COMMENTARY: Take a hike

by May 17, 2019OPINIONS





The days of summer are nearly upon us. After several months of hibernation, it is fun to feel the sunshine on our faces and get stiff joints moving again. Fortunately, we live in a great place to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer. I am not what you would call an avid hiker. I could tell you that lie, but my body style would rat me out. I do try to make my doctor happy by being able to say that I get out and walk regularly.

There isn’t much more annoying to me than walking in a circle or oval on an inside track. Don’t get me wrong, places like the Cherokee Life Center are fantastic facilities with a top-notch staff, but they would have to spend a ton of money and enlist Disney creators to make a walkway competitive with some of the amazing greenways and hiking trails that the Boundary and western North Carolina provide.

Mingo Falls, located off of Big Cove Road in the Big Cove Community, is a great place to get out and hike on the Qualla Boundary. (Photo courtesy of EBCI Communications)

I was born and raised in these hills. As an old friend was famous for saying, “I walked these trails, and I have waded these streams.” There is not a much better feeling than splashing in your bare feet up a mountain creek, turning over rocks to catch a lizard or a “craw-dad.” Walking the trail adjacent to the Oconaluftee River, the air smells fresh and, just like the advertising says, your cares fade into the background.

For many reasons, it is great that the weather has warmed and conditions are right to get up and enjoy the great outdoors. It doesn’t matter your age, if you are physically able, getting out into the woods is a spiritual experience. There are a fantastic variety of birds on the Boundary, from hummingbirds and chickadees up to buzzards and turkeys. We have six “official” sites on the Boundary to visit and bird watching. Children who visit the Oconaluftee Island Park have made duck and goose chasing an official Island sport, much to the chagrin of the ducks and geese. By the way, the Island Park is an excellent place to picnic and frolic but watch your step. Fowl droppings are abundant.

Have you ever been to Mingo Falls? It is a short steep hike up a muddy trail, but the payoff is one magnificent waterfall. The literature says that Mingo is 120 feet high. Take your time when getting photos of the falls. I used to get frustrated when every picture I took of Mingo looked like milk being poured over a rock face. Shoot multiple shots at different settings to get the best pic. It is just a short drive up Big Cove Road past the Cherokee Central Schools. There is a small parking lot near the trailhead (that is fancy hiker talk for “where the trail starts”). I haven’t seen much wildlife up there-a bird or twenty, but the last time I was up there, I spotted the paw print of a bear in one of the shallow pools at the bottom of the falls. Upon seeing that, my hike ended abruptly.

I was born in Sylva, so it holds a special place in my memory. The folks there have done an amazing job of beautifying their town. Streets and sidewalks are meticulously maintained. Curb appeal is a priority for the businesses as well as the residence. During the spring, winter, and fall months, as you walk the streets and parks in Sylva, you will see the results of years of strategic gardening. As one set of flowers ends its life cycle, another set begins its blooming. The Town of Sylva and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce coordinate services so that places like Courthouse Hill, have a variety of species of flowers and other foliage growing and long as there are light and warmth to grow them. They don’t leave much to chance as far as making an impression on your stroll through town. The street lights, the pole banners, even the trash cans are always freshly painted, clean, and well lit. The walkways on split levels of terrain, so you may make your walk as challenging at you want it to be. From the fountain at the bottom of the Courthouse steps up to the building, there are 107 steps. I usually climb like I would be climbing Everest, slowly and gasping for air along the way. Others hop up that flight of steps like spring rabbits. Either way, you travel, the view from the top is incredible. The little town of Sylva is a great place to stroll, and there are plenty of places for pit stops along the way, with great eateries and shops. If visit Sylva for a walk, go by the Hooper House, where the Chamber of Commerce is located, and thank the young lady at the counter for quickly knowing how many steps are on Court House hill.

Back to nature. Another great walking/hiking experience is Lake Junaluska Walking Trail in Haywood County. The Lake was named for Junaluska, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians leader who lived in the area during the 19th century. Junaluska, who reportedly saved Andrew Jackson’s life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, later is credited with saying he would have done things differently if he had known what Jackson would do to the Cherokee people. His namesake lake is the centerpiece for the Methodist Assembly and home of the World Methodist Museum. The trail is 2.3 to 3.8 miles round trip, depending on the route you want to take. For this trail, scenic doesn’t do justice. There is a strip along the lakefront called the “rose walk,” and their website touts that it “includes 200 hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses”. Not sure I know what all that means, except that it is a beautiful addition to any walk. This is another area where the caretakers are meticulous in their duties. There are well-groomed lawns and places where nature and habitat run wild, all adding to the enjoyment of whatever level of walking, or running, you do. I was there a few days ago watching goslings with their momma’s and pappa’s, bluegill and largemouth bass in the lake, and much more of nature’s beauty. All different areas of terrain, none too steep, but some do present a little challenge for the more easily winded, like me.

My point is, don’t waste a minute indoors that you don’t have to. I love to visit one of my favorite walking places after a hectic day at work and step off my stress. Get off your seat and get out into the outdoors. Make it a habit. With all due respect, take a hike!