Strawberry Gap Trail: A Tradition of Welcome
It has long been a rite of passage for the children, grandchildren, and then the great-grandchildren, of Elspie and Jamie Clarke, to hike on their own from the family home to the rocky outcrop of Ferguson Peak, with its dramatic views over the Fairview valley. It’s a steep and demanding route that the young people can take pride in completing. And it strengthens their sense that this mountain is home.
Many friends and neighbors have also found a sense of home here. Mike Leonard recalls how when he was coping with divorce, Jamie—the father of his good friend from their law school days together, Dumont Clarke—would invite him out frequently and hike with him to the rocky peak. “The weather didn’t have to be particularly good for him to want to hike it,” Mike remembers.
Many friends recall how the family home since 1916—the historic Sherill’s Inn—was always open to them, with or without notice, regardless of who was at home.
Now, this tradition of hospitality extends to you.
In September, the beautiful Strawberry Gap Trail opened to the public, crossing land that is owned by the extended family of Clarkes, Hamiltons, and Agers.
At the trail opening, Dumont Clarke said, on behalf of the family, “We are pleased and we are excited that this trail will provide members of the public with recreational hiking access across the beautiful, forested mountain land that has long been a cherished part of our family’s heritage. And we are grateful for the resources and the efforts of so many organizations that have made the Strawberry Gap Trail a reality.”
This trail resulted from a unique partnership between Conserving Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC). Since 2008, SAHC has worked with the family to protect more than 700 acres of private land with conservation easements. SAHC also owns the 170-acre Strawberry Gap Preserve, which the new trail crosses.
It was family friend Mike Leonard who first suggested a public access trail to the family—extending to others his own experiences hiking up to Ferguson Peak. While most conservation easements do not allow public access, the family wanted to offer a hiking trail, and included trail access in their conservation project. Conserving Carolina then built the Strawberry Gap Trail, which connects to our growing network of hiking trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge.
The three-mile trail begins at a parking area off Hwy. 74A in Gerton and ascends through a beautiful, boulder-strewn forest to the rocky viewpoint on Ferguson Peak. From there, it continues to climb until it reaches Blue Ridge Pastures, where the open meadow offers dramatic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge as it plunges toward Lake Lure.
At Blue Ridge Pastures, the Strawberry Gap Trail connects to Trombatore Trail, and it goes on from there. The Trombatore Trail connects to the Bearwallow Mountain Trail, which connects to Wildcat Rock Trail, which connects to the trail network in the Florence Nature Preserve. That brings us to more than 16 miles of connected trails, making up 85% of a potential loop trail encircling the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge! These trails move us closer to the vision for the 100+ mile Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail, which Conserving Carolina is spearheading.
With so many connected trails, you have the option to hike Strawberry Gap as a six-mile out-and-back, set up a shuttle connecting two or more trails, or create your own adventure.
The sustainably built trail was designed and built by an award-winning duo—Conserving Carolina’s trail specialist, Peter Barr, and local trail builder Shrimper Khare. Over 2,000 volunteer hours were contributed by Conserving Carolina’s expert trail crew, the Rock Crushers.
At the opening ceremony, Shrimper reflected on how trails spur greater interest in protecting land. The trails connect people to the landscape and to the natural world, encouraging further investment in land conservation along their route.
At the ceremony, many thanks were offered to the numerous partners who made the Strawberry Gap Trail possible.
Shrimper added, “The thing I want to say thanks for the most is for all the believers—the believers in the viewshed, the believers in the concept of conserving land, but most importantly the believers that trails don’t need land, the land needs the trail. It’s really important to me that when you walk it, you connect back to the land.”
Thank You to Our Funders!
Funding for the Strawberry Gap Trail was provided by:
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
Conserving Carolina members