The story below is an excerpt from our Sept./Oct. 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
The North Carolina development —highest town east of the Mississippi—has about 30 miles of trails.
I had been hiking the Upper Pond Creek Trail in Beech Mountain for less than 15 minutes and already I had seen two crawling crawfish, a trout gliding effortlessly through the water, a pair of grazing deer, a flittering hummingbird, a small bear and a big green frog!
OK, so I guess I should ‘fess up. Yes, I really did see all of those creatures in that short amount of time...except maybe for those last two. They were, well, more in a minute...
Beech Mountain was developed as a ski resort in the 1960s, but the corporation went bankrupt in the 1970s and the facility went through a number of owners before the present one. Living at an elevation of 5,500 feet, the 300-350 full-time residents formed the town of Beech Mountain in 1981, becoming the highest incorporated community east of the Rocky Mountains.
Long-time resident, former mayor and owner of Fred’s General Mercantile Fred Pfohl says work on area trails began decades ago.
“I started working on the hiking trails in 1972,” he says, “reworking bridges while employed by the Carolina Caribbean Corporation, the original developer of Beech. Liking to hike and explore the mountain, I and others started developing a trail system [now with more than 30 miles of pathways], which utilized old logging roads and logging railroad grades from late in 1929-1930. We also used outfall lines for trails and have built trails from scratch.”
It was because of Pfohl’s recommendation that I was on the trail that follows an old railroad grade as it parallels its namesake stream downhill. During the town’s development, several homes were constructed close to the creek and the owners began sprucing up their waterside backyards with whimsical presentations, such as a handcrafted tree branch gateway and an innovative homemade hummingbird feeder. It was these neighbors that also enabled me to see the large green frog—it was a lawn ornament wearing a straw hat—and the diminuative porcelain bear figurine dressed as a nanny watching over three tiny stick babies.
The pathway became woodsier downstream from the homes, passing through a forest of beech and magnolia trees and dense thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel before coming to an end after 1 mile at Lake Coffey. Anglers were using the shoreline and handicapped-accessible pier to cast for catch-and-release trout stocked by the state.