The national Coalition of Recreational Trails has granted its annual achievement award for trail design and construction to Conserving Carolina and its trails coordinator, Peter Barr, for Wildcat Rock Trail.
Conserving Carolina opened this 3-mile trail in the Hickory Nut Gorge to the public in 2017.
The Wildcat Rock Trail features exceptionally sustainable trail design to protect surrounding natural resources, which include rare species and sensitive natural habitats. It traverses 166 acres of natural lands forever protected by Conserving Carolina.
Barr designed the trail in 2014 and managed its construction over the next four years. The three-mile trail incorporates more than 300 masoned stone stairs that ascend Little Bearwallow Mountain, reaching a 100-foot waterfall and scenic Wildcat Rock on the way.
Its curvilinear design—using constant undulations and subtle changes of direction—quickly sheds water from the trail, which prevents erosion. It also enhances the experience of hikers by making its course feel more natural and interesting.
Barr worked with multiple partners on construction, including professional trail contractors. Deno Contos and Benchmark Trails installed most of the trail’s rock stairs, while Bob Carriker with Trail Dynamics machine dug its first mile to Little Bearwallow Falls.
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps traveled from New England twice to help construct the Wildcat Rock Trail, spending a total of 13 weeks on the mountain. The North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps and American Conservation Experience also constructed substantial segments of the trail.
Volunteers played a significant role in the project, including Conserving Carolina’s esteemed Rock Crushers Trail Crew and Carolina Mountain Club’s Friday crew. Altogether, 1,933 volunteer hours were donated to create the Wildcat Rock Trail.
The trail was funded by a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant, as well as the Donald C. Jones Foundation, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Community Foundation of Henderson County and REI Asheville.