Searching for Art Loeb
It is proposed that a scenic foot trail to be known as the “Arthur J. Loeb Trail” be established in the Pisgah Ranger District of the National Forest in N.C. beginning at U.S. Highway 276 and 64 immediately south ... to the summit of Cold Mountain (elevation 6,030 feet) in the Shining Rock Wild Area.
Down time: Hiker Art Loeb in a rare still moment. courtesy Loeb Family Collection
In my hands is a carbon copy of the original proposal to the U.S. Forest Service from the Carolina Mountain Club. It’s a fragile document, one that should probably be handled with white gallery gloves. The proposal is dated June 7, 1969. Four months after it was filed, the Art Loeb Trail became official.
Art Loeb wasn’t always a hiker. Like many present-day Carolina Mountain Club members, he came late to the hiking life. Born into a Jewish-German family in Philadelphia in 1914, Loeb moved to Brevard in 1936 to work for his cousin, Harry Strauss, who founded the Ecusta paper mill.
Straus was originally from Germany, and he’d brought with him to this country a process for making fine papers suitable for Bibles and cigarettes out of flax. Loeb’s job was to travel all over the United States buying up flax for the business. He met his wife, Kitty, on one of those trips. After Loeb served a stint in the service during World War II, the couple settled in Brevard in what is now Strauss Park. Loeb worked his way up to become vice president and general manager of the Ecusta Paper Division of Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation.
When he was in his 40s, Loeb suffered a heart attack. Doctors encouraged him to walk as a means of rehabilitation, and he took their advice. He began by walking around Strauss Lake but eventually ranged farther afield, climbing a fire road from his house to a mountaintop in the Pisgah National Forest. In time, he joined the Carolina Mountain Club, where he found a congenial group of hiking partners.
“He lived to hike,” Loeb’s youngest daughter, Katie Loeb-Schwab, recalls.
Back then, hiking in Western North Carolina involved a lot of bushwhacking, map reading and getting lost. Loeb’s middle daughter, Joan Loeb Dickson, and her husband, John (a past president of the club), joined Loeb on the trail during vacations and school holidays. “There were maps, but they didn’t help much,” John Dickson recalls. “I particularly remember the confusion of trails at Butter Gap.”
Joan Dickson remembers the sardines and stinky cheese her father liked to bring along on hikes. He carried a stick and hiked in shorts well before both became popular on the trail.
Gerry McNabb, a recent CMC president, describes Loeb as “tall, serious yet friendly, slender, nice looking” with “powerful legs.” He adds, “He was a leader who could inspire confidence and was a real asset to the club [with] his business skills.”
Sadly, the benefit of those skills would be short-lived. Loeb was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 54. He died in December 1968. Almost immediately, the club went to work on a fitting memorial.
The Art Loeb Trail
Loeb always liked the plaque marking Tennent Mountain in honor of Dr. Gaillard Tennent, who in 1923 had become the club’s first president. But by the 1960s, the Forest Service was no longer willing to change the names of mountains; instead, the CMC proposed a memorial trail made up of old roads, trails and herd paths, many of which Loeb had explored.
It was meant to be a high ridgeline path through the areas the late hiker had loved and cared for. Three entities led the effort to build it: the CMC, the U.S. Forest Service and longtime WNC Congressman Roy Taylor, who’d known Loeb as a community business leader.
As John Dickson explains, “The stars were aligned for this to happen.”
On Nov. 9, 1969, hundreds of people attended the dedication of the Art Loeb Trail. Rep. Taylor gave the main address. A large wooden plaque was placed at the trailhead, near the intersection of N.C. 280 and U.S. 276; it was later vandalized and removed. Now the only plaque commemorating Art Loeb and the trail named for him is on top of Black Balsam Knob. It illustrates the complete route from the Davidson River to Camp Daniel Boone.
At 30.1 miles, the Art Loeb Trail is the longest in the Pisgah Ranger District. Starting at the Davidson River, it goes west toward Butter Gap, offering winter views of Cedar, Looking Glass and John rocks. Then it heads north toward Gloucester Gap, crosses Pilot Mountain and reaches the Blue Ridge Parkway, where it joins the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for a short while before veering off toward Black Balsam Knob. The latter is the most famous and most popular section of the trail because of the outstanding views from the mountain balds.
The trail continues into the Shining Rock Wilderness, past Shining Rock itself, then through The Narrows to Deep Gap, below the summit of Cold Mountain. A steep descent ends at Camp Daniel Boone on the Little East Fork of the Pigeon River. Originally the trail was intended to go over Cold Mountain, but the Forest Service did not own the top of the famed peak, so access was not unavailable.
The official trail blaze for the Art Loeb Trail is white. But if you hike from its beginnings along the Davidson River, you’ll also see the trail’s original marking scheme: intermittent yellow paint splotches, the faded silhouette of hiker holding a staff. With a little imagination, you can see Art Loeb still walking the mountains he loved so well.