William Bartram: Hike and Learn

What’s YOUR favorite reference question?

Yoga on the Greenway behind MCPL

One of mine is “Can you tell me about some good places to hike around here?” I love it when people ask me for help getting out and playing in the woods. If I can add some historic knowledge and conservation advocacy to my answer- I’m even happier! We have a wealth of resources available at the Macon County Public Library, from free maps of the Little Tennessee River Greenway which can be accessed from several points on the library property, to traditional hiking trail guidebooks, to backpacks that you can check out to use for hiking!

You can scroll to the bottom of this page for links to these and other resources…

One of the first easy and rewarding hikes I can talk about starts a little ways outside of Franklin on the Bartram Trail, named for 18th century explorer William Bartram. More about him later. It’s easy to find. One of the trailheads- Wallace Branch- is just four and a half miles from this library and except for the parking lot, you never have to drive off of paved road to get there. It’s great for out-of-towners or anyone who’s new to hiking since there’s plenty to enjoy within the first half mile. It’s also a challenge for seasoned hikers and trail runners because if you keep following the school bus-yellow blazes roughly twelve miles on the trail, up and down and up and down and… you get the picture… you’ll eventually get to the top of Wayah Bald. I have very little no interest in

Julie and me on the Bartram Trail,        NOT going all the way to Wayah Bald

attempting this, but it’s an option, and there are plenty of creekside walks, waterfalls, views and overlooks to enjoy along the way, depending on how far you want to hike. On days when we only have time for a quick lunch hour or pre-dinner walk, we can make a nice little loop using an old forest service road that starts at the parking lot, parallels Wallace Branch creek and crosses the Bartram Trail where we can turn back towards the car for about a half mile loop.

When I have a couple of hours, I like to take this part of the trail a couple of miles West and North to the overlook that’s been named William’s Pulpit. You get a nice view back towards town, and if you’re there at the right time of year you might even find some wild blueberries! There’s a long, steady, uphill stretch just before the overlook that, the first time I hiked there, left me so winded and disoriented that I missed the side trail that my husband had veered off to moments earlier and I ended up wandering an extra mile, thinking that he and the “pulpit” must be just around the next bend, and scaring him half to death in the meantime ‘til our dog, who’d caught up with me, insisted I turn around. It was a learning experience, to say the least! Now I can do that stretch pretty easily, chatting most of the way, but we’ve learned to be more mindful any time one of us gets to a fork or a side trail. Always more to learn, right?

One of the issues with trying to follow the trail of an eighteenth century explorer is that the landscape and landmarks have changed a bit over time, or they cross roads and private lands, and are no longer hikeable. (Microsoft Word tells me that “hikeable” is not a word; I declare otherwise.) I recently joined the board of the NC Bartram Trail Society, and one of our current projects involves making more of Bartram’s path available to hikers and kayakers. There’s a section off of Hickory Knoll Road which, as of now, you just have to know where to look into the woods to see where the trail starts, and park on the side of the road. We’re working with Mainspring Conservation Trust to make part of the trail more visible and user-friendly- you can read more about their work to build a parking area and information kiosk on their website, and in this article, Land Trust Conserves Key Property in Macon County, by Best Hikes With Dogs: North Carolina author Karen Chavez.

I started working on this blog a several weeks ago, when I was younger. Remember when I wrote that I have no interest in that twelve mile hike from town to Wayah Bald? Well… I might be eating those words in the New Year…

brent martin audience at bartram
How we USUALLY learn about William Bartram from Brent Martin…

In order to fill this blog and not pretend to be a seasoned Bartram scholar myself, I decided to ask people who are already experts for input. This is what we do at the library- we direct you to the people, places, organizations, websites, books, etc. that will best inform you- we don’t have all the information ourselves, but we do our best to direct you to it! And Bartram, who traveled and wrote extensively in this area is worth learning about. He interacted with the Cherokee, and cataloged the plants he found here, and has a unique voice to his writing. My friend Brent Martin is the director of the NC Bartram Trail Association and over the years has given library talks on the history of William Bartram and his book, Travels. I asked him if he has any programs coming up that I can tell you about- expecting to hear about some nice, tidy, hour-long talks that we can sit in semi-comfortable chairs to hear, but no… not now. Although technically we still have two more weeks of autumn, we’ve already had some middle of winter weather, and I guess Brent thinks we need to get out of our chairs, and, after eating four Thanksgiving dinners over the course of eight days, I probably shouldn’t argue. I’m guessing Bartram himself would agree. Brent tells me he’s planning to start 2019 by hiking the entire 78 miles of the North Carolina section of the trail, taking it one day a month at a time. And when are my days off, he asks me! Am I up for the challenge? We’ll see… Dates have not been set for this project yet, but if you’re interested in joining all or part of the challenge, visit their website and facebook page, NC Bartram Trail Society, and watch for details. Brent and his wife Angela Faye Martin are definitely people you want to be in the woods with- they are both brimming with stories and knowledge not only about Bartram but also about the plants, trees and birds you’ll see now, and how they compare to what Bartram would have seen in his day.

And if you’re not sold on the idea of hiking in the winter, check out this recent article by Abraham Mahshie- Seeing the Forest for the Trees. I pick up a copy of the Macon County News in the lobby of the library most weeks, and I was pleased to find this article just before Thanksgiving where he writes about the day-hiking backpacks you can borrow from the library, along with a few reasons this might be the best time of year to try hiking. If you’re new to hiking, or have friends and family in town, borrow one of our backpacks that comes with a headlamp, first aid kit, guidebooks and more.

The Bartram Trail is just one of the great places where you can see waterfalls and views of Macon County- I’d love to tell you about- or even take you- to so many more of our hiking spots! Or, pick up a guidebook from the library, and do some exploring on your own. Below are links to some of my favorites along with just a few of the available books by or about William Bartram…
Happy hiking!

First- the hiking backpacks!

Some guidebooks I’ve used and enjoyed, written by some cool WNC people…

Best Hikes with Dogs by Karen Chavez

The Wayward Traveler’s Guide to Waterfalls and Back Roads by David and Tamara Wolfe

Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers by Peter J. Barr

And the Bartram collection…

Travels, and Other Writings

William Bartram on the Southeastern Indians

William Bartram, the Search for Nature’s Design : Selected Art, Letters, & Unpublished Writings

Guide to William Bartram’s Travels : Following the Trail of America’s First Great Naturalist

The Flower Seeker : An Epic Poem of William Bartram by Philip Lee Williams

Footprints Across the South : Bartram’s Trail Revisited by Jim Kautz