Hikers interested in trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway now have three new trails to explore, thanks to a partnership involving private citizens, The Conservation Fund, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and the N.C.Wildlife Resources Commission.
The three trails wind through Wildlife Commission game lands in western North Carolina — the Rose Creek Trail and Little Table Rock Mountain Trail on Pisgah Game Land and the Saddle Mountain Trail on Mitchell River Game Land. The Rose Creek Trail is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is rated easy. The Little Table Rock Trail is a straight 2.1-mile trail that provides a moderate hiking challenge, particularly if hikers plan for a 4.2-mile round trip. The Saddle Mountain Trail is a 2-mile loop trail that is rated moderate.
The trails are accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway or nearby access roads on Commission game lands. Wildlife Commission staff marked trail heads with stonemarkers, as well as informational and directional signs.
Each trail offers unique views that date back to the pre-Revolutionary War era when Native Americans and early settlers walked through the same forested mountains, according to Kip Hollifield, a land management biologist with the Commission.
The Rose Creek Trail is part of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail that follows the route taken by Patriot militia when they crossed the mountains on foot and horseback in late September 1781 on their way to defeat British-led forces at Kings Mountain. The trail generally follows Little Rose Creek for much of its length through oak and cove forests, Hollifield said.
The Little Table Rock Trail also winds through oak and cove forests, but the summit offers multiple views of different natural landmarks.
“Hikers can view the North Toe River Valley to the north, and Roan Mountain is visible at the skyline to the north on clear days,” Hollifield said. “The view to the east is not as good, but hikers can see Linville Mountain during months when trees are bare.”
The Saddle Mountain Trail goes through oak and mixed oak-pine forests that also feature a dense understory of mountain laurel along much of the route.
“Hikers will notice where prescribed burning has been conducted along the trail to suppress the mountain laurel understory and create browse for wildlife,” Hollifield said. “At the summit of Saddle Mountain, hikers can view the Mitchell and Fisher River valleys to the south and east. The Sauratown Mountains, including Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain, also may be seen in the distance.”
Because the three trails are located on game lands, Hollifield recommended that hikers wear a blaze orange garment during hunting seasons — September-February and April-May.
Partnerships involving state government, non-governmental organizations and private citizens made the trails possible, according to Gordon Warburton, mountain area ecoregion supervisor for the Commission.
Warburton credited Fred and Alice Stanback and other private citizens, along with The Conservation Fund, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Piedmont Land Conservancy, Natural Heritage Trust Fund, Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Ecosystem Enhancement Program for funding different parts of the land purchases, trail construction and trailhead markers.
Mike Leonard, an attorney with Womble Carlyle in Winston-Salem, coordinated much of the project through his position as vice chairman of The Conservation Fund, Warburton said.
“One of the cornerstones of the Wildlife Commission’s strategic plan is to operate more efficiently and effectively by stretching our resources through collaborations with like-minded conservation partners like Mike Leonard and the Stanbacks,” Warburton said. “Construction of the three ‘Stanback trails’ was a win-win for all parties involved, with the ultimate beneficiaries being North Carolinians who enjoy the outdoors.”
Leonard, vice chairman of The Conservation Fund based in Virginia, said that the land acquisition for the three trails incurred an expense of almost $9 million. Funding sources for the project included private, non-government organizations,government agencies and landowners who donated property to the project, he said.
“Fred and Alice Stanback deserve the credit for the ‘Stanback Trails,’” Leonard said. “This is just one of many projects that they have supported to protect and conserve wild places in North Carolina.”
Public service work by Leonard and the Stanbacks has long been recognized by the State of North Carolina. The State bestowed its highest civilian honor — the North Carolina Award — in the field of public service to the Stanbacks in 2008, and to Leonard in 2010.
The Stanback Trails are family-friendly trails designed for casual hikers. The trails, which are easy to moderate, are well-marked and accessible from gamelands roads or directly from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
More information: www.appalachian.org/community/stanbacktrails.html.
For maps of game lands in western North Carolina, go to http://www.ncwildlife.org/Hunting/WheretoHunt/PublicPlaces/mountainGameLandMaps.aspx.
Trailhead addresses and directions follow:
Rose Creek Trail: Park at the Hefner Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Parkway milepost 325.9). Walk across the Parkway to Old Woods Road. The trail follows the Old Woods Road to Altapass Road (SR 1121).Alternatively, from the Heffner Gap overlook, travel south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to McKinney Gap. At McKinney Gap, turn right onto Altapass Road. Continue for 0.25 miles to the parking area on the right.
Little Tablerock Mountain: From the Heffner Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Parkway milepost 325.9) travel north 1.25 mi. and turn left onto Bear Den Mountain road (SR 1126) immediately before passing through the Blue Ridge Parkway seasonal gate. Travel Bear Den Mountain road for 0.1 mi. to stop sign. Continue straight onto Humpback Mountain road (SR 1128). Continue for 0.5 mi. and turn right onto Whiterock Road. Follow signs to the parking area.
Saddle Mountain: From the intersection of U.S. Hwy 21 and the Blue Ridge Parkway travel the Blue Ridge Parkway 7.75 mi. north and turn right onto Saddle Mountain Church Road (SR1461) (Parkway milepost 221.8). Travel approximately 200 ft. and turn right onto Mountain Lake Road (SR 1481). Travel approximately 300 ft. and turn left onto game land access road. Travel gameland access road 0.5 mi. to parking area.