Category Archives: Opinion

Best Hikes in the Appalachian Mountains

I have been incredibly fortunate to grow up in the Appalachian Mountains, home to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Living here and hiking through the mountains has instilled in me an overwhelming love for nature and conservation. Climbing to mountaintops and perching on rocky overlooks are moments in life that make a person feel so small, but so alive. I would like to share some of my favorite hikes in the Appalachian Mountains, because there is no better way to promote a love for the earth and a passion for conservation than with real life experiences.

Difficult Hikes

Mount Cammerer

This is no hike for the faint of heart or mind. It is a 10-mile hike round trip, with such a steep incline the first two miles that multiple water breaks are recommended. Unless you are a fast hiker or live within a 100 mile radius, it may be difficult to do this hike as a day trip. If you want to turn it into an overnight backpacking trip, there are several shelters nearby once you connect with the Appalachian Trail a few miles up.
Do not let the difficultness of this hike deter you from making this trek. There are a few spectacular views of the mountains along the hike, but for the most part, you can’t see how far up you’ve hiked until you reach the fire tower. In my opinion, this makes it all the more breathtaking when you reach the top, because you can see just how far you’ve come. There are several great picnic spots on rocks overlooking the mountains, along with an old fire tower that provides great shade on a hot day. In my opinion, a partly cloudy day is the best time to conquer this hike. You will be above the clouds when you reach the top, making for some incredible pictures.

Charlies Bunion

This hike is fairly strenuous and is approximately 8 miles round trip. It offers a shady trail, full of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. Views of the Appalachian Mountains reward hikers throughout much of the trail. When arriving at Charlies Bunion, the rock outcroppings make for excellent photographs and picnic areas, but be sure to watch your footing as steep drop offs surround most of the outcropping. If an extra mile doesn’t seem like much, take the mile side trail to the Jump Off on your way back or on your way to Charlies Bunion. This rock outcropping is less traveled and might make for a better place to stop for a picnic or to read a book.

Moderate Hikes

Linville Falls

Linville Falls trail is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in North Carolina and is 2 miles round trip. This unique hike begins at a higher elevation and quickly drops in elevation as you wind down into the Linville Gorge. The steep trail offers several overlooks to see the gorgeous waterfall at different heights. Once at the bottom of the trail, you can make your way to the base of the waterfall to soak your feet in the cool water. It is a perfect spot to bring a good book and a snack. You can even bring your dog on the hike.

Waterrock Knob 

Waterrock Knob is a short, 1.2 mile hike, but steep inclines and big steps can make it difficult to some extent. This is an easy day hike that begins with a scenic drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parking lot itself has incredible views and picnic tables and many people choose to simply hang out there. Those who choose to make the hike are rewarded with fewer people and an incredible view overlooking the Blue Ridge Parkway’s curvy road up to the parkway and the sprawling Blue Ridge Mountains.

Easy Hikes

Triple Falls/Bridal Veil Falls

DuPont State Recreational Forest is now famous for being used in several Hunger Games scenes. If you want to hang out by the same river and waterfalls as Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, then these are the hikes for you.

The hike to Triple Falls is a 1 mile loop if you start from the Hooker Falls parking area or a 2.2 mile loop with the addition of seeing High Falls if you begin from the High Falls parking area. Most of the hike is gravel, making it an easy day trip for humans and dogs of all ages. Just don’t allow your dogs in the water, as there are strong currents.

The hike to Bridal Veil Falls is about 3.7 miles round trip and the trail can be accessed from the Triple Falls loop trail or by using the Fawn Lake Access Area. Due to the extra miles, this destination is much less crowded than Triple Falls, but the gravel path is mostly flat and is an easy hike. Many choose to climb up to the top of the falls for an incredible view and refreshing pools.    

Devil’s Courthouse and Black Balsam Knob

These two short hikes can be done individually, or in the same day. They are both found on the Blue Ridge Parkway, only a few miles apart.

The parking lot for Devil’s Courthouse is on the way to Black Balsam and the 1 mile hike is incredibly steep, but paved for much of the way. At the top of Devil’s Courthouse, you can see just how far you’ve climbed by looking down on the parking lot. You also get an incredible view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Black Balsam Knob is a hike that can be however long or however short you want it to be. It can be a 1 1/2 mile round trip if you simply want to reach the summit, or you can keep hiking along the Art Loeb trail until you feel like turning around. It is a little steep initially, and the footing is a little difficult if you hike farther than 3 miles out. But it can be an easy day hike and perfect place to picnic, read a book, or bring a dog.


The Red Wolf’s Greatest Threat? It’s Not Poison

Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service notified the public that a red wolf was poisoned in January. This is a tragic blow, but unfortunately, not the greatest threat to red wolves.

Red wolves, a species that should be considered an American icon, are facing extinction in the wild for a second time. This wolf is the only species that resides purely within the boundaries of the United States.  Like gray wolves, red wolves faced mass extermination in the 19th century due to human development and misconceptions.  In 1980, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild, with only a small population left in captivity to prevent complete extinction. In an effort to restore this species to a portion of its historic range, a small population of red wolves was released within North Carolina’s Alligator Wildlife Refuge in 1987.  The experimental population increased in size and range for about thirty years, with this recovery effort critically acclaimed for being a model of success for reintroducing an endangered species to the wild.

However, over the last few years, the population size has dropped more than 50%, leaving less than 45 red wolves in the wild. The population is suffering under the very department tasked with recovering this animal. In 2013, The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began facing pressure from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, a few landowners opposed to red wolves, and regional representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service based out of Atlanta, Georgia.  This led the agency to strip control of the recovery program from the scientists who led the successful effort. The FWS also reassigned the lead scientist and abandoned adaptive management practices such as coyote sterilization and pup fostering. Along with all this, they neglected to firmly enforce poaching regulations to the extent that red wolves could be shot or removed from property without persecution.

Not only have adaptive management strategies been abandoned and the team of recovery scientists been disbanded, the Fish and Wildlife Service has also proposed shrinking the current range of the red wolves by almost 90 percent and removing all but one pack of red wolves from the wild.  They are claiming that captive populations need the genetic diversity and the only way to save the species is to bring back the wild wolves into captivity.  The Fish and Wildlife Service referenced scientific work when making this argument, but the scientists who published this research came forward and publicly denounced the proposal, saying it was based on “alarming misinterpretations” and would “no doubt result in extinction of red wolves in the wild.”  The red wolf has already lost more than 99% of its historical range, more than lions, tigers, and snow leopards.

If Fish and Wildlife follows through with its proposal, we can be sure to lose the last remaining wild red wolves, once and for all. Stand for red wolves by submitting comments to a public comment period for the Fish and Wildlife Service until July 24th and by signing a Defenders of Wildlife petition.  Learn more by watching this video.