Bear Paw boosters take a swipe at hiking

Article Published: Nov. 12, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Bear Paw boosters take a swipe at hiking

Bear Paw State Natural Area features Hanging Rock Ridge above Valle Crucis.

Photo submitted.

The area's newest state-designated natural area is little known, but it's publicly available as a scenic and recreational resource.

To raise awareness for the Bear Paw State Natural Area, which was designated by General Assembly legislation in 2008, the Boone-based High Country Conservancy is leading a Saturday hike. The HCC handled the land transactions that led to the state purchase of 345 acres in an area bordering Valle Crucis, Seven Devils and Foscoe.

The property features a rare plant habitat and is in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, with Hanging Rock Ridge as its prominent feature. It is located at the top of Dutch Creek Road in Valle Crucis, and has limited road access and few recreational features. However, it features an old logging road and pristine forest, offering a great opportunity to get back to nature, according to Eric Heigl, HCC's Land Protection Director.

Bear Paw, named for a Native American name for the area, is easily visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Grandfather Mountain to the south, and N.C. 194 to the north and west. It features a cove that contains the headwaters of Dutch Creek, which is in the Watauga River basin.

Heigl said the recession had led more landowners to investigate conservation sales as development slowed, but the squeeze on money meant fewer sources with which to buy land.

"It's a challenge," Heigl said. "There's a lot of land available, pricing wise it's a little better but the state trust funds have just about evaporated, We're going to be able to buy land like we have the last several years. But we've been doing a lot of work with private conservation opportunities."

The HCC recently helped with the addition of 200 acres to Elk Knob State Park in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, and Heigl said more projects are in the works. For now, the group hopes the public takes Saturday's opportunity to appreciate a local treasure.

Because of the lack of parking and trail access, the HCC invites interested hikers to gather at the Apple Barn on N.C. 194 in Valle Crucis. From there, hikers will carpool to the Bear Paw State Natural Area. Hikers should meet at on Nov. 14 at the Apple Barn.

This hike is free of charge. Call (828) 264-2511 to RSVP and find out more about HCC projects.

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