Improvements at Grandfather Mountain State Park in Progress: New Profile Trail Parking Lot

Published Wednesday, June 29, 2016 at 4:29 pm
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The first phase of improvements at Grandfather Mountain State Park include a parking lot for more than 100 cars and restroom facilities. Photos by Ken Ketchie

By Jesse Wood

This past Memorial Day weekend highlighted the need for a bigger parking area for the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park. Early on that Saturday morning holiday, Supt. Sue McBean said that about 40 vehicles overflowed onto the shoulders of N.C. 105.

“Maybe more later in the day,” McBean said. “…This summer the Profile Trail parking lot has been filling up anywhere between 9 and 10 in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, which is pretty early.”

Fortunately for backcountry hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, a new 100-vehicle parking area for the Profile Trail is already under construction near the Lowes Foods in Tynecastle. Work began as the winter weather subsided this spring.

McBean said that the construction of a restroom facility and new trailhead is also part of the first phase of improvement projects at Grandfather Mountain State Park. Construction of the first phase, which has a budget of $1.4 million, should be concluded by December. The contractor is Pilot Mountain-based Garanco, and funding for the first phase is derived from the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

McBean said that the current parking area will be closed to the public once the new parking area opens up late this year or early next year. The soon-to-be-old parking site will be used for maintenance.

The new trailhead for the Profile Trail will add an extra half-mile to three-quarters of a mile to the Profile Trail. But as McBean said, if folks are currently parking as far away as The Pedalin’ Pig and walking to the trailhead, then the change in distance won’t be noticed.

The maps in Johnson's widely reviewed brand new history book about the mountain, Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, actually show the new parking lot. He visited the site and worked with Sue MacBean and the state trail designer to be sure the lot and new trails were depicted accurately. Johnson will hold a book signing at the Jones House this Friday evening along with a photography exhibit by Tommy White, many of whose images illustrate the book.

The maps in Randy Johnson’s new book, Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, actually show the new parking lot. He worked with Sue MacBean and the state trail designer to ensure the lot and new trails were depicted accurately. Johnson will hold a book signing at the Jones House this Friday evening along with a photography exhibit by Tommy White, many of whose images illustrate the book.

The second phase of improvements won’t begin until at least 2018. The second phase currently has a budget of $1.4 million and is being funded through the $2 billion Connect NC Public Improvement Bond that voters approved in May.

The second phase of projects include an on-site park office, visitor contact station and possibly a maintenance facility. “We’re still leasing office space in Foscoe for the state park,” McBean said. “For us to be in the state park would be really nice.”

McBean added that the second phase of improvements will also include an extension of the trail that will create an upper loop for visitors that don’t want to spend all day hiking across Grandfather Mountain State Park.

“There’s not much in the way of loop trails on this side of the mountain, so that will be really nice,” McBean said.

Randy Johnson, who just published Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, designed and constructed the old parking lot in the ‘80s when he was blazing trails as the backcountry manager of Grandfather Mountain.

“Thirty years later it would be easy to ask, ‘Why was the original parking lot built so small?’” Johnson said. “To understand why, you need to remember that the Profile Trail was built because Hugh Morton and his partner John Williams planned to develop that entire side of Grandfather Mountain in the ‘90s.”

To provide maximum room for development, the parking lot and Profile Trail was situated literally on the border of the property. Johnson knew at the time that the location wasn’t ideal.

“But my one goal was to ensure that there’d be public access to the peaks from that side of the mountain after the development, so we did what we had to do,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty amazing to think that a generation later we need to accommodate 100 cars!”

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The entrance to the new parking lot off of N.C. 105 near the grocery store in Tynecastle.

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Materials for the restroom facilities at the new parking area.

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