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New segment links Bearwallow, Wildcat Rock trails

Following the ribbon cutting, Conserving Carolina led a guided hike along the new trail, highlighting its unique natural features, such as ferny boulder fields, a stand of old-growth forest, and a rare mountain bog. [ANDREW DUNDAS/Hendersonville Lightning Following the ribbon cutting, Conserving Carolina led a guided hike along the new trail, highlighting its unique natural features, such as ferny boulder fields, a stand of old-growth forest, and a rare mountain bog. [ANDREW DUNDAS/Hendersonville Lightning

A new two-mile section of trail that opened Monday in the Hickory Nut Gorge creates a link between two popular trails—the Bearwallow Mountain Trail and the Wildcat Rock Trail.

Chuck McGrady, a former North Carolina House representative and supporter of the project, cut the ribbon on an extension of the Wildcat Rock Trail, which now reaches the summit of Bearwallow Mountain.
The expanded trail is part of the ambitious 130-mile Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail system, which Conserving Carolina is spearheading. When complete, the trail will extend the full length of the Gorge and include another loop that encircles Lake Lure. This long-trail was officially designated as a North Carolina state trail by the General Assembly in 2017. McGrady and Rep. John Ager, D-Buncombe, co-sponsored the trail bill. Both attended Monday’s ribbon cutting to celebrate the trail extension, along with Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson. Both Ager and Moffit live near the Bearwallow Mountain Trail.
With the new section, 37 miles of the emerging long-trail are open to the public. Two additional trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge are currently under construction. The new trail section runs from the summit of Bearwallow, with its nearly 360-degree panoramas, to the ridgeline pasture on Little Bearwallow Mountain with its dramatic view down the Hickory Nut Gorge. Along the way are ferny boulder fields, a stand of old-growth forest, and a rare mountain bog.
Kieran Roe, executive director of Conserving Carolina, said the trail extension “shows not only how we conserve this beautiful land, but makes it available to the public.” Roe thanked the landowners who "permitted public access to this trail.” The 370-acres of preserved land around Bearwallow Mountain are part of a conservation easement with the landowners. Arrangements like these make the ultimate goal of the Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail possible.
“We’re excited to open this important link in the Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail," said David Lee, Conserving Carolina’s natural resources manager. "This new trail is beautiful from start to finish and it offers new ways for people to explore the Hickory Nut Gorge.”
Conserving Carolina’s Trails Specialist, Peter Barr, added: “The completion of the extension of the Wildcat Rock Trail is the culmination of several years of strategic partnerships, generous funders, and hard work in exceptionally rugged terrain. This stunning new trail segment is an exciting addition to recreational access at Bearwallow Mountain and a fresh opportunity for trail users to relish in the outdoors in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge among forever-conserved lands.”
The new section of trail can be accessed from the Bearwallow Mountain trailhead, by hiking one mile to the summit of Bearwallow Mountain and then continuing. It can also be accessed from the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge trailhead on Gerton Highway, by following the Wildcat Rock Trail uphill three miles to the pasture on Little Bearwallow Mountain and then continuing. The new trail section can be part of out-and-back hikes of various lengths. It can also be a part of a 6-mile one-way hike with a shuttle between the Bearwallow Mountain and Wildcat Rock trailheads.
The extension of the Wildcat Rock Trail also creates a variety of other options to connect trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge, since the Bearwallow Mountain Trail already connects to the Trombatore Trail, and the Wildcat Rock Trail already connects to the Florence Nature Preserve trail system. In all, this new link brings together nearly 13.5 miles of trails!
In the last year, Conserving Carolina also completed major improvements to the Bearwallow Mountain trailhead on Bearwallow Mountain Road. These include a new kiosk and entryway and a paved parking area. The expanded parking area replaces unofficial roadside parking and significantly improves safety on this narrow country road. The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority provided key funding for these trailhead improvements.
Numerous partners provided funding for the expansion of the Wildcat Rock Trail. These partners include Fred and Alice Stanback, David and Daryl Nelms, REI Asheville, the TD Charitable Foundation, the family of Fletcher Ward, and Donald C. Jones Foundation. Sustainable trail construction was provided by Shrimper Khare, Singletrack Trails and Conserving Carolina’s Rock Crushers volunteer trail crew. Conserving Carolina is a local land trust that has protected over 45,000 acres, primarily in Henderson, Polk, Transylvania and Rutherford counties in North Carolina and the Landrum, S.C., area. The mission of Conserving Carolina is to protect, restore and inspire appreciation of nature. Learn more and become a member at conservingcarolina.org.