Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 11(1)] Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is an excellent example of Western North Carolina's bountiful natural resources. Twenty-five miles of carriage trails meander throughout the 3,517-acre estate, circling the 22-acre Bass Lake and the 16-acre Trout Lake and ascending two mountains before dropping down to the 20-room, Victorian, neo-Colonial manor house crowning Flat Top Mountain. Cone, the son of a German immigrant who built a thriving wholesale grocery business in the Northeast, ventured south after the Civil War, where he eventually earned a reputation as "the Denim King" with more than 30 textile plants bearing his name. When the railroad and improved roads opened the mountains at the turn of the nineteenth century, Cone acquired more than 3,500 acres ranging in terrain from Flat Top Mountain at 4,558 feet to 500 acres of rolling farmland, patches of meadowland, and virgin hardwood and evergreen forests. He oversaw the planting of apple orchards, imported sugar maples (Acer saccharum) from New England, and obtained advice from Gifford Pinchot, the pioneering forester (see Cradle of Forestry), on planting white pine forests and hemlock hedges. Bertha Cone, his widow, continued to live on the estate for almost four decades after Cone's death in 1908. The estate was donated to the National Park Service in 1950.
The Cones rejoiced in their land and its natural beauty. The well-maintained carriage trails, for example, which were designed to give Bertha joy, comfort, and seclusion as she explored her estate, today are havens for hikers, joggers, walkers, equestrians, and cross-country skiers. The Rich Mountain and Flat Top Mountain carriage trails ascend moderately from the Manor House, winding in and out of open land, across streams and meadows, affording spectacular views of rocky Grandfather Mountain. They wind through hardwood forests with thickets of Fraser magnolia (Magnolia fraseri), a small tree (up to 40 feet high) found at elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 feet, with pale, yellow flowers up to 12 inches in diameter. Wildflowers are abundant throughout the estate, including spring's painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), in addition to the ubiquitous rhododendron and mountain laurel.
While there is no fear of getting lost in The Maze, an area of trees designed by Gifford Pinchot and planted to form sharp switchbacks, this perplexing trail twists and turns through forests of pine, oak, and more magnolia. Pinchot's influence is again felt in the careful placement of the trees. Golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa) and blackburnian warblers (Dendroica fusca) can be heard singing high above in the white pines.
The Trout Lake Trail is an easy, 1-mile pathway teeming with wildlife. Set in an impressive hemlock-dominated cove forest with ancient conifers and thickets of rhododendron, Trout Lake offers a diversity of plants and birds common to the higher-elevation spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests. Bird species include solitary and red-eyed vireos (Vireo solitarius and Vireo flavoviridis), rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens), black-throated blue warbler (Dendroica caerulescens), and Canada warbler (Wilsonia canadensis).
The Manor House is now home to the Parkway Craft Center, a craft shop of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, exhibiting works by the finest craft artists from the nine Appalachian states. All mediums are represented, ranging from baskets and woodcarving to quilts and ironwork. The book shop carries trail maps, brochures, nature books, and guidebooks.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is only 2 miles outside the charming mountain village of Blowing Rock. At an elevation of 4,000 feet, Blowing Rock offers cool weather in the summer and outstanding skiing opportunities nearby in the winter. An array of interesting shops is complemented by cozy to elegant accommodations and some of the finest dining in the Southeast.
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