New Book Explores Grandfather Mountain And The Birth Of Our National Parks

New Book Explores Grandfather Mountain And The Birth Of Our National Parks

6:00am Dec 20, 2016
Photo of Rough Ridge dawn sea of clouds by photography instructor Tommy White. The vertical mile of rise above Grandfather's base can create awesome atmospheric affects. Courtesy:
  • Logging railroads decimated the High Country's virgin forests. One train logging below Grandfather's highest summit. Photo courtesy of Collection of Carolyn Davis Curtis.

  • A sea of clouds often separates Grandfather Mountain from distant Mount Mitchell. (Photo by Randy Johnson)

  • Thousands of feet of empty air give clouds plenty of space to play below MacRae Peak. (Photo by Randy Johnson)

  • Observation Point Grandfather Mountain. (Photo courtesy of the Hugh MacRae II Collection)

  • Grandfather is a place where the seasons collide. (Photo by Randy Johnson)

  • Author Randy Johnson (Photo courtesy of University of North Carolina Press)

  • Grandfather Mountain book cover (Credit: University of North Carolina Press)

The 100-year anniversary celebration of the National Park Service comes to a close next month. Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina was the very first to receive the designation in the entire Eastern United States, and it’s home to a national treasure: Grandfather Mountain.  Author Randy Johnson examines its lasting significance in his new book "Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon."

"The mountain came into focus as the northernmost part of the south and the southernmost part of the north—a sweet spot of biodiversity—that makes this mountain the most ecologically significant mountain in the entire eastern United States," says Johnson.

The book is filled with dozens of original photographs and historical images, and it’s published by The University of North Carolina Press. He spoke about his work in an interview with WFDD's David Ford. 

Interview Highlights: 

On how Johnson became involved with Grandfather Mountain initially: 

I set out when I was in college to find the snowiest, most spectacular mountain in the south, and I came back many times. And then, unfortunately, one time I came back and there were no trespassing signs. A hiker had died of hypothermia and the private landowner had closed the mountain.

I was researching wilderness management at that very moment and was afraid that the mountain would be developed if the public weren’t allowed to backpack and camp up there. So, I went up to [photographer and nature conservationist who developed Grandfather Mountain] Hugh Morton, and persuaded him to hire me to manage the land professionally. The mountain stayed open where scenic easements were created to protect part of the mountain. And then the Morton family sold it as a state park.

On the impact logging had on Grandfather Mountain: 

The Theodore Roosevelt administration said that the mountain before it was logged was probably the most spectacular virgin forest that had existed in eastern America. Sadly, the mountain was literally logged by a logging railroad in the 1920s. But thankfully, the very highest part of the mountain was logged in a much more environmentally sensitive way, and the tremendous ecosystems of Grandfather Mountain—most of which—were able to survive.

How massive flooding that devastated the area came with a silver lining: 

Grandfather Mountain is like Forrest Gump the way it ties into so many historical developments, like the Pisgah National Forest. The base of the mountain was logged so savagely that literally the very first national forest created in eastern America—the Pisgah National Forest—was created at the base of Grandfather Mountain in order to let that damage, that eradicated virgin forest, recover.

One hundred years ago, major flooding—two separate hurricanes—hit the side of Grandfather Mountain. The flooding was horrendous, and, luckily today, because of Grandfather’s history we’ve got national forests that are protecting us from those kinds of floods, and fires, and all of that.   



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