Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 25(8)] Carl Sandburg, one of America's most beloved poets, drew great inspiration from the quiet beauty of Connemara, his 264-acre home in Flat Rock. Since 1968, the year Congress established the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (one year after Sandburg's death), visitors have been able to share his experience. The site is administered by the National Park Service.
The name Flat Rock refers to the smooth outcroppings of Henderson gneiss which served as Cherokee Indian ceremonial grounds and later a trading area with European settlers. The town of Flat Rock, the State Theatre of North Carolina, Flat Rock Playhouse, and Connemara all rest atop these impressive outcroppings of granite.
Several easy and well-maintained trails course through the wooded property, encircling the Front Lake and heading to the summits of Glassy Mountain and Little Glassy Mountain. Along the way, shiny patches of galax, violet, rattlesnake plantain, periwinkle, and robins-plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) grow beneath the rhododendron, mountain laurel, huckleberry, and dogwood understory. A second-growth, oak-hickory climax forest associated with many large rock outcroppings forms the canopy.
The varied habitat here offers a haven for permanent resident and migratory birds. Available at the bookstore is a free folder containing a listing of 100 species of birds that have been spotted in the park, noting their seasons and abundance. From uncommon double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), great blue heron, and broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus) to regulars such as golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa), great crested flycatcher (Regulus satrapa), and downy woodpecker, the grounds are an excellent place for bird-watching.
From the parking area, the trail meanders uphill to the Main House and barn area where the bleating kids and goats beckon even the most avid hikers for a short detour. Today's goats are descendants of the prize-winning herd Sandburg's wife, Paula, raised. The well-marked trail to Glassy Mountain begins at the Main House and climbs steadily but comfortably with benches along the way. While the view en route is best before foliage, the vista from the summit offers a spectacular year-round panorama of Mount Pisgah and its neighboring peaks. Connecting trails for a longer hike lead to Little Glassy Mountain and around the Front Lake where beavers, Canada geese (Branta canadensis), and mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) make their home.
For a special lunch or dinner after touring Connemara, Highland Lake Inn is less than a mile away. Many ingredients for the fresh cuisine are picked daily from the colorful and fragrant organic gardens on the grounds. Traveling north on US 25 from Flat Rock, turn right onto Highland Lake Drive. Turn right at the dam and waterfalls.
[Fig. 25(9)] In 1931, this family-owned glen and surrounding forest were in danger of being sold to a timber company. The Tryon Garden Club intervened, protecting the secluded valley and 250 acres of woodland for generations of picnickers, hikers, bird watchers, and students. It remains under the club's ownership and management today.
Designated a North Carolina Heritage Area, the park's centerpiece is a thundering falls of nearly 90 feet. The lush, water-sprayed environment surrounding it is filled with more than 200 varieties of ferns, wildflowers, algae, and mosses, many outlined in a booklet sold at the gatehouse.
The park's 14,000 visitors each year include bus loads of young science students on field trips. In addition, the area, which is also a wildlife preserve, serves as an outdoor laboratory for nearby college and university botany programs.
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