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The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center invites everyone to join its annual Independence Day Sunset Fireworks Hike on Wednesday, July 4. Participants will watch the fireworks explode over Black Mountain from the peak of Sunset Mountain, just south of downtown. 

The moderate 2.5-mile roundtrip hike winds up the old road bed that travelers once took to the mountain’s peak. Here, hikers can relax with a picnic dinner and an old-fashioned watermelon cutting. Museum historians will regale guests with stories chronicling the mountain’s history while they wait for the sun to set and the town’s fireworks display to begin.

Sunset Mountain looms 700 feet above Black Mountain, the nearest mountain to downtown. Except for power lines that crisscross its face, the mountain’s owners have left the more than 100-acre property undeveloped.

During the early 1900s, the then-owners from Miami renamed the peak Miami Mountain, and the mountaintop became a busy tourist attraction. Hundreds of tourists traveled the narrow, switchback road to get a glimpse of the spectacular mountain scenery from the top of a wooden lookout tower that once stood on the ridgeline. (From the peak, hikers can still enjoy long-range views of the surrounding mountain ranges.)

Until the 1940s, the mountain’s identifying feature from below were the large white-washed rocks across its peak that spelled the word “Miami.” The rocks not only branded the summit, but drew special attention to the famous Peabody Hotel situated nearby. A devastating fire in the 1920s destroyed the hotel. Its ruins and the whitewashed rocks still sit undisturbed at the peak of the mountain.

After World War II broke out, the famous white rocks created quite a stir in Black Mountain. Town folk believed that in the event of an air attack, the highly visible marker would serve as a strategic landmark from the sky and draw unwanted attention. As a result, W.D. Hyatt, the caretaker of the mountain, painted the rocks black and discontinued his annual maintenance trips to Black Mountain’s most memorable landmark. Today, the rocks are buried under more than 60 years of decaying leaves.

To visit Miami Mountain, the museum’s Fourth of July hikers will meet at the Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain at 6 p.m. (bring dinner, water, a folding chair, a flash light, poncho camera and warm clothes, since it can get chilly after dark in July). The museum’s team will transport chairs up the mountain and will provide watermelon.

The cost is $35 for members, $50 for nonmembers and $25 for children under 18. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum. Register in advance (required) by contacting 669-9566 or swannnaoavalleymuseum.org.

 

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