Sunrise at Cape Hatteras

Allen DeHart, a real outdoor hero

Allen DeHart
Allen DeHart

Sometimes, outdoor heroes don’t just exist in books and legends. Sometimes, they’ve lived, hiked and wrote within my lifetime. You discuss and even argue issues with them and you celebrate victories with them.

Allen DeHart, who died recently, was the granddad of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Though he wasn’t the dreamer who conceptualized the MST, he was the doer. He designed much of the route, was one of the first two people to hike the MST, helped to build the trail, wrote the first guidebook, and started Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

His day job was as a history professor at Louisburg College, a private two-year college northeast of Raleigh. His drive and energy led him to hike the Appalachian Trail, and write North Carolina Hiking Trails over 35 years ago. The book, still in print, is a classic. Yes, there are classic hiking books.

But his greatest accomplishment is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. When I interviewed Allen for the Carolina Mountain Club eNews and for my book, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina in 2010, I also spoke to Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST. She said:
Without Allen, there would be no Mountains-to-Sea Trail today. Since 1977 when the trail was first proposed, Allen became its fiercest advocate. When progress slowed almost to a standstill in the 1990s, he devised a route and set off hiking with a friend to rebuild enthusiasm and show that the dream could be made real.

He wrote a book which allowed others to follow in his footsteps. He founded Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Through his passion and knowledge of trail building, he has recruited and trained many of the trail builders and maintainers who care for more than 400 miles of trail and extend it forward every day.

The only change Kate would make now is to increase the number of miles on footpath to almost 700 miles. As I’ve said repeatedly, many hikers are on the MST throughout the state. Almost 60 hikers have done the whole trail, and enjoy the miles on backroads as much as the trail between two sets of trees.

Allen will be forever remembered as the backbone of the MST. May he rest in peace!

View from the A.T. in the Smokies

Forney Ridge, the A.T. and some weird leaves

What do you do when you want to hike an outstanding trail but it’s too short to warrant a long drive? You really don’t want the drive to be longer than the hike. So you get creative and add another trail to the day. That’s what we did today at the Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Josh Shapiro
Josh Shapiro

Today we all met at Clingmans Dome to first hike the Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald, the first trail to be rehabilitated with funds from Trails Forever. Before the rehab work, it had been a wet, rocky slide.I hadn’t thought much of it; I was happy to have a trail at all at 6,500 feet.

“After a rain, you could canoe down this trail,” Josh Shapiro, the Trails Forever crew leader said. Josh had accompanied us to explain how the trail work was done.

But after three hard years of work, hikers have a solid and mostly dry trail. It’s still a good uphill climb on the way back from Andrews Bald.

But to make the hike worthwhile, we climbed on the Appalachian Trail going south. The views were magnificent. We couldn’t stop taking photos. See above.

Purple leaves
Purple leaves

But wait! What are these purple and green leaves? The leaves look perfectly ordinary in the Smokies, but the color? Leaves should be red and yellow right now. Were they painted? Does anyone have an answer? Can you smoke them? As one hiker said,

“Why do you think they call it the Smokies?”

Now that I have your attention, sign up for the next hike on Noland Creek on Tuesday November 8. Though it’s 10 miles, it’s almost flat and so historic.

Ranger Lynda Doucette

CampCon in the Smokies

How did I happen to stumble or get invited to National Council on Public History Mini Conference in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? I’m a history user – you know like a computer user. The professionals define it as history applied to real-world issues. These are folks who work in museums, national and state parks, curators…

Most of the attendees were academic, either professors or graduate students. Forty-five attendees came as far away as Washington State to camp in Cades Cove and talk and walk. Just like a conventional academic conference but in a group campsite instead of a convention center.

The first presenter was the facilitator for Supervisory Ranger Lynda Doucette who usually works at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. She talked about how the park had been devoid of Cherokee history until recently.

Then the park, along with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who border the park, created signs in Cherokee and English along the Oconaluftee River Trail. Lynda told a hilarious story of a visitor who thought the Cherokee syllabary was an Arabic language and why was the park translating signs into Arabic. Lynda explained to him, without sarcasm, that the language was indeed Cherokee.

The next presenter, Brian, talked about interpretation – the connection between people and resources. The discussion was very sophisticated, as you would expect from an academic conference, even if we were by a creek.

After dinner, Nigel Fields, the new Chief of Resource Education, talked about his job, his career and his mission – to get more unrepresented population in national parks. By then, it was dark – so no photos. We ended the evening with a bonfire and S’mores. Who says historians don’t have fun?

CampCon 2016 at Elkmont
CampCon 2016 at Elkmont

When I crawled into my tent, everything was dry and comfortable. Then the skies opened up in the middle of the night. My 12-year old single wall tent isn’t as water tight as I had thought. By morning, everything in the tent got soaked.

After breakfast, I took participants to the Elkmont Historic District, one of my favorite in the park.

Could I hold my own, speaking to history academicians? I didn’t have the lingo but I had the resources on my side. They loved walking through Elkmont and seeing the ruined houses.

Again, the questions were very pointed – and so were my answers.

The park isn’t acting on the Environmental Impact Statement and its conclusions because it doesn’t have the money. Pure and simple.

Elkmont cemetery
Elkmont cemetery

No walk or hike that I lead is complete unless we go to a cemetery. The Elkmont Cemetery is very upper crust with interesting tombstone. There are several recent tombstone.

But the following quote found on a plain tombstone moved me tremendously:

Once in a lifetime, you find someone special,
your lives intermingle,and somehow you know . . .
This is the beginning of all you have longed for,
A love you can build on, a love that will grow . . .