Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 25(1,2)] Thirteen man-made lakes and ponds provide added opportunities for water sports and recreation along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Lake Powhatan, with its multifaceted recreation area, is one of the most popular.
Rather than a primitive wilderness experience, the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area offers easy access to a variety of outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, swimming, and mountain biking. In addition, connector trails lead to the 6,300-acre Bent Creek Research and Demonstration Forest, The North Carolina Arboretum, and less heavily visited areas in the Pisgah National Forest.
Fishing is one of Lake Powhatan's primary draws. Anglers more interested in dropping a hook in the water than trekking through thickets to find remote mountain streams enjoy several casting spots on its shores as well as a handicapped-accessible fishing pier near the dam. Also, Bent Creek, a small-to-medium 5-mile stream, flows just north of the lake and into the French Broad River. Both the lake and creek are well stocked with rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta).
Lake Powhatan Recreation Area is a favorite destination for mountain bikers who make regular use of the single-track and forest-road trails. In addition, they find Lake Powhatan a good base camp for trips out into the more rugged trails and logging roads beyond nearby gated forest roads accessible to hikers and mountain bikers.
A system of loop trails in the recreation area provides hikers of all levels with an extensive range of options, with most trails rated easy to moderate. New routes emerge regularly as the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association continues to build additional trails. Maps are available at the Lake Powhatan gatehouse. Hikers can obtain more information at the Bent Creek Research and Development Center on NC 191 just outside the recreation area between Lake Powhatan and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Along the southern edge of the recreation area, the Shut-In Trail is a longer hike that is also part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail system. Open only to hikers, the trail was originally part of George Vanderbilt's estate, providing access from the Biltmore House through isolated and sometimes rough terrain to his hunting lodge near Mount Pisgah. Though the full hike, which passes through a black bear sanctuary, is 16.3 miles one-way, connecting spurs and access at Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks make it possible to hike smaller sections. For 20 years, black bear research in this section has been tracing the blood lines, heritage, population numbers, and health of the species.
Even visitors who never venture far beyond the rolling wooded hills of the campground and banks of Bent Creek can enjoy active spring and summer bird life. The creek is home to the great blue heron (Ardea herodias), green heron (Butorides virescens), wood duck (Aix sponsa), and spotted sandpiper (Actitis macalaria). In the surrounding woodland, the yellow-throated warbler (Dendroica dominica), white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus), and Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), among many others, are often seen.
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