Written by Lesley Eaton
A few feet after stepping off the pavement and onto the trail, I close my eyes to thoroughly take in my new surroundings. Fresh air and scents both distinct and familiar, yet intangible; it is the smell of the woods.
I feel the cool respite of the canopy of leaves filtering the light. I hear the stillness surrounding me, along with a rustling of leaves being pushed around by two dog snouts, taking in thae woody scent.
With my dogs and my husband, I set out to explore Falls Branch Trail, a short hike to an 80-foot cascade. The first half of the trail is a nice easy stroll through one of the few areas of virgin forest remaining in the Tellico District of Cherokee National Forest.
Bearing left, Falls Branch Trail winds through hardwood forest filled with rhododendron and goes along Sassafras Ridge. Midway, the trail quickly narrows and we begin to climb and then descend the steep pathway deeper into the forest. Making my way down the steep incline, I observe it must be much easier to manage balanced on four legs as my furry friends race ahead.
As the trail rolls up and down deeper into the woods, our surroundings become more and more enchanted, with bright green ferns lining our path and thick beautiful moss enveloping the rocks and wood all around us. It is as if the fern leaves and the moss are gradually preparing us for the pinnacle of our hike, the majestic waterfall.
We cross over the creek once. The next time we happen upon the water we are rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of the falls. From here, we follow the path through a narrow tunnel between two large boulders and begin our climb through the stream, over and around the slippery rocks, until we feel the mist of the falls on our faces.
On this quiet Sunday afternoon, it seems as though we have our very own private waterfall.
Falls Branch is an enchanted spot, where vibrant rainbows frequent under the streaming water sparkling in the leaf filtered light. Here, one could sit and reflect, or empty their minds of all the clutter and rest peacefully with an all-natural sound machine running in the background, or take an earth shower, or join four-legged friends and simply run and explore every crevice—whatever your preference may be.
The dogs enjoy running ahead and back to us as we slowly climb up the trail through the trees. We welcome the flat easy first half of the trail, which provides a nice cool down before hopping back into the car.
As we approach the parking lot, we notice a small grouping of orange leaves in the midst of green. Tails wagging, we happily start to anticipate the chance to experience the smell of the woods again this autumn.
By Megan Naylor
Mountain bikers in northwestern North Carolina have a new reason to rejoice the love of their sport.
The Tourism Development Authority of Watauga County, N.C. announced the purchase of a 45-acre parcel adjacent to the county’s former landfill for Rocky Knob Park, with the intention of constructing 10 to 12 miles of mountain biking, hiking and cross country skiing trails.
The purchase compliments the county’s current 130-acre tract, forming a 175-acre outdoor recreation center.
Preliminary planning and groundbreaking have begun thanks to a joint effort between the Watauga County Tourism board, Boone area bike shops Magic Cycles and Boone Bike and Touring and newly formed Boone Area Cyclists Club (BAC), which focuses on coordinating and promoting safe and accessible cycling in the area.
“Its been well documented that this is important for tourism, but this is also great for the locals. There are no mountain bike opportunities close to town,” said BAC founder Paul Stahlschmidt. “So, with Rocky Knob Park, those of us who live in Boone will now have a great place to ride that we don’t need to drive to.”
In addition to the trails, the center will include picnic tables, a restroom area, an information kiosk and green space.
Trails will be designed as a multi-purpose, stacked loop, increasing in difficulty with each additional loop. The trails will accommodate all levels of cyclists, from beginner to advanced downhill.
The first part of the planned trail series will be approximately 1.5 to 2.5 miles and is scheduled to be ready this fall.
Stahlschmidt views Rocky Knob as a stepping stone towards establishing Watauga County, and the town of Boone, as a biking mecca for northwestern North Carolina.
“I hope more people here see cycling as a way to live healthier and happier,” he said. “With our overall sedentary lifestyles and obesity and other health problems grabbing headlines, bikes really do help. It’s an easy way to be active and enjoy the mountains.”