Do you need permission to hike in Montreat? Who owns the trails?
Question: Is it true that you need permission to hike in Montreat? Who owns the wilderness and hiking trails there, like Graybeard? Is that part of the national forest or the town of Montreat?
Answer: As it turns out, the wilderness and hiking trails like Graybeard the reader is asking about are owned by neither a national forest nor the town of Montreat.
Instead, the land is privately owned by the Mountain Retreat Association, according to Tanner Pickett, the organization's vice president for sales, marketing and communication.
The MRA opened in 1905 and is an institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church that offers various religious conferences and retreats. It wasn't until 1967 that the town of Montreat was officially formed as a municipality. Until then, the MRA funded things like roads, water, sewer and police.
Today, the MRA still owns land in Montreat, including much of the hiking trails in the town.
Pickett said there are 21 trails owned by the MRA, totaling more than 25 miles.
As for needing permission to hike, it's a little more complicated than a yes or no answer.
"Technically, the Montreat wilderness area is available to guests and conferees," Pickett said. "That's what it was originally made for. Over time, people in the local area started hiking there, and we welcome that."
Pickett said "technically" a permit is not required if you are hiking by yourself or with a small group. However, if the group is larger than 10 hikers, the group should get permission from the MRA before heading out.
He said permission can be granted by emailing email@example.com.
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While Pickett did not have the exact number of visitors who come through for the hiking trails each year, he said that the numbers went up during the pandemic and have not gone down since.
"While we're grateful that people want to come here, and we think they can experience spirituality in their own way out there and we're excited about that, it is a much greater volume than I think was originally intended for the trail system," Pickett said.
He said the increase comes from bloggers and other sites listing trails like Graybeard as favorite hikes and bringing more and more people into the area.
Pickett said it is important for the those hiking to know that they are on private land, and rules need to be followed, including keeping dogs on leashes.
He said the MRA does not receive any outside funding to maintain the trails and rely on their own funding and donations to upkeep the trails. Pickett said while permits are not required for single hikers or small groups of hikers, donations are always welcome.
Pickett said the increase in hikers causes more wear and tear on the land and hikers should be mindful of this. He called the impact "significant."
"These are primarily for our guests and conferees who are here seeking God in some kind of way," Pickett said. "We need people to remember that."
Karrigan Monk is the communities reporter for Black Mountain News.