By Emma Castleberry
The nonprofit conservation organization Conserving Carolina will host the White Squirrel Hiking Challenge again this year, featuring seven new trails and one much-beloved classic hike. The eight-trail challenge encourages residents and visitors alike to visit areas that have been conserved by the nonprofit. “People who do the challenge will hopefully come away with a better understanding of how conservation groups like Conserving Carolina keep creating and enhancing great places for them to enjoy,” says Rose Jenkins Lane, communications manager for Conserving Carolina. “Since hiking and outdoor recreation are increasingly popular in WNC, we need to keep creating more places for people to get outside, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Hiking Challenge 6 will include two new trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge with expansive views of the region. “The two new Conserving Carolina trails—Youngs Mountain and Wildcat Rock extended—are amazing, so if people haven’t tried those yet they’re in for a treat,” says Lane. “My guess is that even avid hikers will discover new trails through this challenge.” Other trails explore DuPont State Recreational Forest, Bracken Mountain Preserve and Green River Game Lands. The challenge also includes a visit to the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains as well as the popular Bearwallow Mountain hike. Some of the trails are open to mountain biking, and exploring the trails on a bike counts towards your completion of the challenge.
In addition to the White Squirrel Hiking Challenge, Conserving Carolina also offers the Flying Squirrel Outdoor Challenge. This challenge offers a wider variety of outdoor activities and can be tailored to any ability level. In this challenge, people choose eight out of 13 outdoor activities. Both challenges are free and open to all and you can complete them at your own pace—whether it takes weeks, months or even more than a year.
Whether your motivation is to discover new trails or visit old favorites, the hiking challenge is an opportunity to celebrate conservation and experience the natural beauty of Western North Carolina. Participants share photos and stories of their challenge on the Conserving Carolina Facebook page. “Participating in the challenge gets you all of the benefits of hiking—like the joy and beauty that we can find in nature, physical exercise, a break from stress, solitude or time with family and friends,” says Lane. “At the same time, participants come away with a more personal connection to conservation. Our hope is that people who do the challenge will come away more passionate about conservation and will help us protect even more wonderful places.”
The WPA White Squirrel Hiking Challenge 6 is sponsored by real estate firm Witherspoon Platt + Associates (WPA). To earn your award package and White Squirrel Patch, you must be a Conserving Carolina member. Individuals who donate $35 or more or households that donate $60 or more annually are Conserving Carolina members. To learn more about the Hiking Challenge and get started, go to ConservingCarolina.org/hiking-challenge-6.