ROAN MOUNTAIN — Most people would be proud to have a world famous park in their back yard. The people of the community of Roan Mountain can make that claim and also take pride in saying that one of the most scenic parts of the entire 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail is just a few miles up the hill.
The trail is also helping to make the community better known. The latest distinction was to be officially designated as an Appalachian Trail Community. Roan Mountain becomes the 41st such community up and down the trail, and only the second one in Tennessee, after Unicoi County.
The Appalachian Trail Community is a program of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to recognize communities that promote and protect the trail, and welcome the hikers who use it.
On Monday, members of the community rubbed shoulders with Appalachian Trail through hikers, local business people who provide services for the hikers and county leaders gathered at the Roan Mountain Community Park to officially designate the new trail community.
The crowd gathered around a wooden stage for musical performances that is still under construction. On the stage were Morgan Sommerville, director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy; Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey; Brian Tipton, president of the Roan Mountain Citizens Club; J.R. Tinch, park manager of the Roan Mountain State Park; Erik Anderson of the Roan Mountain Community Park and member of the Carter County Parks and Recreation Committee; Kayla Carter, director of Carter County Tourism and a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Next Generation Advisory Council; Carl Fritz and Bob Peoples of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club; and Jim Chambers, Appalachian Trail community ambassador. Carter County Commissioner Mike Hill served as master of ceremonies.
Peoples, owner of Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove and trail maintainer who has worked nearly every yard of the trail over the Roan Masif, gave the best description of the change in perspective the local community has about hikers. Peoples said about 20 years ago most hikers took a right after coming down off the balds, going to Elk Park, N.C., for hosteling, dining and resupply. Rightly or wrongly, hikers at that time thought Roan Mountain was not very friendly toward hikers.
Peoples said that all changed because of one event. He said one fall an elderly farmer he had befriended in Tiger Valley was concerned about predictions of an early freeze. It would take him several days to harvest his sweet sorghum crop. He told Peoples about his problem. Peoples had several southbound through hikers staying at his hostel and told him about the farmer’s problem. He said they all volunteered to help the farmer and spent the next several days harvesting and converting it into molasses.
After that, the old farmer, whom Peoples called Mr. Oxendine, told the story over and over in Roan Mountain. “Those people with the packs on their backs, they are the ones who saved my crop.” After that, the people begin offering the hikers a ride into town and helping them in many ways. Word spread up and down the trail that Roan Mountain was friendly to hikers.
The friendliness has continued to grow over the years. Hikers nearly universally proclaim Roan Mountain’s Mountain Harbor Hostel as serving the best breakfast for the entire trail. Then there is the Holy Cow Burger at Bob’s Dairyland, an entree that would probably not be on the menu except for the demand from hungry hikers.
The celebration about Roan Mountain’s designation will continue on Saturday, May 6, when the community holds its first ever Roan Mountain Trail Festival. The new stage is scheduled to be completed in time to provide a place for the live entertainment.
Trail hikers are encouraged to camp out in the large fields of the Roan Mountain Community Park. A camping fee of $5 is being charged to pay for toilets and other needed items for the hikers, but the Citizens’s Club is seeking donors wishing to sponsor a hiker by paying the fee for him or her.