Grandfather Mountain is not so much a landform as it is a massive eminence in the central Blue Ridge, with its sprawling flanks rising from deep within the culture, history and mystique of western North Carolina.
Such a definitive landmark in the state and the state parks system deserves a definitive tome, and a just-released book, Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, by Randy Johnson is just that. The author has prowled Grandfather’s slopes since the 1970s, working for a time as its backcountry manager. He’s currently a member of the Grandfather Mountain State Park Advisory Committee.
No detail is too insignificant or overlooked for this sprawling natural and cultural history – from Grandfather’s geological birth millennia ago to its elevation as a state park in 2009, when the 2,600-acre backcountry was separated in deed from the famed tourist attraction built by Hugh Morton and purchased by the state. Along this journey, Johnson stops at such cultural cairns as Tweetsie Railroad, the Scotland-inspired Invershiel resort and the den of Mildred the Bear.
Included are the stories of early exploration, Grandfather’s rough-hewn trail system and Morton’s dogged battle with the National Park Service over the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as practical guides on how to hike the mountain and how to photograph it. For fans of Grandfather – and they are legion – more than 200 historical photos and stunning landscapes dress the book like rime ice on the summit.
In the 100-year history of North Carolina State Parks, few accomplishments have drawn as much applause as the acquisition of Grandfather Mountain. Johnson’s book goes a long way toward explaining why.