Today, Blair president Carolyn Sakowski muses on two of her passions: books and the great outdoors. This past weekend, she hiked with Jay Erskine Leutze, author of Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail.
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It’s not easy to get to the grassy balds located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, but those who hike to the top are always stunned that such beautiful spots exist outside Switzerland or Scotland. With backdrops straight out of a scene from the Sound of Music, it’s difficult not to break into a Julie Andrews twirl.
But the highlands of the Roan and the views they offer are often under threat from encroaching developers. Although various public entities now control most of the balds themselves, constant vigilance is necessary to protect the breathtaking views seen from the Appalachian Trail as it crosses these mountains. Those of us who love this section of the Appalachians owe a huge debt to Jay Erskine Leutze, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Southern Environmental Law Center for their roles in preventing the largest surface mine in the South from getting a 99-year lease that would have destroyed the view corridor along the Appalachian Trail for miles.
Jay spearheaded a group that worked on what would come to be known as the Putnam mine case for almost five years, essentially as a volunteer. They struggled to shut down a mining operation near his home in the mountains of western North Carolina. Jay and his grass-roots coalition would eventually take the case to the state’s highest courts and prevent the destruction of a treasured portion of unspoiled land near the Appalachian Trail. He then wrote a book—Stand Up That Mountain—about his crusade.
Like any good narrative nonfiction, Stand Up That Mountain tells a great story—complete with native mountain folks who capture your heart with their grit, determination, intelligence, and wit. This video shows you some of the incredible views and what the early stages of the mine devastation looked like from the trail.
On June 23, I got to join a small group of SAHC members on a hike up to The Hump, one of the most prominent points in the area. We were fortunate to have Jay as our leader, and we were able to see firsthand what Jay and his group saved for the rest of us. If you see that Jay is coming to a signing near you, please go and at least shake his hand. Better still, get yourself a darn good read that will leave you inspired.
To read more about the history of the balds and how you can hike to see them for yourself, check out this driving tour of Roan Highlands. You might also check out the SAHC blog to read about the annual “herding of the goats” that groom the grasses on the balds.