Museum leads hike to a 'stolen' mountain

Staff reports

One of the great privileges of participating in the Swannanoa Rim Hike series is visiting places off-limits to the general public. The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center’s hike on Saturday, Oct. 15 is one such example as the group will walk along the Bee Tree Mountains, also known as the Little Craggy Range.

Neither name is marked as such on a map, as this long ridge represents the southern end of the Great Craggy Mountains. While they bump up against the publicly held Blue Ridge Parkway and Mountains-to-Sea Trail, they remain in the hands of private property owners.

High Top Mountain of the Bee Tree Mountains offers colorful fall views during this 2014 museum hike.

With permission from the Ridge Youth Camp in the Laurel Ridge community of Black Mountain, the Swannanoa Valley Museum provides a tour of these mountains from White Oak Flats, just south of Brushy Ridge, to the gap near Eden Rock, above the Granny and Laurel Branches. The Bee Tree Mountains run south from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grovemont and Swannanoa, separating the North Fork drainage from the Bee Tree Creek drainage.

On the east side lies the Asheville Watershed and the Burnette Reservoir, while the west side holds the Bee Tree Reservoir.

Neither area is open to the public, as they hold the drinking water for the city of Asheville.

This is a sore topic for hike leader Van Burnette, whose ancestors once owned large swaths of land on both sides before Asheville began acquiring their properties.

“I'll tell you the story of the evil city of Asheville and their menace to Western North Carolina and the families that inhabited these valleys," Burnette said recently in what might have been mock indignation. "It's a sad story, but I'll tell it and try to hold the tears back."sd

As has been revealed in previous Swannanoa Rim hikes, Burnette's ancestors came to the area 210 years ago. They were among 50 families who were displaced by the acquisition of the Asheville watershed and its reservoir, and the 16 families displaced by the Bee Tree Reservoir.

The city acquired the land in the early 1900s, often through eminent domain. Their families and the public are otherwise forbidden from entering the reservoir area, which together encompass 22,000 acres.

The Bee Tree hike in 2014 attracted a large and happy group of friends and friends-to-be.

Although the Burnette Reservoir was named after his family, there are no other points of interest named after the Burnettes. The Walker side of his family, on the other hand, has waterfalls, a ridge, and other natural features named after them.

So, Burnette took it upon himself to name a 4,900-foot knob along the ridge, "Burnette Knob.”  Over the last six years leading the hike, when the group reaches the so-named summit he reads a proclamation.

“Whereas the evil empire of Asheville began taking the land ... and not dedicating anything to the Burnette family," he reads, taking a few more jabs at his archnemesis.

There are many views of the Burnette Reservoir through trees wearing their colorful autumn leaves. A few wildflowers, such as aster, goldenrod, and bottle gentian, should still be blooming.

Along the way, the group may even spot some American chestnut, a tree once dominant throughout the forests of eastern America before a blight wiped out the trees in the first decades of the 20th Century. Now, saplings sprout from old stumps, reaching 10-15 feet before dying.

There was a time when the Bee Tree Mountains were likely covered in chestnut trees.

“They were so abundant that this time of year, you wouldn't want to walk barefoot because of all the burrs on the ground," Burnette said.

He was referring to the tree's seed, so named for the nut's prickly husk. Burnette knows of a burr-producing chestnut in the area. He sent a burr to the American Chestnut Foundation, which is breeding blight resistant chestnuts. Perhaps some day, chestnut trees will once again be seen on the Swannanoa Rim.

The difficult, 6-mile hike will begin at the youth camp and work its way to the Swannanoa Valley Rim above Laurel Ridge.  After a short detour up the rim to White Oak Flats, the hike will follow the rim southwards over “Burnette Knob” and to a lunch spot on an open helipad. After lunch and a steep, brushy downhill section, the hike will end at the Laurel Ridge water tank.

Reservations are required.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #10

Hike:  High Top of Bee Tree 

When: 8 a.m. Oct. 15

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Difficult, 6 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register:, 669-9566