August 26, 2018
Nestled in the middle Wilkes County, Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest is a place of solitude and historical significance. I was in the area to hike a fire tower as part of the NC Lookout Tower Challenge, but found an area teeming with intrigue.
According to the parameters of the challenge, the Mountain Ridge Trail must be hiked to the fire tower. The only problem is that I could find no information online about where the trail is located and how to find the trailhead. This is likely because it is located entirely outside of the forest. It actually begins at the Rendezvous Mountain Game Lands. To reach the trailhead simply plug “Wyatt Road, Miller’s Creek” into your GPS device or phone. Another nearby landmark is the White Oak Baptist Church. Much of the drive to the Game Lands is on steep gravel roads, but nothing necessitating 4-wheel drive. Once at the end of Wyatt, go down the road where there is a sign for the Game Lands, you’ll soon arrive at signage (pictured below) and two locked gates. The Mountain Ridge Trail is the right hand gate (as you’re looking at the sign).
The trail is actually not a trail, but rather a forest service style road. For a mile and a half, you hike through the Game Lands, before coming to another gate that borders the Educational Forest. The hike itself is moderate at best and non-strenuous. I came across a very interesting grave site, hidden on the left hand side of the trail. Amongst them is a marker for James W. Church, who served for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Soon after the grave, the roads diverge at a fork (pictured below); make sure to take the left trail, which continues to climb uphill. From there it is a short distance to the fire tower.
The land now known as Rendezvous Mountain was once called Judd Mountain. During the Revolutionary War, circa 1780, the Overmountain Men rallied at Judd, training and preparing to fight the British at King’s Mountain. That battle has been termed as one of the most important victories for the colonies over the British. Most note it as a great morale booster for the young Republic. In recognition of the role these men played in the victory, the mountain was renamed Rendezvous. There’s also disagreement over whether Rendezvous is the exact mountain where this occurred, which eventually delayed the State’s designation.
According to Forest Supervisor Bob Myers, Rendezvous was likely owned by a man named Owens in the early 1900’s. Once certain revenuers (aka government officials that cracked down on the distillation of alcohol) came to the land and sought to dispose of any moonshining. He purportedly shot and killed them, in turn fleeing the area. Sometime after this, the land was owned by Judge T.B. Finley. In 1926, he and his wife deeded the property to the State of North Carolina for “historical and conservation purposes”. Amongst the reasons for the conveyance was to commemorate the “225 picked soldiers from Rendezvous Mountain to the Battle of Kings Mountain.” The land would then house a celebratory plaque by the Daughters of the American Revolution containing the names of the 225 men. This coupled with the local forest would be a “patriotic inspiration to all people of the State.” Even then, the deed requested that “the State hold all said property… for forest demonstration, showing the public the necessity of forest conservation.” All of this would be for tourist and children to “become enthused with the patriotic aroma of this historic spot.”
Judge Finley’s heirs, against the original conveyance, deeded the property to Lona Roten in 1967. The original deed was challenged and the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided in the State’s favor. The Educational Forest opened in 1984 and now the original tract owned by the State has grown to encompass 3,316 acres.
When I spoke with Supervisor Myers on the phone, he told me that the area where I saw James Church’s grave was owned by him and his heirs until it was deeded to the State. Even to this day, the Church family meets once a year at the park for a family reunion.
The history of this area melds perfectly with the terrain: it’s rough, honest and instructive.
A special thanks for Supervisor Bob Myers for speaking with me. He was very helpful. This hike is very fun and adventurous; I would encourage it, even for those not just grabbing a fire tower peak.
Total mileage is 7 miles.
Roten v. State; 8 N.C.App. 643, 175 SE2d 384