Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 8(12), Fig. 11(3)] This 4,344-acre tract at the foot of Grandfather Mountain lies between the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge province and the middle-elevations of the Blue Ridge Plateau, giving rise to an abundance of wildlife species along its three trails. The park was donated to the National Park Service as a public recreation area by Jefferson Pilot Standard Life Insurance Company after the death of its president, Julian Price, who owned the land. The Price Lake Loop Trail circles the 47-acre, well-stocked lake where the work of muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), otters (Lutra canadensis), and beavers (Castor canadensis) is evident. The beaver played an important role in the economy of the state well into the nineteenth century. Trapped nearly to extinction because of its valuable fur, the beaver has benefited from restocking programs. While opinions vary as to benefits of beavers, in areas like Julian Price Lake where their presence does not interfere with agriculture and roadways, their positive contributions far outweigh the negative. Beaver constructions can slow runoff from drainage, retard erosion, and provide habitats for other species, including endangered species, especially waterfowl and fish. Populations of wood duck (Aix sponsa), for example, grew significantly following increases in beaver populations.
The trail continues through oak forest with laurel and rhododendron and boggy, wetland areas. Wildflowers such as solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) can be easily spotted near the campground, where the Tanawha Trail (see Tanawha Trail, page 55) cuts through the park. A lengthy list of late-spring and summer birds includes cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), chestnut-sided warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica), scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea), and ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus). Waterfowl are not abundant here, but the lake can attract the great blue heron (Ardea herodias), green heron (Butorides virescens), and wood duck. During the cooler months when the lake is not frozen over, the common loon (Gavia immer), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), and green-winged teal (Anas carolinensis) have been sighted.
The lake's moist surroundings support interesting wildlife, such as a variety of fungi, including the jack-o'-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) that glows in the dark; the northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon), which is often mistaken for its venomous look-alike, the cottonmouth or water moccasin (which does not live within 100 miles of the lake); snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina); bobcats (Felis rufus); and other nocturnal mammals such as seldom-seen foxes and more common raccoons (Procyon lotor).
Two other trails traverse the park [Fig. 8(13)]: the Green Knob Trail and Boone Fork Trail intersect with the park at the picnic area (see Boone Fork Loop Trail, page 54). In a relatively short distance, Green Knob Trail traverses many of the vegetation zones found along the Parkway: lakeside at Sims Pond; bottomland cove forest of old- growth hemlock, maple magnolia, birch, and beech; laurel thickets; and wildflower meadows and open pasture lands with vistas of the rugged Grandfather Mountain. Popular late-spring and summer birds include a wide variety of woodpeckers, eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), and as many as 10 warbler species.
[Fig. 8(13)] Boone Fork Loop Trail offers a variety of changing terrain and waterways. Beginning on the outskirts of Price Lake near the picnic area in the campground, the trail extends beyond the park, passing through the sphagnum bogs of the Boone Fork wetlands and the banks of Bee Tree Creek. Once an ancient lake bed filled with rich alluvial deposits, this section is now home to diverse plant life including wild mustard (Brassica), bloodroot, dwarf iris (Iris verna), and red maple (Acer rubrum), also called swamp maple. Caves overlooking the area are thought to have sheltered Indians.
Water is seldom out of earshot, as much of the trail borders Boone Fork Creek or Bee Tree Creek, twisting back and forth over wooden bridges and stepping-stones. In a short stretch, Boone Fork transforms itself from a trickling stream into rushing whitewater, tumbling over boulders to form a series of small waterfalls. Sections offer catch-and-release fishing of native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis).
The land-based environment is equally diverse. In addition to a mountain meadow, the trail passes through second-growth hardwood forests of hemlock, spruce, and an occasional fir mingled with hickory, yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and several varieties of birch. Pads of pine needles underfoot give way to sections kept moist by dense thickets of rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azalea, which ignite with color in May or June. Beaver activity is evident along Boone Fork Creek, and bird watchers report that the first 700 yards of the right branch of the loop is best for viewing the American woodcock (Philohela minor) perform its courtship display from mid-March to April. Indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), scarlet tanager, belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), and cedar waxwing, among others, are present from late spring through summer. The alder flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) nests here in the summer (although there are no alder trees), and sightings of broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus) occur frequently.
[Fig. 11(4)] The Tanawha Trail, like the magnificent Linn Cove Viaduct under which it passes, was built to foster appreciation for the natural world and protect the delicate balance of nature that sustains it. At a cost of $750,000, the walkways were carefully designed to protect fragile sections of the mountain-heath ecosystem. Wrapping around the southeastern ridge of Grandfather Mountain, this segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (see Mountains-to-Sea Trail) winds through a variety of geologic features ranging from flat-topped boulders and natural rock gardens to rough outcroppings and cavelike crevices between boulders.
Tanawha, which appropriately is the Cherokee word for "fabulous hawk or eagle," offers soaring sights along its 13.5-mile course, none more beautiful than those on the segment from the Rough Ridge overlook (milepost 302.9) to the top of a rocky ridge. Long stretches of boardwalk and boulder-filled pathways lead past spectacular overlooks to the breathtaking summit. Striking panoramas of the Linn Cove Viaduct adjacent to Grandfather Mountain and the vast horizon punctuated by Hawksbill and Table Rock mountains are always in sight.
Portions of the trail descend into dark and sometimes waterlogged evergreen forests of hemlock and spruce. Others meander through thick patches of rhododendron and mountain laurel mixed with galax (Galax aphylla), witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), Allegheny sand myrtle (Leiophyllum buxifolium), and turkey beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides). Blueberry bushes (Vaccinium) splash red across the landscape in early fall. Poplar and mountain-ash (Sorbus americana) and undergrowth of jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), and black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) fill shady valleys. An isolated stand of large-toothed aspen at its southern limits and shelters of hardwoods such as oak, cherry, and maple contrast with open fields.
The various tree and bush populations support abundant bird life. Early portions of Tanawha are ideal for spotting the barred owl (Strix varia), golden-crowned kinglet, black-throated blue warbler, and rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Deeper forested areas harbor white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), rose-breasted grosbeak, solitary vireo, and overhead the raven (Corvus corax) and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus).
Meadows are alive in early spring with bluets (Houstonia caerulea), cinquefoil, violets, buttercups, and clusters of mayapple. Painted trillium border some pathways, and a variety of ferns thrive along the rocky terrain. An occasional population of umbrella leaf (Diphylleia cymosa) is also found here, an uncommon endemic of the southern Appalachians.
Tanawha Trail crosses four creeks, with watercourses ranging from gentle cascades to powerful shoots. Their banks nurture pink turtlehead (Chelone yoni), yellow coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), and scarlet Oswego tea (Monarda didyma). In its final section, the trail passes apple orchards, favorable environments for edible fungi such as morels (Morchella esculenta).
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