May 13, 2018
I disdain mountaintop development. Many times I have told my wife that if I was a billionaire, I would buy the eyesore known as the Sugar Mountain Resort and tear it down. There is nothing worse than climbing a peak and gazing upon the horizon to see a gaudy mountain chalet’s window glinting in the sunshine. With the advent of halfbacks (people from up north that move to Florida, then move halfway back to North Carolina), urbanization of mountaintops has increased exponentially in the past twenty (20) years. Luckily, concerned citizens and conservation groups have stepped into the fold to protect some of our most important landmarks.
Such was the case in the Meat Camp area of Watauga County in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Located at the headwaters of the North Fork of the New River (one of the oldest rivers in the world). Elk Knob Mountain area was considered for a subdivision and housing. The Nature Conservancy stepped in with local owners to protect it. (*1)
Elk Knob is a beauteous area, the summit juts from the forest floor to give some great views of Mt. Rogers, Mt. Mitchell and the Roan Mountains. It contains “a series of amphibolite mountains in the southern Appalachian range. The area contains a high diversity of natural communities, many of them uncommon.” This enables “rare and endangered plants such as Gray’s lily, trailing wolfsbane, large purple fringed orchid, and flame azaleas are found in the natural area.” (*2).
For our first foray into the North Carolina State Park Passport Program, we visited a park very near our home. It’s a short drive from downtown Boone to Meat Camp, NC. While one of the most unique town names, Meat Camp “was the location where hunters stored their dressed animal carcasses until they were ready to return to their homes in the lowlands.” (*3).
The Summit Trail extends from the main parking lot 1.9 miles straight to the top. It’s a gradual uphill hike with many easy switchbacks. Alice was able to hike a majority of it (sans the rocky parts) with relative ease. We stopped after one (1) mile to take in a great view to the north and eat a snack. Many people were on the trails for Mother’s Day and we enjoyed many nice conversations with people.
The wildflowers were out and Alice enjoyed stopping at the Trillium to gaze at its beauty. The best park of Elk Knob are the numerous grass fields for the first mile. With the perfect weather it was a great first trip to the N.C. State Parks.
Total mileage is 3.8 miles.
(*3) Sakowski, Carolyn (2011). Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads. John F. Blair.