This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog about my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issuEdgy in Montreat Wildernesses. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

At the North Carolina Writers Network 2014 Conference

I’m in Charlotte in a swanky hotel attending the North Carolina Writers Network Conference. Like all conferences, there are keynote speakers, workshops and lots of food and drink. But this is a network, so I network with lots of famous and not-yet famous writers with a glass of water in my hand.

20141122NCWNGurganusAAllan Gurganus, who wrote Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, speaks about the sad state of North Carolina education Friday evening.

20141122NCWNpitchworkshopSaturday, I go to The Art of the Pitch with two free-lance editors, Carin Siegfried and Betsy Thorpe.

I learn how to Craft my Message with Priscilla Goudreau-Santos, a publicist.

Faculty readings, book signings and more Happy Hour – I even sell a couple of Mountains-to-Sea Trail books.  But I’ve come here for a specific purpose.

After publishing three books with traditional royalty based publishers, I’m thinking what I keep saying is the unthinkable – self publishing. I’m visiting all the national park units in the Southeast before the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.  Every national park has a human story as well as great scenery.


I’m writing about the historical characters, rangers, volunteers, park partners and visitors. My book looks at the connection between parks, as well. If you go back in my blogs, you’ll see short snippets about lots of parks.

My book needs to come out in 2016. I’ve not been able to excite a traditional publisher and time is running short. But I need a book in my hand in 2016. If I had a more flexible schedule, I’d continue my search for a publisher. Hence I’m learning about self-publishing. It’s much more complicated than “Just go to Amazon. They’ll print it.”

As I learn more, I’ll share in this blog. Though I specialize in writing about outdoor issues, this is an outdoor issue. In 2016, the country will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and I’m going to be part of the celebrations.

PS The 2015 North Carolina Writers Network Conference will be in Asheville. Plan on being there!


Kings Mountain and Asheville – It’s all connected

Thursday, I visited the WNC Historical Association, otherwise known as the Smith-McDowell House. Friday, I went to Kings Mountain National Military Park. It’s all connected.


Long rifle used at the battle of Kings Mountain
Long rifle used at the battle of Kings Mountain

The Smith-McDowell House sits on the A-B Tech campus in Asheville. The antebellum house had been decorated in period pieces. Each room shows off a different decade.

“But how did the family get the land in the first place?” I asked the volunteer showing me around.

After a long of to-ing and fro-ing, the volunteer came up with William Stewart who received a large piece of land as a reward for fighting in the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. Stewart sold the land to Daniel Smith, also in the Battle of Kings Mountain, whose rifle is displayed above.

“Kings Mountain?” I said. “That’s where I’m going tomorrow”.

I had been to Kings Mountain National Military Park, just below the North Carolina border before, on my project to visit all the national parks in the Southeast. The park interprets the one-hour battle that occurred on 10/07/1780 But today I was concentrating on memorials. I met J. Hambright, a park employee, whose seventh great grandfather, Frederick Hambright, was a Lieutenant Colonel at the battle. Amazing! This fellow still lives in the area. These genealogies blow my mind.  He can work his family tree back to 1780, at least.

Rev War Patriot at the Battle of Kings Mountain
Rev War Patriot at the Battle of Kings Mountain

A sea of students had been bussed in to watch a rifle demonstration.

But I was on a mission to rewalk the 1.5 mile Colonial Road and make a note of every memorial and when they were erected.

The oldest one dates back from 1815.

Kings Mountain 1815 memoria
Kings Mountain 1815 memorial

J. Hamrick said that it was the second oldest memorial of the Rev. War. The stone on the left is the original, the right a modern version was put up in 1910 or so.

Most of the modest monuments were erected by the local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The largest monument, an 83-foot obelisk, was a national effort but no national figure came to the commemoration, 1909.

Kings Mountain 1909 monument
Kings Mountain 1909 monument

A little different at the bicentennial in 1980 when Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrews gave the keynote address.

When I visited the Kings Mountain site, I had a theory that Revolutionary War only got attention after the major Civil war sites had been protected, some even before the Civil War was over. I tried this theory on the ranger and she agreed. She pointed out a book that studied the difference in commemoration between the two wars.

I grabbed it. That’s exactly what I was looking for. Stay tuned for the details.

Land and Water Conservation Fund needs our help

Dwarf-crested Iris
Dwarf-crested Iris

Every once in while, it’s good to remember that our Senators and Congressional representatives work for us. That’s why we have elections.

I got an email from the American Hiking Society, an organization that speaks for hikers and trails all over the country. They are asking you, the outdoor and trail loving public, to contact your senators and  Congressperson about the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF),  now 50 years old.

Technically this shouldn’t even be an issue – LWCF dollars are derived from royalties paid by companies drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, not from tax dollars. Unfortunately, LWCF is caught up in all the back-and-forth that goes on when working out a final budget.

Pink lady slippers
Pink lady slippers

As a naive voter, I ask, “How can they do that? If the money is from a specific source for a particular purpose, it should be given to land and water conservation. No argument.” It should stay out of the Congressional budget.

But obviously this isn’t how it works. Right now Congress is trying to put some final touches on the fiscal year 2015 budget. Among the many items being discussed for increases/decreases in funding is the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

So the American Hiking Society asks that you contact your Senators and your Representative. Ask them to help protect funding for some of America’s favorite trails:

1. Urge your Senators to encourage Senators Barbara Mikulski, Jack Reed, Richard Shelby, and Lisa Murkowski to hold the funding level for LWCF in the fiscal year 2015 Appropriations to $350 million in their discussions with their counterparts in the House. Let your senators know too why this is important to you – what trails you enjoy hiking, how you enjoy family time spent outdoors, etc. They need to know that real people enjoy the lands the LWCF helps protect.

2. Urge your Representative to ask Reps. Harold Rogers, Ken Calvert, Nita Lowey, and Jim Moran to accept the $350 million funding proposed for the LWCF by the Senate. Again, let them know why this is important to you personally.

If live in North Carolina, your senators are:

Kay Hagan (yes, she’s still our senator) at

Richard Burr is at

If you want to know who your Congressional representative is, go to

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the federal program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation. The program works in partnership with state and local efforts to acquire and protect inholdings and expansions in our national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national trails, and BLM areas. LWCF grants to states support the acquisition and development of state and local parks and recreational facilities.


Record number of visitors in the Smokies

We know that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the United States.

In the Smokies - Ms. Robin and Hannah This year, the park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years with 1,261,104 people visiting the park. October is traditionally the second busiest month of the year for the national park, driven by visitors coming to see the park’s fall foliage. In case you’re wondering, July is number one because of family vacations.

Although visitation through the park’s major entrances at Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Cherokee was up, outlying areas led the way in making this month the fourth highest October on record. Visitation at the outlying areas of the park in October was 73% above the 20-year average. Outlying areas include places like Foothills Parkway, Cosby, Big Creek, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, Cataloochee, and Abrams Creek.

Last year, even with much of October being closed, thanks to our recalcitrant Congress, the park recorded 9,354,695 visitors. For a long time, the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited park unit but it’s slipped – with only 12,877,368 people on the Parkway. Golden Gate National Recreation Area tops all the units at 14,289,121visitors. Incidentally, Golden Gate also tops every park units in number of volunteer hours, even the Appalachian Trail.

But how do they count each and every person? The methods may not be accurate down to the actual visitor but I assume that they use the same techniques for each park. All these statistics are available to us at Look at the website. It has a fascinating amount of information, including how they count.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Hillsborough


Friends of the MST folks are a generous lot. They’re willing to give their time and energy to build and maintain the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina. They’re also eager to to take people they’ve never met on their section of trail. And that’s how I got to hike yesterday with John Willis on the Hillsborough Riverwalk.

John Willis on the Hillsborough Riverwalk
John Willis on the Hillsborough Riverwalk

The Riverwalk is a paved path through woods connecting Gold Park to downtown Hillsborough, just outside of the Triangle.

When it’s finally finished, the Riverwalk will be 1.8 miles. Right now, the Hillsborough Taskforce, the folks building and maintaining trail through Hillsborough, need to build a couple of bridges before the Riverwalk will connect to the MST coming through from the west.

After walking a short stretch through town, we got into John’s car and went around the bridge-to-be, and walked a longer, “more rugged” section including the old Occonecchee Speedway. This old track, active from the 1940s to the 1960s, is being restored by a group that remember the speedway in its glory. Now the land has trails. People jog on the track. Another fascinating piece of North Carolina history that deserves more space.

John is a retired insurance agent who came down from Southern Indiana in an RV and discovered Hillsborough. He fell in love with the town and then a woman and is happily married and settled in a house now. When he first arrived here, he didn’t know anyone but was eager to “find his tribe”. He read about an MST Falls Lake workday and checked it out. He was hooked. Now he helps to build trail from Boone to east of Raleigh.

Alien MST blazes
Alien MST blazes

We continued our walk on the bluffs of the Eno River – that was the “rugged part” where the blazes could need a little help. Right now the circles are neither round nor white. John said that they were made by aliens.

This section of  trail is on private land, owned by Ayr Mount historic site, one of several properties in the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. The MST has a 20-foot right of way. The landlord leaves nothing to chance. They’re put up signs like Off Trail Exploring Prohibited. Fair enough. It’s their land.

The end of the trail for now
The end of the trail for now

Again, the MST ends just under a bridge.

To continue the trail, the state needs to acquire a few small parcels of private land. It’s so complicated. Each landlord had his/her own quirks. They don’t seem to understand what a hiking trail really is. They picture hordes of “hippies” squatting on their land. And the state has to negotiate with each of them. It’s going to take a long time.

Here John looks out on a future section. Then we turned around and retraced our steps.

Ayr Mount
Ayr Mount




After all this talk about Ayr Mount, I had to see the building.

The house, built in 1815, was part of a plantation. Now it only has 60 acres of land but the property has been saved. They give tours on weekends. In the future, Ayr Mount will be reached by a short diversion off the MST.

Thanks, John, for a great afternoon.