Sometimes called “the Yosemite of the East,” Panthertown Valley offers some of the most stunning natural landscapes you’ll find anywhere. This wild, backcountry area off U.S. Highway 64 East is just a few miles from the crossroads. (Photo by Thomas "Badger" Mabry.)

Panthertown community picnic, expo set for June 2

Meet at Salt Rock trailhead 11 a.m. for picnic; expo 2 p.m. at Sapphire Valley ski slope

By Katie Tims / Special to the Chronicle

PANTHERTOWN -- Some call it “Yosemite of the East.” Complete with granite cliffs, spectacular waterfalls, wildly diverse fauna, and trails that stretch for miles, and miles, Panthertown Valley, just a few miles from Cashiers’ crossroads, is a true national treasure to which the public is invited.

On Saturday, June 2, Friends of Panthertown is hosting a picnic at the Salt Rock Gap Overlook in Panthertown Valley from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Panthertown Valley Expo follows at Sapphire Community Center from 2 to 4 p.m. The events, offered on National Trails Day, are sponsored by Bald Rock Property Owners Association, Highland Hiker and Oskar Blues Brewing Company. The picnic and expo are free and everyone is welcome to attend.

 

National Trails Day Picnic

The Salt Rock Gap picnic starts at 11 a.m. June 2. Salt Rock Gap, an overlook with remarkable panoramic views, is a perfect venue for sampling the beauty of Panthertown Valley. Be sure to schedule time for a pre- or post-picnic hike or overnight campout. Several impressive waterfalls and scenic overlooks are within a short hiking distance from the picnic area, and trail maps and additional information are available that day at the Salt Rock Gap trailhead.

 

Panthertown Valley Expo

The Panthertown Valley Expo is set for 2-4 p.m. at Sapphire Community Center.

Panthertown Valley is a popular destination for hiking, bird watching, rock climbing, fishing, horseback riding, photography, mountain biking, waterfall viewing, camping and, of course, enjoying the serenity of true backcountry wilderness. Learn about those recreational offerings – and more – at the expo.

Experts will be on hand at to provide information about the area, offer suggestions, and answer questions. Burt Kornegay, local guide and author of “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown,” will be at the expo with copies of his 20th anniversary edition map available for sale. Enjoy food, soft drinks, and beer from Oskar Blues Brewing Company at the expo, plus there will be door prizes and giveaways, including T-shirts and maps.

The expo will provide a great opportunity to meet and socialize with fellow outdoors enthusiasts, plus you can sign up for any of this summer’s guided hikes into Panthertown Valley. Exhibitors include D.D. Bullwinkel's Outdoors, Brookings' Anglers, Nantahala Area SORBA, Bear Tracks Travel Center, Panthertown Map Association, Jackson County, North Carolina, Recreation and Parks and Jackson County Outdoor Recreation.

 

National Trails Day

National Trails Day is an official event of the American Hiking Society, an organization founded in 1976 whose mission is to be “the national voice for America’s hikers by promoting and protecting foot trails, their surrounding natural areas and the hiking experience.”

The American Hiking Society traces its history back to the National Trails System Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. It established national recreation, scenic and historic trails.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order that led to the formation of the President’s Commission Americans Outdoors. This group issued a report and those recommendations, in combination with the efforts of the American Hiking Society, cleared the path for the first National Trails Day on June 5, 1993. Every year since then, National Trails Day takes place on the second Saturday of June.

“It’s exciting because 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System,” said Jason Kimenker, executive director of Friends of Panthertown. “We are incredibly lucky to have free, year-round access to Panthertown Valley, and it’s important that we work together to keep it pristine.”

Celebrating National Trails Day, Kimenker pointed out, is an ideal way to generate public awareness and appreciation for Panthertown Valley. Covering 6,300 acres, this backcountry recreation area is part of the Nantahala National Forest and it features more than 30 miles of public trails that are among the Southeast’s most scenic.

“It’s up to us to help provide personnel and funding to help the Forest Service with trail maintenance and conservation efforts,” Kimenker said about Friends of Panthertown, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. “We’re glad to be a part of National Trails Day, and we hope everyone has a chance to experience, enjoy, and protect the future of Panthertown Valley.”

For the picnic, bring your own lunch and drinks, along with chairs and/or blankets. To get there, drive to the Salt Rock Gap trailhead parking lot located at the end of Breedlove Road off Cedar Creek Road in Cashiers. Signs will direct hikers to the nearby picnic site, which is located about a five- to 10-minute walk from the parking area. In case of rain, the picnic will be moved to the Sapphire Community Center where the expo takes place.

Sapphire Community Center is at 127 Cherokee Trail at the base of the Sapphire Valley ski slope, a few miles east of the crossroads in Cashiers. Take U.S. Highway 64 to Sapphire and turn right into Sapphire Valley. Follow signs to the event.

For information on these and other upcoming events, email friends@panthertown.org or visit https://www.panthertown.org.

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