Photo: Courtesy: Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy/Bearwallow Mountain There’s a 50-mile trail system in the works for the Hickory Nut Gorge, a dramatic canyon on the edge of the Southern Appalachians 30 miles east of Asheville. The giant loop of singletrack will connect high elevation balds, rocky outcroppings with views of the Smoky and Black Mountains, swimming holes and trout streams, backcountry campsites, even a fire tower. It will be the thread that ties together the gorge, a chasm known for its dramatic rock features and world-class rock climbing. And it’s being built almost entirely on private property.The Hickory Nut Gorge Trail Network (HNGT) is the brainchild of Peter Barr, trails coordinator for the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), a non-profit that preserves land with private funding, then typically opens that land to the public, often building new trails with sweat equity donated by the Carolina Mountain Club. For the HNGT, the conservancy is looking beyond their own properties and buying public right-of-ways from private landowners throughout the gorge. The right-of-ways allow the conservancy to build a trail on private land while ensuring public access to the trail corridor forever, regardless of who owns the land.“Getting this massive project off the ground is complicated, but it’s doable,” Barr says. “It starts with a few landowners who see their land as something so meaningful, they want to share it with others.”While the 50-mile loop will take decades to complete, the first piece of singletrack is already on the ground, ascending Bearwallow Mountain. A 12-mile Upper Gorge loop that connects Bearwallow with nearby Forest Nature Preserve is currently in the works as well. The HNGT might be one of the most ambitious trail projects to be undertaken on private land in our region, but it’s certainly not the only instance of private conservations opening gates to hikers. As federal and state funding for public land continues to diminish, private land conservancies are shouldering the conservation and recreation responsibility more and more. And as many conservationists have learned over the years, the best way to garner public support and funds for a conservation project is to grant public access.“If I can get someone to the top of Bearwallow Mountain, they’ll see why land conservancy is important,” Barr says. “Giving the public access makes the land relevant.”Here are four private preserves in the Southern Appalachians that are ripe for some friendly trespassing.Lula LakeLookout Mountain, Ga.Just south of Chattanooga, the Lula Lake Land Trust preserves 4,400 acres of primo terrain on the edge of rocky Lookout Mountain. The core 500-acre property is packed with rocky outcroppings, a plunge pool with its own 30-foot cascade, a separate 85-foot waterfall, and six miles of doubletrack, all encased inside an impressive Cumberland Plateau escarpment. Lula Lake is only open on the first and last Saturdays of each month, but the property is worth the wait. Mountain bikers and trail runners should also check out Lula Lake’s other property on Lookout Mountain, which houses a piece of the Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail, a new 26-mile trail system open to fat tires that will eventually connect to Cloudland Canyon State Park, also on Lookout Mountain. lulalake.orgBearwallow MountainHickory Nut Gorge, N.C.Bearwallow is the CMLC’s flagship trail project in the Hickory Nut Gorge and serves as the public right-of-way model as the group moves forward with the ambitious 50-mile network. Hike the mile-long trail up Bearwallow, a 4,232-foot high bald that sits on the Eastern Continental Divide, and you’ll understand the potential of the project. Bearwallow is still a family-owned property where cattle graze seasonally. From the top, you can see the Smokies, the Blacks, and into South Carolina. There’s also a firetower that Barr is trying to restore, which will offer views into the belly of Hickory Nut Gorge, taking in Chimney Rock and Lake Lure.The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is so adamant about getting the public on their properties that they’ve created a hiking challenge, where hikers can earn gear and a patch just by treading through a series of trails on CMLC lands. carolinamountain.orgPendergrass Murray Recreational PreserveRed River Gorge, Ky.This 750-acre tract of land in the southern end of the Red River Gorge is packed with quality sandstone cliffs and climbing routes. The Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition purchased the land in 2004 and is poised to make the last payment on the property this summer. Since acquiring the land, the group has developed a system of hiking and biking trails as well as almost 500 climbing routes that range from 5.6 to 5.14. Sign a waiver and make a donation (not mandatory, but it’s good karma) and the cliffs are yours to scale. For easier sport and a few trad routes, head to The Crossroads crag. If you want to see the best sport climbers in the country tackle some of the hardest routes in the Red, go directly to the Bob Marley crag, an amphitheater with very tall, very steep rock. rrgcc.orgBottom Creek GorgeRoanoke River, Va.Owned by The Nature Conservancy, the Bottom Creek Gorge tract covers 1,650-acres of land at the headwaters of the Roanoke River. You’ll find virgin forests, wildflowers galore in the spring, and the second tallest waterfall in the state, the 200-foot Bent Mountain Falls. Roughly five miles of trail traverse the gorge. Seeing the falls is a must, but also take time to explore the remote virgin hemlock forest, as well as the half-acre shale barren which supports the rare chestnut lipfern, a plant that only lives in isolated patches in southwestern Virginia and eastern West Virginia. nature.org/virginia
Veterans Court Judge Brett Buckley says the graduation of each participant is a tribute to the person who fulfills all the requirements. “Undertaking Veterans Court is not something to treat lightly. It carries with it significant requirements of time, program commitments and dedication to law abiding behavior. It is definitely not a ‘get out of jail free’ card and by the time someone graduates, they have really improved their life and the community is safer for it.” Facebook0Tweet0Pin0 Thurston County Veterans Court, the first in the state, was a response of Thurston County District Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Office of Assigned Counsel to the growing number of veterans and service-members who are becoming involved in the criminal justice system. The court replaces incarceration of the defendant with intensive court supervision. OLYMPIA – Four more participants in Thurston County’s Veterans Court are set to graduate. The first person to successfully complete the intensive court process graduated this past July. Now, an additional four people will graduate between now and mid-November. They are-Marvin Kemp, 10/19/11 @ 4pmRyan Minar, 10/26/11 @ 4pmRobert Dowd, 11/2/11 @ 4pmAntonio Mendez, 11/9/11 @ 4pm In order to graduate, the veteran must complete all recommended mental health, chemical dependency and/or domestic violence treatment. This may also include anger management or parenting classes. Random urine analysis testing is a requirement for everyone in the program and they must remain clean and sober. This is in addition to frequent check-ins with court social workers and regular court hearings. Currently there are 17 veterans in the program and eight more on a waiting list. The regular Veterans Court sessions are held every Wednesday at 4:00 pm in Thurston County District Court and are open to the public.
MIDDLETOWN — Hubbard Avenue, in the River Plaza section, which had been closed for more than a month since Tropical Storm Irene, has reopened to traffic.Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley said the road, where a portion had collapsed, has opened as of the Columbus Day weekend, earlier than expected.“The expectation was to open in mid-month,” Curley said.A portion of the county road had literally crumpled when the rising water of the late August storm caused the dam at neighboring Shadow Lake to breach. The force of water undermined the pavement.“That was a real mess,” Curley said, detailing how that length of the road had been eroded from the bottom. “So, all the underpinnings has to be replaced,” requiring the culvert over the lake waters to be completely resurfaced.The project cost approximately $491,000, Curley said. The county had hired the Sambol Construction Corporation, Toms River, to undertake the work, according to the county’s engineering department.Getting the private contractor on the job right after the storm, “that is what expedited this whole situation,” Curley said.County officials were able to select a private sector firm from an already prepared list, allowing the work to commence quickly, according to Curley.The county road is heavily traveled with vehicles heading to and from the Garden State Parkway’s exit 109, by way of nearby West Front Street. With that road unavailable for vehicles, they were forced to take long detour routes, having “to travel east to go west,” the freeholder said.Curley, who lives in the vicinity of Shadow Lake, said area residents were “asking me when the completion date was.”And when he told them it would be early October, “They were shocked. They couldn’t believe it could be done that quickly,” he said.