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Barr recognized for design of Wildcat Rock Trail

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The national Coalition of Recreational Trails has granted its annual achievement award for trail design and construction to Conserving Carolina and its trails coordinator, Peter Barr, for Wildcat Rock Trail. Conserving Carolina opened the 3-mile trail in the Hickory Nut Gorge to the public in 2017.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Mark Meadows presented the award to Barr on Tuesday, June 2, on Capitol Hill. Marianne Fowler, co-chair of the Coalition of Recreational Trails presided over the ceremony. Barr was joined by Jay Leutze, representing the Blue Ridge Forever coalition.

The Wildcat Rock Trail features exceptionally sustainable trail design to protect surrounding natural resources, which include rare species and sensitive natural habitats. It traverses 166 acres of natural lands forever protected by Conserving Carolina.

Barr designed the trail in 2014 and managed its construction over the next four years. The three-mile trail incorporates more than 300 masoned stone stairs that ascend Little Bearwallow Mountain, reaching a 100-foot waterfall and scenic Wildcat Rock on the way.

Its curvilinear design—using constant undulations and subtle changes of direction—quickly sheds water from the trail, which prevents erosion. It also enhances the experience of hikers by making its course feel more natural and interesting.

Barr worked with multiple partners on construction, including professional trail contractors. Deno Contos and Benchmark Trails installed most of the trail’s rock stairs, while Bob Carriker with Trail Dynamics machine dug its first mile to Little Bearwallow Falls.

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps traveled from New England twice to help construct the Wildcat Rock Trail, spending a total of 13 weeks on the mountain. The North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps and American Conservation Experience also constructed substantial segments of the trail. Volunteers played a significant role in the project, including Conserving Carolina’s esteemed Rock Crushers Trail Crew and Carolina Mountain Club’s Friday crew. Altogether, 1,933 volunteer hours were donated to create the Wildcat Rock Trail.

The trail was funded by a Recreational Trails Program grant as well as the Donald C. Jones Foundation, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Community Foundation of Henderson County, and REI Asheville.

The Wildcat Rock Trail is the newest segment in Conserving Carolina’s emerging Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail loop near the community of Gerton. Once complete, it will connect the Wildcat Rock to trails at Bearwallow Mountain, Florence Nature Preserve, and the Trombatore Trail in a 20-mile hiking circuit.

Wildcat Rock is also part of the new Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail, which was designated by the NC General Assembly last year. With additions of the Wildcat Rock Trail and the recently opened Weed Patch Mountain Trail in Lake Lure, the state trail network now totals 35 miles.

To visit the Wildcat Rock Trail, hikers can start at the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead on Highway 74A, east of Gerton. The trailhead can be reached in about a 40 minute drive from Asheville or Hendersonville.

The Coalition for Recreational Trails is a federation of national and regional trail-related organizations. Its members build awareness and understanding of the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which returns federal gasoline taxes paid by off-highway recreationists to the states for trail development and maintenance.

Conserving Carolina is a local land trust dedicated to protecting land and water, promoting good stewardship, and creating opportunities for people to enjoy nature. It was formed by the merger of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Pacolet Area Conservancy. For more information, visit conservingcarolina.org.