Conservation Outdoors Recreation

Carolina Mountain Club Celebrates 100 Years with Centennial Challenge

Photo by Bev MacDowell

By Emma Castleberry

On July 16, 2023, Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) will celebrate its 100th birthday. The entirely volunteer-led organization will commemorate the centennial with a number of activities, including the CMC Centennial Challenge, which rewards participation in club-sponsored trail maintenance and hiking events with a newly designed patch and certificate. “CMC Centennial Challenge was established to enable members to have a deep Smoky Mountain experience: maintaining trails and hiking trails,” says club vice president Les Love, who has been a CMC member for more than 25 years.

Art Loeb, 1963. Photo courtesy of Loeb/Dickson family

The challenge is retroactive to January of 2022 and ends on December 31, 2023. To complete the challenge, participants must log 50 hours of trail maintenance and 50 miles of hiking during scheduled CMC hikes. “The CMC member then experiences what is involved in upkeeping trails while also being able to enjoy the immense beauty of WNC hiking trails,” says Love. “As any novice knows, once you start a new activity there is more to it than meets the eye.”

These two contributions—group hiking and trail maintenance—are the pillars of CMC, which maintains more than 400 miles of trails in WNC including 94 miles of the Appalachian Trail and 154 miles of the Mountain to Sea Trail (MST). The club boasts more than 1,100 members and hosts multiple scheduled hikes every week, ranging from easy to strenuous.

CMC trains hike leaders, who develop deep familiarity with the WNC trails maintained by the club and can then discuss aspects of each trail during scheduled hikes. CMC also provides training for those interested in trail maintenance. “A seasoned trail maintainer will take over a year to train,” says Love. “There is both tremendous art and science in trail maintenance.” Volunteers learn to use materials from the surrounding area, such as rocks, dirt and downed trees, to upkeep the trail. They also learn how to divert water off the trail in an ecological and sustainable way and develop specialized skills in building rock and log steps. “Volunteers thoroughly enjoy their work,” says Love. “Trail maintenance gives them a sense of accomplishment and deep connection to the environment.”

Tennent Hiking Group, circa 1940s

Club member Bev MacDowell says trail maintenance can be an eye-opening experience even for accomplished hikers. “Once one does trail work, one never hikes innocently along again,” she says. “That rock staircase in the forest we just walked up wasn’t created by Mother Nature? Although her gifts are immense, the rock staircase was made by fellow humans using picks, hazel hoes and rock bars, extracting the rocks and placing them just so. It’s a miraculous thing to witness work like this.”

After moving to Asheville, CMC member Sallye Sanders joined the club in 2016 to meet fellow hikers and learn more about the hiking trails in her region. “CMC has always had a good hiking program with interesting challenges that encourage one to explore areas of Western NC that one might not discover otherwise,” she says. Her love of hiking fed naturally into a love of trail maintenance. “As a hiker who saw how the trails were deteriorating because of lack of maintenance, I decided with a friend to adopt a secondary trail and have since become hooked on trail maintenance,” she says.

Crossing the South Mills River. Danny Bernstein photo

With her heavy involvement in both of the club’s activities, it was easy for Sanders to finish the CMC Centennial Challenge. She explains that the Challenge is intended, in part, to expand the experience for existing members, who tend to favor one aspect of the club—hiking or trail maintenance. “The Centennial Challenge is important because it encourages hikers to join some trail maintenance projects and maybe become incurably hooked as I have, and it encourages trail maintainers to hike with club members they might not have gotten to know otherwise,” says Sanders.

Love compares trail maintenance and hiking to the Chinese Yin and Yang symbols. “They can be perceived as opposites, yet they fit together so perfectly,” he says. “The trail maintainers upkeep the trail. The hikers use the trail. The two aspects complement each other. The logic behind the Centennial Challenge is to foster a deeper appreciation of each aspect of CMC.”

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