An effort to improve the hiking experience at Grandfather Mountain State Park was rescued this month by The Nature Conservancy, which donated a modest, but critical, parcel of land to the park.
The donation of 33 acres at the northwestern base of Grandfather Mountain will allow the park to relocate and expand its parking for the popular Profile Trail leading to the mountain’s crest. It’s the only access to the mountain managed by the park – others are from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the private Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. The existing parking area is quite small and regularly fills by mid-morning. The new parking area will include restrooms and could be completed within about one year.
Park Superintendent Sue McBean said, “We will be able to conduct interpretive programs inside our park, even on busy weekends. Currently, we can’t because there is nowhere for participants to park. We will even be able to accommodate school buses for field trips.”
The park earlier had purchased property along NC 105 for this parking area. But, connecting a new parking area to the Profile Trail seemed impossible because of extremely steep terrain and stream crossings. The Nature Conservancy’s gift – part of a larger tract held by the nonprofit organization – will allow a suitable connector trail to be built. It will still be steep but manageable for average hikers. The more gradual grade for the trail will also protect sensitive slopes adjacent to the Watauga River headwaters.
The Nature Conservancy has held property for conservation on the northern and western slopes of Grandfather Mountain for many years. The organization is a longtime partner of the state parks system and helped to create a number of North Carolina’s state parks, most recently at Chimney Rock and Carvers Creek.