“Who is Art Loeb and what do you have to do to get a hiking trail named after you?” I wondered as James and I drove towards Black Balsam Knob and Tennant Mountain. (I also wondered why heating systems are called “the heat” while air cooling systems are called “air conditioning” but that’s another story. ) It’s been a while since James and I were able to get away from our Bed and Breakfast in Asheville. We’ve been super busy and when it gets like that we sometimes forget how important it is for us and, by extension, for our guests, to take some time off and enjoy the town and area around us.
Asheville’s Tourism Board has dedicated this year to the Explorers of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They have created a visually stunning and informative interactive site about the Parkway, its history and how to get the most out of a visit. In conjunction with this James and I created a special Hiker’s Package offering our knowledge of the trails nearby to our guests to help them plan their hiking adventure. And in order to do that we need to hike! So we had designated Thursday as a hiking day and in spite of the 60% chance of rain and the cool cloudy weather we were going to hike. Even better we were going to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to one of the highest peaks in North Carolina, Tennent Mountain.
Our friend, Mark File, had recently posted a hike to Black Balsam Knob and the peak of Tennent Mountain on his website, Romantic Asheville. Mark has arguably one of the best jobs ever. He spends his days photographing our town, the events, and the surrounding mountains and countryside then shares them on one of the most extensive and in-depth websites anywhere about Asheville. I’ve never really seen anything like it before. It’s definitely worth a check-in if you are considering a trip here.
So there we were in the car, driving through the mist, clouds and intermittent rain reading about the Art Loeb Trail. Long story short: Art Loeb was a vice president of a paper mill in the area in the 1950’s. In his 40s he had a heart attack and his doctor told him to get walking to get healthy. He joined the Carolina Mountain Club and set out to explore the mountains. According to my source, ” Back then, hiking in Western North Carolina involved a lot of bushwhacking, map reading and getting lost.” (Which to me sounds a lot like some of our experiences today) but Mark took to it enthusiastically. Sadly, while his heart got healthier he died of a brain tumour in 1968 at the age of 54. As a memorial the Club created the Art Loeb Trail, a 30 mile long trail from the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest to Camp Daniel Boone in Canton, NC.
James and I hiked a five mile stretch of the trail climbing up to the top of Black Balsam Knob, where there is a plaque commemorating Art Loeb then crossing the balds to the peak of Tennent Mountain more than 6,000 feet above sea level. In spite of the rain below, it was a nearly perfect hiking day. The clouds rose and fell below us, opening up sun drenched vistas then closing them again, and while it had obviously rained before our hike and no doubt did afterward for us the day was cool and dry. Black Balsam Knob is what’s known as a “bald”, a hill or mountain-top which is largely free of trees. In this case the bald was created by two factors: first the area was extensively harvested for timber removing almost all of the forest and then, about 90 years ago, a huge fire swept through the area and destroyed the undergrowth. Ordinarily fires are a part of the natural rhythm of the forests: plant life is rejuvenated and they come back stronger. But in order for that to happen you need the trees, which when threatened by fire release seed pods and provide nutrients in their ashes. Without the forest, the fire effectively sterilized the area and while blueberry and other scrub bushes have returned, there are few trees. Of course, without the trees the view is pretty spectacular. On a clear day I am told you can see all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains.
The hike can be an out and back of three miles or you can add a bit to create a five mile loop. Some of it is rocky and you need to watch your footing but the rewards are great. We will be happy to give you a trail map and tips! (And for more pictures of the hike, please visit our Facebook page)
(And it is called “air conditioning” because, in order for the cooling to be comfortable, humidity needs to be removed from the air as well. Otherwise it will feel dank and damp. So the air is “conditioned” ).