Editor’s note: This story was originally published last summer, and the problem continues to exist. If you want to experience Hebron Rock Colony Falls and not be towed, park at Julian Price Memorial Park. The falls are accessed through the picnic area.
By Jesse Wood
July 20, 2012. Hebron Rock Colony, one of the most popular swimming holes in the High Country, has access issues because of a parking situation that’s given the N.C. State Highway Patrol migraines for years.
Yet because of the lack of no-parking signs and the recent frequency in towing, folks exploring the summer hotspot have incurred some headaches themselves.
Brent Wahl, a tourist from Philadelphia who comes to the High Country every summer, recently visited Hebron Rock Colony on Tuesday and had to hitch a ride back – with his kids – to Bill’s Garage to retrieve his vehicle.
Wahl said he was among seven cars towed that day that were parked on Old Turnpike Road along the hairpin turn that’s at the head of the trail leading to the swimming hole and waterfalls.
“Somebody should put some signs up that you will be towed. I had car seats in the back,” Wahl said. “No signs, no notes. I thought something fishy was going on. It had the sense of a racket.”
There is one no-parking sign, but it is next to a driveway on the opposite side of the road from where everyone parks. Because of the sign’s location next to a private driveway adjacent to the trailhead, the no-parking sign’s location suggests that it refers to the private driveway.
An employee with Bill’s Garage said that the towing company has towed cars from that area after receiving calls from the State Highway Patrol. (For the record, Bill’s Garage isn’t the only tow company towing cars.)
First Sergeant Gary McClelland of the State Highway Patrol said this is a “safety issue” and the reason no signs exist is because people keep taking them down.
“Because three to four years in a row, the NCDOT put signs up and people took the signs down. Is the state supposed to keep spending thousands of dollars putting signs up?” McClelland asked.
The sergeant added that whenever the State Highway Patrol receives a complaint regarding the parking cluster, the State Highway Patrol goes out and “every time” has to call in the tow companies.
“There are times we can’t even get a patrol car through there. Imagine if you had to take an ambulance and a fire truck out there,” McClelland said. “Just to go swimming down at the falls, these people are jeopardizing lives.”
By law, he said, people can’t park and impede a roadway – be it a dirt road, gravel road or paved road.
“If they don’t want their car towed, comply with the law,” McClelland said. “It’s a safety issue.”
The falls and swimming holes at Hebron Rock Colony is within the Pisgah National Forest, but the easiest access point – by far – to the outdoor area is from Old Turnpike Road, which intersects with Shulls Mill Road near the Hound Ears Club. From the hairpin turn where everyone parks, the swimming hole area is about a ten-minute hike and a short scramble up some boulders.
Every year at least one person has to be rescued from Hebron Rock Colony falls, and McClelland said the potential for emergency rescues in the area just adds to the situation of emergency vehicles not being able to respond in a timely manner if cars are blocking the roadway.
As part of Julian Price Park, the falls are also accessible off of the Boone Fork Trail, which is accessible from the Price Park picnic grounds. The trail comes out at the top of the falls of Hebron Rock Colony.
Michelle Ligon with the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (WCTDA) wasn’t aware of the towing but said that Hebron Rock Colony is one of many attractions for visitors and residents alike to enjoy in the High Country.
“Hebron Rock Colony is a very popular waterfall, and it is promoted by businesses in the area such as real estate businesses,” Ligon said. “It’s considered one of the many great amenities of living in this area or visiting this area.”
Wright Tilley, executive director with the WCTDA, said this parking issue is a concern, especially since his organization promotes the area as a place to visit and parking is not available.
“It comes back to this opportunity going forward to make sure we have parking and access for our visitors and residents to [pursue] outdoor recreation opportunities,” Tilley said, adding that this issue will be looked into.