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New trail unveiled in WNC: Bernard Mountain Trail offers adventure near Old Fort

Camp Grier

A new trail is set to open this week east of Asheville. The Grandfather Ranger District, in partnership with its community partners, celebrates the opening of the newly constructed Bernard Mountain Trailon Friday, June 16, 2023, just outside of Old Fort.

Spanning 3.16 miles, the Bernard Mountain Trail descends nearly 1,000 feet from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, following the rocky ridge parallel to Kitsuma.

“Bernard Mountain is in the area that people most often know for the Kitsuma Trail, the most popular mountain bike trail on public lands in the Southeast and it connects from Ridgecrest at the top of the mountain to Old Fort at the bottom of the mountain and then connects up along the Point Lookout Greenway.”Lisa Jennings, Recreation and Trails program manager for the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, said.

“Bernard Mountain is the mountain range just north of Kitsuma and it follows that same descent, to add another experience for folks to hike and bike out of this popular area that's just a mile outside the town limits of Old Fort,” she said.

While classified as intermediate, the trail also features technical sections and advanced alternate lines for mountain bikers. In contrast to the easy-to-intermediate Gateway Trails, Bernard Mountain Trail is narrow single track with many rocky sections and steeper grades.

“There's a lot of natural rock that we were able to pull into the trail to create features for mountain bikes to go up and over or to go down pretty fast and some kind of jumpy features that are really fun and unique,” Jennings said.

Hikers will likely want hike up the trail to the peak, which is about a two mile hike from the bottom up to that big view spot at the peak of Bernard Mountain, Jennings said.

"We're calling this trail intermediate for both mountain bikers and hikers because of that elevation change and those rocky features. It's not a beginner trail," she said. "It’s definitely more that classic Pisgah National Forest experience where you're out deep in the woods, but it's super accessible with trail heads on both ends.”

The trail marks an important milestone in the ongoing 42-mile trail expansion project in the Old Fort area.

“This area has been a focus of trail development for a couple reasons including the terrain...but more importantly because of the community here in Old Fort and their connection to trails as part of the fabric of their town," she said, noting the community's involvement in developing more trails.

Jason McDougal, executive director of the town's Camp Grier and its nonprofit G5 Trail Collective, said the trail development really started about 2018.

“We really recognized that in order for the camp to be successful and for the town to be successful, we needed a new economics sector," he said. "We felt like outdoor recreation could provide that. Old Fort is really surrounded by public lands, but we lack the trail diversity and the trail density to really bring people here."

Through volunteer trail work days, the project grew, he said.

"We went from having 10 people show up to that one year to having 50 people the next year. Now we have over 3000 volunteer hours in on the public lands in Old Fort every year," he said.

The volunteerism that helped launch the trail will also sustain it into the future, McDougal said.

“It’s super exciting just to see this project grow and to see these trails that are going meet the needs of all users from our easy gateway trails that we opened last year to these more advanced trails over here at Bernard Mountain,” Jennings said.

Find out more about the trail here.

Friday’s trail opening celebration: A public celebration will be held following a ribbon-cutting ceremony onFriday afternoon, June 16. The Grandfather Ranger District, in collaboration with the G5 Trail Collective, invites the public to join the festivities at the Old Fort Picnic Area ( 2415 State Road 1400, Old Fort, NC) at the base of the Kitsuma Trail, from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. Complimentary shuttles to the new parking area will be provided throughout the event.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.