Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Big Butt Trail!

As I've already mentioned, the Black Mountain range looks like a gigantic "J" or fish hook when viewed on a topo map or from high above. It has been conjectured that the Blacks are the result of some minor and relatively recent tectonic activity when a smaller sub-plate shifted and forced up the peaks that now make up the Black Mountains.

Like most people who are attracted to the Black Mountains, I had done most of my hiking in the eastern part of the range. That ridge has the highest summits, many of which break the 6,000-foot mark. The western part of the "J" has no 6,000-foot peaks, with only Big Butt coming close to that height.

But what interests me to a great degree about this area is the vast acreage that lies between the two ridges. There is some park and official literature that refers to this huge, green swath of land only as the "Big Tom Wilson Preserve" and telling us all that it's "protected". It's a tremendous chunk of land--tens of thousands of acres. I've been told that it's anywhere from 30,000 acres to 50,000 acres.

And here's the thing: if it's a "preserve" and if it's "protected", then why is all of it posted against trespassing by the public?

On Google Earth and other online satellite mapping programs, you can see that it is, indeed, mainly undeveloped. There are a few structures in there, and a central road that seems to go about halfway up the valley that marks the center of the gulf between the two very high ridges that form the Black Mountains.

All kinds of stories flit about the local hiking groups and the blogosphere. Who owns this land? How much of it is actually protected? Is it a casual kind of conservation easement? Was it achieved via a handshake? I keep hearing the rumor that one extremely wealthy family out of Winston-Salem owns the property.

I don't know.

What I do know is that the Black Mountains were seriously considered for National Park status several decades back. but, in the end, the Great Smoky Mountains beat them out, so that's where a Park was created.

The Black Mountains still have a tremendous amount of wild and roadless area. There is the Asheville watershed. The Mackey Mountain roadless area. The Bearwallow. The Cone. The Big Ivy. Craggy Mountain. All of these areas could easily be linked via buyouts and/or the declaration of eminent domain. If we're ever going to preserve what remains of this world's ecosystems, and save the plants and animals that live in those ecosystems (including ourselves), then we need to do things like this. Before it's too late.

See all that land? Private freaking property.

Keep out. They aren't kidding.

The Big Butt Trail.

A few times I thought I was hiking through Englemann spruce groves in Colorado instead of Red spruce here in North Carolina.

See all that land between where I took this photo and the tops of those 6,000-foot peaks on the horizon? Keep out, brother.

I mean. Don't even think of trespassing.

Clam shell fungus.

When I can't find wildlife to photograph, I look for other things.

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