ROARING GAP — Hundreds of people spent New Years Day at Stone Mountain State Park. About 50 visitors joined the First Day Hike along Stone Mountain Loop Trail, led by Park Ranger Jeffrey Jones.
Jones welcomed the group to the first day of the NC State Parks’ centennial year, noting that it all began with Mount Mitchell in 1916. Stone Mountain was established in 1969 with additional land acquired through the years to make up its current size of more than 14,000 acres. “We’re one of the largest state parks in North Carolina,” said Jones, adding that the park includes more than 20 miles of trails.
The 3.4-mile hike, rated moderate to strenuous, took participants from the Upper Trail Head parking area to the mountain’s summit. At several stops along the trail, Jones shared information about both the history and geology of the park.
“Before this was a park, there were a lot of people that lived here,” said Jones, explaining how dozens of chimneys came to be standing on park property. The rough age of each chimney can be determined by its construction, with the oldest being dry stacked, those of middle age having chinking, and the newest using concrete.
At a rocky outcrop the group learned that Stone Mountain consists of a pluton formation. “When the mountains were being formed several millions of years ago, a lot of pressure started building up in this area pushing magma up and it solidified underground,” explained Jones. Through erosion, the top layers of the mountain were washed away leaving the exposed pluton that is seen today.
Reaching the summit was the highlight of the hike. With a view that spans across multiple counties including Alleghany, Surry and Wilkes, participants took time to enjoy the occasion and capture the view on camera.
Steve Russell, a regular at the park, said he and his wife came on the hike “just to see people we know,” sharing that many of the hikers were ongoing park supporters. Their dog, Spanky, was one of five to join the hike with the park’s requirement of being kept on an attended leash no longer than six feet and under the constant control of the owner.
Bobby Phillips, 11, and his mother, Michelle, of Greensboro, enjoyed the hike. Explaining that he had been camping at Stone Mountain with his Boy Scout Troop last year, Bobby said, “We saw this in the paper, and thought it would be fun to come back.” Upon completing the guided hike, the pair continued exploring the park, looking to see some waterfalls.
“Attendance has grown over the past few years,” said Jones, recognizing that for some the First Day Hike is a kick off to New Year’s resolutions to become more healthy and spend more time out in nature.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on Twitter @PilotReporter.