The 10,473-acre forest in Cedar Mountain formerly owned by DuPont has 82 miles of trails and roads for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding; also four major waterfalls on Little River, five lakes, a delayed harvest trout fishery and three pre-Cherokee sites of stone etchings.
The falls tour May 2-3 went to majestic Triple Falls, sprawling High Falls, unique Bridal Veil Falls, then scenic Lake Julia.
Tour Coordinator Lyle Burgmann said attendance exceeded the typical 600, and is nearly double that in fall tours.
The next tour is Sept. 26-27, again with a suggested donation of $12 per adult and $6 per child ages 6-17. This money is raised by non-profit Friends of DuPont Forest which handles the tours, and used for trail and other improvements.
Last summer, the major addition boosting safety was a pedestrian crosswalk to elude DuPont Road and link the Hooker Falls parking lots with the path to Triple Falls. Also, a loop road was put in at the main lot near High Falls to circulate traffic one way along Buck Forest Road. The “Friends” donated $6,000 for that project, tour guide Stephanie Morrow noted. Two summers ago, the Aleen Steinberg Visitor’s Center opened in the main lot.
The most noticeable and useful improvement in the last decade was the stairway down to the middle of three Triple Falls cascading sections, leading onto rock for close views. There are 112 steps, with nine platforms. They were installed in April of 2006. They replaced three stairs with far fewer and more narrow timbers “washed out” from erosion, David Brown told The Tribune. He was the forest’s first supervisor, in 2002-13.
The new stairs are much safer. Also, steps were put in at the base of High Falls. These make pathways “more attractive,” and thus used more, Brown said.
Triple Falls has three distinctive cascades, with a total drop of about 120 feet. In the first Hunger Games film, Katniss finds a wounded Peeta hiding among rocks there.
The tallest single falls in the forest is High Falls, with a drop of 120 feet down solid granite. The picnic shelter is at the old Buck Forest Hunt Club lodge. There are rest rooms.
Bridal Veil Falls was the highlight for many, several said. It is a mile upstream from High Falls. This spot like Triple Falls was in scenes of The Hunger Game, and Last of the Mohicans. Katnis splashes down Bridal Veil Falls into a pool, after fleeing a firestorm. Peeta crawls out of the creek, by the falls base. In Mohicans, the star couple hides in the cave from captors.
Carefully walking to the left of a gentle initially-viewed cascade on large rock leads one to the falls barely visible beyond. Rock is slick in a stretch near the falls; it helps to gently grasp branches to steady oneself.
A unique treat is getting behind the main falls, by stooping and crouching in a wide cave. Overhead, water spurts eight feet off of an overhanging ledge then glides along a granite plane. There are further slick spots, to carefully navigate or avoid if water flow is up. Guides said recent rain has kept flow average.
The path is about 2.5 miles from High Falls to Bridal Veil Falls. The tour shuttles visitors on buses, and takes at least two hours. Non-forest motorized vehicles are not allowed on the multi-use paths. Walkers are urged to bring water, to hydrate.
The final tour stop was at Lake Julia’s lodge, where sweets made by volunteers were served. The lodge was a youth camp infirmary. Wildflowers such as trillium are along the short path down to the lake. Julia at 99 acres is the forest’s largest lake. Its other four lakes are Dense, Fawn, Imaging and Alford.
Though not on the tour, a prime attraction is Hooker Falls. It is wide and ferocious like Niagara Falls, dropping 12 feet into Cascade Lake which is popular for swimming. No lifeguards are on duty in the forest. This falls has the most level path.
When driving from Henderson County, turn left from Crab Creek Road onto DuPont/Staton Road. Hooker Falls’ lot is on the right, a mile before the main lot on the left.
Since it is a forest and not a park, there is limited hunting available during seasons via three-day permits.
Safety precautions include using shoes with good traction when wet, and not overloading with gear which can throw off balance. Slightly damp rock may still be slick, tour guides noted. Streambeds often have slick algae growing on rocks.
It is prohibited to swim or wade within 2300 feet above a waterfalls or in a falls’ pool, or go to the ledges. Bans include climbing up rocks, picking flowers and carrying alcohol. Dogs must be leashed.
The forest saved money for several projects using labor of the National Guard and Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton.
The forest was on land used mostly by DuPont, starting in 1959 with transistor parts then in 1964-2002 to make medical and industrial imaging paper. Tour guides Chuck Ramsey, worked there in 1971-2002 with film-slicing knives.
Volunteer perks include naturalist-led hikes, and canoeing on Lake Julia. The annual “friend” fee starts at $25. For more about the forest and Friends of DuPont Forest, check www.dupontforest.com.