Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Welcome, newest NC state park!

(click pics to enlarge)

September 29, 2008 was a Red Letter day for preservationists: The Morton family agreed to sell their Grandfather Mountain property (all 2,600 acres of it) to the state of North Carolina for $12 million. 'Governor Easley, ya done good!'

Hugh Morton was a man of myriad visions, talents, and philanthropic endeavors, only one aspect being his controlled creation of Grandfather Mountain as a quality tourist destination and nature preserve. While I took these photos from the Blue Ridge Parkway last Saturday (en route to what served as yesterday's blog at Grayson Highlands), there is an extensive system of rather rugged hiking trails through the preserve.

Hugh Morton passed away after 85 fulfilling years on June 1, 2006. An accomplished photographer, he...many of us know one of his shots well: the iconic photo of Mildred the Bear set against the +5,000 foot rocky skyline. In 1952, he also built the famous "Mile-High Swinging Bridge", highest in the U.S., that connects the two rocky peaks. Winds can get ferocious up there, and that bridge can do some swaying...and for careless people playing around the edges, that mountain can take a life on occasion, as well.

And so it is the foresight and generosity of the Morton family has made this available for all to enjoy, instead of accepting a much higher sum for yet another private gated community that would have locked such a treasure away except for a wealthy few.

The High Country of the NC mountains are host to ecosystems that are becoming more rare. Grandfather used to be dominated by spruce-fir forests more akin to Canada, but around 1900 the Balsam Wooly adelgid found its way here from Europe and significantly killed off a lot of these forests (witness especially Mount Mitchell's woes to the southwest). In the fall, it's always striking to see lit-up deciduous foliage up against an evergreen pocket, like the shot below...

'Peak' color is yet ahead...the next couple of weeks will see quite the display up in the mountains as the colors descend to the 4,000 range and dapple even lower. Even with the high gas prices and weak economy, there are plenty of two-leggeds out and about enjoying the annual beauty pageant...

#34, this one. North Carolina's 34th state park. Or it will be, once the deal has been consummated and whatever red tape needs to be put in proper order. I'll admit that for all the hiking and traipsing I've done in the Blue Ridge, I've never hiked the Grandfather trail system itself. I think it's about high time I did...

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