Spring break is upon us, and the semester is slowly coming to an end. There are many ways to celebrate your time away from the stress of higher education, but we all need to keep one thing in mind- COVID-19 is not over yet, and we need to celebrate our break safely. While you spend your free time watching movies, playing videogames, and doing other indoor activities- do not forget that there are plenty of COVID-19 safe outdoor right in Western Carolina University’s backyard. The following is a list of fun outdoor activities to keep in mind when looking for something to do.
Judaculla Rock: For those seeking a mysterious tale, I recommend this attraction that is a mystery to all. The Judaculla Rock is the closest of all attractions on the list as this marvel is quite literally in WCU’s backyard. The Judaculla Rock is a soapstone boulder covered in drawings that some archaeologists believe to be up to 3,000 years old! The site is considered to be ancient and has been studied by individuals across the world. I recommend this site to all history buffs, for the site itself is a historical mystery explained by Cherokee tales as a story of a giant who created the markings. According to Cherokee myths, Judaculla is a giant who roamed the mountains many years ago- they believed that the rock marked Judaculla’s territory. The mysteries don’t stop with the stone itself- the area is a known paranormal hotspot, including stories of visitors hearing ghostly voices, spotting a strange illumination around the stone, and some even report UFO sightings in the clearing above. Sadly, the rock is eroding from weather and visitors’ traffic, so if this is an adventure you plan on taking- pack your bag now!
The Lost Society of Hazel Creek: To add another strange attraction to the list, here lies the desert Mill town that was once known at Proctor. The area is located along Hazel creek in the southern boundary of The Great Smoky Mountains National park- marked by Fontana Lake. If you know the story of The Road to Nowhere, you are most likely familiar with Fontana Lake’s creation and how it damaged surrounding communities. As you hike to get to The Ritter Lumber Mills, read the historical signs and take plenty of pictures- the remaining ruins may one day fall.
Plane Crash at Waterrock Knob: A trail that is beloved by WCU students and many more, this hike is of moderate difficulty and has intriguing views of the plane wreckage. A Cessna 414A crashed in 1983 due to a multitude of errors and took both lives aboard it. While this hike is well known, it is still a mysterious sight to see the remnants of a tragic history, and the timid Spring weather is the perfect time to master this hike.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest: The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is home to more than 100 tree species- many of which are older than 400 years old. For this trip, I recommend multiple extra-long Eno straps to fit around the base of these trees, some of which have a circumference of 20+ feet. The forest was created in remembrance of Joyce Kilmer, who fought in World War II and was tragically killed in France. Kilmer is the author of the poem “Trees,” which brought forth the idea for preserving the long-standing trees located in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Explore the land and pay respects to Kilmer while taking in the beauty of primitive nature with this 2-mile trail.
Remember, Catamounts, we must work together to keep our community safe. With this being said, let us ban together and lessen the spread of COVID-19 by following state-mandated mask regulations along with staying 6 feet apart and sanitizing when possible. While you walk these trails and learn the mysterious and fascinating history, remember that these stories are what makes up Western North Carolina- respect our community and stay safe!