regionally famous white squirrel patch. People who complete the challenge are also awarded $10 gift certificates for free hiking gear at the Mast General Store in Hendersonville.
During the first year of the program, participants took more than 800 hikes on lands protected by CMLC, and a total of 75 white squirrel patches were awarded to those who completed the eight hikes. CMLC hopes to eclipse those numbers in the program's second year.
"CMLC works very hard to protect our beautiful mountain lands and facilitate access for people to enjoy them. We believe that by getting out and exploring these places, you will discover why land conservation is so important to our region," says CMLC executive director Kieran Roe.
"You'll have a lot of fun doing it, too."
What to expect
The eight hikes include scenic locations such as vistas from the summit of Bearwallow Mountain, which hosts a grassy summit meadow that affords a 360-degree view. CMLC has protected 81 acres atop the mountain to date and is striving to ultimately protect more than 400 acres on the mountain. The conservancy also constructed a one-mile hiking trail to the top of the mountain for visitors to enjoy its beauty.
Another exciting inclusion to the Hiking Challenge 2.0 is a hike to Worlds Edge, a breathtaking overlook from the top of a dramatic cliff. The 1,569-acre Worlds Edge tract was acquired by CMLC in 2006 to protect it from imminent development. It is now part of Chimney Rock State Park.
The scenic overlook has had problematic access for the public in the past because a small piece of private land separated it from the trailhead. The landowners hve now granted permission for those with CMLC membership to hike across it, or according to the landowner, "folks who support protecting these special places."
A filming location for the movie "The Hunger Games" is another destination in the Challenge 2.0. Bridal Veil Falls in DuPont State Recreational Forest, a scenic waterfall reachable by a moderate two-mile hike, was the backdrop for a scene in the summer blockbuster.
The falls is one of two hikes in the Challenge 2.0 in DuPont Forest. Cedar Rock, a granite dome with panoramic views of the French Broad River valley, is the other.
Now two decades after its establishment, many visitors to DuPont are not aware that it was once threatened by development. CMLC was among many organizations involved in facilitating its purchase by the state, which made public access possible.
Another waterfall in the Challenge 2.0, East Fork Falls, is an attractive cascade previously not open to the public. The falls are within the East Fork Headwaters tract in Transylvania County. At more than 8,000 acres, it is the largest remaining privately owned tract of undeveloped land in Western North Carolina.
CMLC and partners are working to protect the large tract in phases and have acquired 786 acres for public ownership to date. Like at Worlds Edge, the landowner has granted hiking access to the falls for CMLC's members supporting land conservation.
Other Challenge 2.0 hikes include a picturesque view from a rock outcropping in CMLC's 600-acre Florence Nature Preserve in Gerton, an easy stroll on a greenway along Cane Creek in Fletcher Park, and a loop in the Pisgah National Forest that parallels the South Mills River.
Hikes range from easy to moderate difficulty and are between one and six miles in length. They can be completed at the participant's own pace and schedule, and there is no deadline to complete the eight hikes.
According to CMLC, people with any outdoor experience level or physical ability can complete the Challenge 2.0. Last year, a 6-year-old boy earned the white squirrel patch, as did an 80-year-old man. The conservancy also emphasizes that the program is a great family pursuit. During its first year, 19 couples completed the eight hikes together, as well as many parents and children.
Cobourn and his daughters have already completed three hikes of the new Hiking Challenge 2.0, and they're eager to hike the rest soon. And while they're enjoying hiking to a new set of destinations protected by CMLC, the girls' strongest motivation remains the same. According to their father, "They just love that white squirrel patch."
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.