By Jesse Wood
The new access for the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park was dedicated on Friday with a ribbon cutting and remarks from those connected to the local state park and North Carolina’s state park system.
Featured remarks came from Supt. Sue McBean; author Randy Johnson; Anne Fontaine, a park volunteer and resident of Seven Devils; Mike Murphy, director of N.C. State Parks; N.C. Sen. Deanna Ballard; and Susi Hamilton, secretary of Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
“We are so fortunate to have a North Carolina state park here to ensure families can continue to enjoy Grandfather Mountain for centuries to come,” Hamilton said. “Our state parks are a key element in our state’s enviable quality of life. Parks and recreation areas improve public health, economic vitality through tourism and enhance wildlife protection. They inspire us and they enrich our lives.”
This improvement project at Grandfather Mountain State Park is located 0.3 miles south of the former trailhead and parking lot on N.C. 105. It accommodates four times the number of vehicles and features a restroom facility. This new parking facility was sorely needed as dozens of cars would be parked along the shoulders of N.C. 105 during peak times in the summer, fall leaf season or holidays.
Park Supt. Sue McBean noted that she has heard “nothing but compliments and congratulations” on the park since it opened before the Fourth of July holiday. The state park was formed in 2009 when the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, which owns the wildlife attraction and swinging bridge, sold about 2,600 acres to the State of North Carolina for $12 million.
“I feel like we created a gateway into the state park and visitors feel welcome and intrigued when they come here,” McBean said. “This is the place to begin an adventure whether that is a just a stroll to see what wildflowers are blooming, an epic 5.5 mile trek to the Stewardship Foundation or an overnight stay at foggy ridgeline.”
She noted that the project involved a number of contributing parties, including volunteers like Anne Fontaine of Seven Devils. During her speech, Fontaine called Grandfather Mountain a “wonderful resource not only to Seven Devils but all of the High Country.” Fontaine was speaking on behalf of her husband, Larry, mayor of Seven Devils, who was ill during the presentation.
This improvement project was funded with a $1.8 million N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant. The new Profile Trail access was made possible by the connection of a 32-acre tract purchased by the state in 2012 and 33-acre tract donated by The Nature Conservancy in 2015.
The following worked on the project: contractor Garanco of Pilot Mountain, trail builder Benchmark Trails, stone mason Mark Taylor and project architect Bulla Smith Design Engineering of Charlotte.
Director of North Carolina State Parks Mike Murphy and Deanna Ballard commented how the state parks draw visitors to the area and promote economic activity in the region.
“Parks are not only a refuge for wildlife, but they are a refuge for people who are trying to find a place to break from the hustle and bustle of their lives,” Murphy said. “Last year, nearly 19 million people came to a North Carolina state park. That is unbelievable. It is up nearly 32 percent since 2013. So clearly, parks are part of the equation about growth in our state. It makes a difference in our well being and quality of life and brings employers to our state.”
Johnson, author of Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, managed the backcountry and trail system at Grandfather Mountain from 1978 to 1990. At the dedication, he gave a brief history of the mountain, the state park and the Profile Trail.
“By the time, the Profile Trail got underway, the mountain’s trails were crawling with hikers. After decades and even centuries of Grandfather’s paths being built almost solely by volunteers, it was obvious a top notch trail was needed and that’s what we got hiring a full-time trail crew and spending tens and tens of thousands of dollars on 2.5 miles of trail,” Johnson said
“Dozens of people helped over half a decade, but ‘trailblazers’ like Kinney Baughman, in the crowd today, Hugh Morton’s son Jim Morton, who we sadly lost just last spring, and myself, among others, truly know what I meant when I often said building this trail was “like digging a ditch in a rock pile.”
At the end of dedication ceremony, Baughman asked to speak before the crowd. Baughman built trails at Grandfather Mountain with Jim Morton, who died in April after a massive heart attack. Baughman called Morton a dear friend.
“The first pick mattock we put into the trail July 8, 1985 to the last stone that we put into place some four years later, I promise you the trail you see up there today is a tribute to one of the finest people I’ve ever met,” Baughman said. “It was my privilege to work along side Jim Morton for four years in building this trail. Please give credit to the person that deserves it. That’s Jimmy Morton.”
The second phase of improvements currently have a budget of $1.4 million and is being funded through the $2 billion Connect NC Public Improvement Bond that voters approved in 2016. The second phase of projects include an on-site park office, visitor contact station, a maintenance facility and 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.
The second phase of improvements won’t begin until at least 2018.