It’s not too late to participate in the Conserving Carolina White Squirrel Hiking Challenge 5, an annual series of eight hikes that individuals can complete in any order, at any pace. The hikes are all located on lands protected by Conserving Carolina. “The Hiking Challenge was inspired in 2011 by the desire to engage as many people as possible in the outdoors on our conserved lands,” says trail director Peter Barr.
Sponsored by real estate firm Witherspoon Platt + Associates (WPA), the challenge features trails at Bearwallow Mountain, DuPont State Recreational Forest, Florence Nature Preserve, Headwaters State Forest, Norman Wilder Forest, Oklawaha Greenway and two trails on Weed Patch Mountain. The challenge features some easier strolls and some harder treks, including a trail that summits the highest point in South Carolina. “Some like to hike fast and cover a lot of terrain quickly, while others want to walk a slower pace and cherish their time outside,” says Barr. “Some like to stop and take photos or identify wildflowers, while others are bee-lining for the top of the mountain to enjoy the view.” One of the defining characteristics of the White Squirrel Hiking Challenge is that it is meant to be accessible to all outdoor users, from the absolutely new hiker to the seasoned adventurer.
Bob Carlson and Kim Chao are original participants in the White Squirrel Hiking Challenge. The couple has completed all four Hiking Challenges to date and plans to participate in this iteration. When Carlson and Chao moved to Asheville from Chicago, they were excited to explore the area’s hiking options, but weren’t sure where to start. “You don’t just pull off to a side road and start bushwacking,” says Carlson. “We didn’t really know the hiking trails. That’s when someone told us about the Hiking Challenge, which is how we first got involved with Conserving Carolina. The Hiking Challenge acts as a reminder of just how important Conserving Carolina was—and is—to saving these places.”
Sean Coburn has participated in several of the past hiking challenges with his twin daughters, starting when they were just eight years old. The family has plans to complete this year’s challenge in a single day—which was their successful strategy for last year’s challenge. “It’s educational because these are all conserved lands,” says Coburn, who has worked in land conservation for more than 20 years. “Instilling this virtue into my children is important, so they understand why these lands are there and why we have to conserve them.”
If biking is permitted on a trail, biking the trail also counts towards challenge completion. Participants who complete all eight hikes will earn an award package that includes a $10 gift card to Hendersonville’s Mast General Store and a white squirrel patch. “Offering an incentive to complete a series of hikes provides a ‘carrot’ to chase and fuels the motivation to return for more time in the outdoors,” says Barr. “Outdoor enthusiasts can now enjoy our conserved lands on their own schedule and at their own pace. Likewise, they can take the challenge in a group or as an individual, and tailor their experience to their own interests.” Barr says thousands of individuals have participated in the five versions of the Hiking Challenge.
While most people will likely break a sweat during the challenge, Barr says that’s not entirely the point. “The challenge is less one that is physical, but more one that rewards experiencing the breadth of lands across multiple counties and varying terrain that we have protected—and the gumption to stick with it by completing all eight hikes.”
Visit ConservingCarolina.org for driving directions, hiking route descriptions and interpretation of background and special features of the lands for each hike.