Ribbon cutting at trail opening

Strawberry Gap Trail Opening

New Strawberry Gap Hiking Trail

Mike Leonard speaking in front of trailheadThe newest section of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail System opened to the public in September, creating a connection to Blue Ridge Pastures and the Trombatore Trail from a gravel parking lot on Drover’s Road Scenic Byway (US 74) in Gerton. seated guests gathered for trail opening ceremony

This newly opened trail was made possible by partnership between Conserving Carolina, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, and generous conservation-minded landowners.

A small group of guests gathered for the trail dedication and ribbon cutting, honoring the many partners and supporters who have worked for years to bring this trail opening to fruition. The trail is dedicated to the memory of Susie Skinner Clarke Hamilton, who passed away in 2020. 

About the Trail:

This segment of trail stretches a strenuous 3 mile climb from the parking lot at Gerton to the top of Blue Ridge Pastures. Plan for a total of 6 miles if you’re looking to do an out-and-back, or link up with the Trombatore Trail at Blue Ridge Pastures and continue onward for a longer trek. The Strawberry Gap Trail climbs a total 1,200 ft. one way, 1,450 ft. round trip. You’ll want to take a pause about halfway up the trail (at 1.5 miles) to enjoy a scenic vantage point atop Ferguson Peak looking back towards Fairview, Asheville, and distant mountain ranges.

Once you’ve reached the top, revel in the panoramic views from the grassy summit of Blue Ridge Pastures, looking out to the sweeping Hickory Nut Gorge, the grassy top of Little Pisgah Mountain (where SAHC has protected over 400 acres), Bearwallow Mountain (protected by Conserving Carolina), and at distant mountain ranges including the Black and Craggy Mountains.

“Completion of the Strawberry Gap Trail represents an 85% completion of the ‘Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail Loop’ that Conserving Carolina has been implementing via segments since 2010,” says Peter Barr, Trail Specialist with Conserving Carolina. “This budding trail network will one day expand to exceed 100 miles and link to other regional and state trails, including the Wilderness Gateway State Trail. The new Strawberry Gap Trail was sustainably constructed by national award-winning trail builder Shrimper Khare and his crew, and heavily and skillfully supplemented by the Conserving Carolina Rock Crushers Trail Crew.”

Group of hikers on Ferguson Peak overlooking FairviewMajor funding for the land conservation and trail projects was provide by the Recreational Trails Program, North Carolina State Trails Program, David & Daryl Nelms, Fred & Alice Stanback, Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, Community Foundation of Henderson County, Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund, Fernandez Pave the Way Foundation. James G. K. McClure Educational & Development Fund, Dumont Clarke IV & Shirley J. Linn. 

The new Strawberry Gap Trail traverses private property owned by the Clarke, Ager, and Hamilton families, who have generously granted public access on land the land, which is protected by conservation easements held by Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. A short section (0.5 mi.) of trail traverses private SAHC-owned & protected property, Strawberry Gap Preserve.

About the Land:

View of Fairview Valley from Stony Point.

Since 2008, SAHC has completed a series of conservation easements with the Clarke, Ager, and Hamilton families around Hickory Nut Gap and the Fairview valley, totaling over 700 acres. These conservation easements will forever preserve scenic views from the Drovers Road Scenic Byway, Hickory Nut Gap Forest, and the ridge around Blue Ridge Pastures on the Buncombe/Henderson County boundary.

Preserving the land through conservation easements means that the families continue to own and use their land. Landowners who grant conservation easements voluntarily extinguish specific development rights of the property in order to permanently protect conservation values like clean water sources, habitat, and farmland – natural resources which benefit the broader community.

In 2017, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased 170 acres in two adjoining tracts at Strawberry Gap and Stony Point, along the western boundary of Blue Ridge Pastures. SAHC owns and manages the Strawberry Gap Preserve to protect plant and animal habitat and views from public trails and scenic byways.

The SAHC-conserved land around Hickory Nut Gap on the Eastern Continental Divide helps protect miles of stream corridor and a section of Ashworth Creek, part of the Chimney Rock-Hickory Nut Gorge Important Bird Area (as designated by the Audubon Society), forests, and locally recognized high points at Tater Knob and Ferguson Peak, as well as the wide open area atop Blue Ridge Pastures.

Family members gather by marker dedicating trail in honor of Susie Hamilton

The Strawberry Gap Trail was dedicated in honor of Susie Skinner Clarke Hamilton.

“The new Strawberry Gap trail expertly snakes through multiple privately held tracts owned by the Clarke, Hamilton, and Ager families, and once you have done most of the climb, you land at SAHC’s Strawberry Gap Preserve,” says SAHC Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter. “The Strawberry Gap preserve was a long-term priority for the conservation community and we are grateful to all who helped SAHC purchase the land.”

“Big projects don’t happen without the support and work of a lot of folks,” continues Hanni. “We’re thankful to the Stanback family and the McClure Foundation for helping fund the permanent protection of this land, along with grants from the Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byways Program, Buncombe County, Henderson County, the NC Attorney General’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, and significant donations from the families. Many people will enjoy the outdoors and experience conservation because of the fantastic work and partnerships in this network. We’re so excited for the Strawberry Gap Trail!”

group gathered at trail head kioskPlan Ahead to Visit:

The new trailhead features parking spaces for 25 vehicles. Please be cognizant of the protected and fragile nature of the land surrounding the trailhead; if there isn’t parking available when you arrive to visit, try a different trailhead in the network or come back at a later time.

This trail crosses through private property, thanks to the generosity of the landowners. Please respect this private protected land by following all of the trail rules – including that dogs are not allowed. Dogs are welcome on nearby Conserving Carolina trails, including Trombatore, Bearwallow, Wildcat Rock, and Florence Nature Preserve.

The Strawberry Gap trailhead is located in Gerton, NC, on the south side of Highway 74A, opposite the intersection with Little Pisgah Road. There is a fenced gravel parking area and a kiosk at the trailhead. 

For more information, visit conservingcarolina.org/strawberry-gap