State officials have awarded the NC High Peaks Trail Association a $60,000 grant to rebuild a badly-eroded section of the Mt. Mitchell Trail, one of the most popular and iconic hiking trails in the Eastern U.S.
Along with the grant, the club announced a fund-raising campaign to create a permanently endowed fund to cover short-term expenses for the project and other future projects like it. The fund will pay expenses as they come in, while the grant – and hopefully future grants - will replenish the fund for a new round of trail projects.
To contribute to the High Peaks Trail Fund, send a check for any amount to
NC High Peaks, PO Box 24, Burnsville, NC 28714
Write High Peaks Trail Fund in the Memo Line. This is the best way to contribute as no service fees are collected.
Click on the link at the right to donate on-line using your PayPal account or Credit Card. (This button works best on a computer rather than a tablet or phone.
“This new fund makes it possible for us to receive large state grants and put that money to work immediately in the western NC mountains that we all enjoy every day,” said High Peaks President John Whitehouse. “We’ve already received a major donation from a local couple, and all of our Board members have contributed. Now we are asking hikers, nature-lovers and the general public to step up and make donations to help us maintain and improve our local hiking trails.”
The initial project aims to rebuild about a one-mile section of the Mt. Mitchell Trail, the most direct route for hikers climbing the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. The trail starts at the Black Mountain Campground in the South Toe River Valley and climbs nearly 4,000 vertical feet over a distance of 5.6 miles to the Mt. Mitchell summit at 6,684 feet.
“The trail is in terrible shape in places, with deep gullies caused by erosion,” said High Peaks Board Member Jake Blood, who conducted a foot-by-foot survey of the path as part of the grant application. “We will be hiring a trail specialist firm that will bring in young, strong men and women to do the back-breaking labor of filling in those gullies and creating a more sustainable trail.”
The grant was awarded by the Recreational Trails Program of the N.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. High Peaks has already applied for a second grant to work on an adjoining section of the trail, and envisions continuing the work year after year with new grants until the entire trail is completely refurbished. Both of the initial sections are on U.S. Forest Service land.
“North Carolina State Parks and the North Carolina Recreational Trails Program are excited that NC High Peaks is taking on the challenge of rehabbing this famous trail,” said Scott Crocker, Trails Program Manager for the agency, who noted that money for the program comes from the Federal Highway Administration. “It is through the combined efforts of trail organizations, volunteers, municipalities, state and federal government employees that so many great trails are constructed and maintained across the state.”
High Peaks installed a game camera on the trail two summers ago as part of its research for the grant application and found that an average of 35 hikers a day use the trail during the summer months. That translates into several thousand hikers each year.
The club will contract the physical labor portion of the project to the American Conservation Experience, a national group with an outpost in Asheville. The group has long experience at trail building, and also provides a wilderness-based experience for AmeriCorps members hoping to make careers in the field of land management.
The High Peaks Trail Fund will be used to cover expenses until state grant funds are released. Once the Mt. Mitchell Trail project is completed, the club will use the funds to work on other local hiking trails.
“Anyone who has climbed Mt. Mitchell on this trail knows how badly the work is needed,” Whitehouse said. “Unfortunately, there are plenty of other trails that are in bad shape, too. This fund will enable us to continue working on these projects for years to come.”
For more information on the campaign, check the High Peaks Facebook page or the club’s website, www.nchighpeaks.org. The campaign will also feature an online component on the “Go Fund Me” website.
Formed in Yancey by avid hikers eight years ago, High Peaks has become a leader in outdoor activities and trail maintenance. Club members contribute hundreds of volunteer hours each year clearing downed trees, trimming dense vegetation, rebuilding steps and re-establishing eroded trails.
The club is the official Friends of Mt. Mitchell State Park organization, working closely with park officials to promote and protect the park. The group also recently added a role as the Crabtree Falls Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, again providing volunteers to maintain hiking trails and clean overlooks along the Parkway from the Linville Gorge area to Craggy Gardens.
“Many of our members are retirees who moved here because they love the woods and these mountains,” Whitehouse said. “They want to give back by making outdoor experiences more accessible to everyone on safe, well-marked, well-maintained hiking trails.”