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Grandfather Mountain: A recreational dream spot

Tiffany Florian • Updated Jun 13, 2016 at 8:46 AM

Grandfather Mountain is a beloved destination for many hikers and tree huggers, but you may not know the colossal mountain has an extensive history.

In 1794, Grandfather Mountain’s dramatic elevation convinced botanist Andre Michaux that he had reached the highest summit in North America.

Grandfather Mountain towers at 5,946 feet above northwest North Carolina and appears taller than its neighboring mountains due to the abrupt way it rises above its surroundings.

Michaux may have been mistaken in thinking he had reached the highest point, but over 250,000 visitors each year come to the mountain hoping they too can feel like they are on top of the world.

The original name for the mountain was “Tanawha,” a Cherokee word meaning fabulous hawk or eagle.

Later pioneers named the mountain “Grandfather Mountain” because the mountain resembled the face of an old man.

“It is such a presence,” said public information officer Charlie Peek. “You can see the profile of that mountain from almost any point in western North Carolina.”

From east to west, the mountain’s ridges form what looks like the profile face of an old man looking upward.

But, Grandfather Mountain is more than just a pretty face.

Grandfather Mountain is one of the world’s most iconic mountains with a breath-taking view and and years of history. 

“Grandfather Mountain in particular has a long history,” said Peek “People gain an understanding by place, so its important we place ourselves there to understand.”

Peek encourages others to visit state parks, like Grandfather Mountain State Park in order to gain a deeper understanding about the world and its history.

The rocks of the mountain date back to 1.1 billion years ago, and the mountain itself stands 620 million year old.

Grandfather Mountain was privately owned by the MacRae family in the 1800’s but later transitioned to a nature preserve and tourist attraction.

In 1952, Hugh Morton, inherited Grandfather Mountain from his grandfather, Hugh MacRae. Morton made a contribution that would allow many more visitors to enjoy a panoramic view of the mountain.

That same year Morton hired a team to construct the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Inspired partly by his aging grandmother, Morton wanted individuals with limited mobility to enjoy the view without the strenuous hike.

A 228-foot-long suspension bridge was built to connect two peaks of the mountain range and allow individuals easy access to the high-altitude view.

Mile High Swinging Bridge is America’s highest suspension footbridge. It was given the first part of its name, “Mile High,” because the bridge is elevated a mile above sea level at 5,280 feet. The second part of the name, “Swinging Bridge,”  alludes to the fact that suspension bridges often sway in the wind.

In 1999, the bridge was rebuilt using the original towers and modern building materials.

Morton's contribution to the park allowed many to experience the stunning view the mountain had to offer, but Morton also paved the way for preservation of the park.

After Hugh Morton died in 2006, the undeveloped portion of Grandfather Mountain was sold to the state of North Carolina for a state park.

A year later, the Morton family transferred scenic travel attractions to the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to conserving and preserving the property.

Today, Grandfather Mountain has two parts.

Two-thirds of the undeveloped sections are owned by the state of North Carolina as Grandfather Mountain State Park. The other third is operated as a scenic travel attraction through the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.

The mission statement of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is “Inspiring conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain.”

Both the state park and scenic travel attraction share the mission of preserving wildlife and the history of Grandfather Mountain.

“It’s important to be good stewards of land and wildlife,” said naturalist Alden Early. “You don’t realize how important something is until it’s gone. So here, we are trying to conserve and protect wildlife and endangered species.”

Today, the forest of Grandfather Mountain is home to over 66 rare and endangered species and houses 16 different ecosystems.

“There are almost 70 endangered species here and they are crying out for preservation,” said Peek.

Grandfather Mountain State Park and Attraction exist to educate others about the historic mountain and preserve wildlife.

Grandfather Mountain draws visitors closer to nature with 11 trails for hiking and spotting wild life.

Hikers can access the trails outside the attraction and inside Grandfather Mountain State Park for free.

Visitors can also pay a fee to enter the attraction and see bald eagles, black bears, cougars, deer and river otters.

Today, Grandfather mountain towers as an alluring travel destination, a place of biodiversity and a nature preservation.

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