Just minutes from downtown Sylva, Pinnacle Park offers Jackson County residents a peaceful getaway from the stresses of daily life. The park offers both relaxing and strenuous hikes as well as a certified forest therapy trail within the thousand-acre preserve.
Pinnacle Bald, the aptly named rock face at the peak of the trail gives hikers a stunning view of the hills and valleys below. Visible from the peak are parts of Sylva, Webster, and the greater Tuckasegee watershed.
“At night you can see the overhead glow from the lights of Asheville, Greenville, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Knoxville,” said Jay Coward, park founder.
To reach Pinnacle Park, take Skyland drive until you meet Fisher Creek road. From there, follow Fisher Creek until it ends at the park.
Once there, Pinnacle Bald can be found by following signs for West Fork Trail. A half mile in, the trail passes Spilt Rock, a popular spot for rock climbers. The bald is located 3.4 miles from the trail head, on a route almost entirely uphill. Hikers should bring plenty of water and snacks. Shoes with good traction are also advised as the trail is steep and slippery in some areas. Campsites along the trail are available upon request.
After reaching the summit, hikers can complete a loop by following the Pinnacle Trail back down to the fork then heading down the East Fork Trail towards Black Balsam Knob. When the trail forks again, hikers should follow signs pointing to the Fisher Creek parking lot. The narrow East Fork Trail provides more opportunity for traversing downed trees and rock scrambling. For a complete round trip, the hike is over seven miles.
For those looking to enjoy a less strenuous and more accessible outdoor experience, Pinnacle Park has a half mile loop trail. The short hike is a Certified Forest Therapy Trail. Hikers are invited to take in all the sounds, sights and smells as they guide themselves through the Japanese Practice of Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing.”
Pinnacle Park is publicly owned by the town of Sylva and managed by the Pinnacle Park Foundation. Both work tirelessly to keep the park in pristine condition.
Sylva Mayor Dave Nestler says the abundance of wildlife within the park makes it truly special. “Pinnacle Park has been protected for a long time, and it is home to a lot of rare plants, [and] endangered animals; It has fruiting American Chestnut trees, which, for all intents and purposes, have been extinct for going-on a hundred years. It’s incredibly unique ecologically.”
The park has been an integral part of the local community for over a century. In the early 1900s, the area was used to draw drinking water for the town of Sylva. Nestler said the town had outgrown the watershed by the 1990s, and intake was subsequently moved to the Cullowhee dam on the Tuckasegee river.
The Pinnacle Park Foundation was licensed to build trails in 1991 and has since overseen the area. Jay Coward, foundation chairman, says building the trail system was a daunting task.
“The work in the 1990s was particularly difficult for two reasons. The roads and trails in the area below 4800 feet in elevation had seen no maintenance whatsoever for years. Neither had the areas above; But there the difficulty was compounded by the trunks of thousands of Frazier Fir trees which had been killed by the woolly adelgid insect the late 1970s… The mix of dead timber and 25-foot saplings in the late 1990s made it truly a jungle,” Coward said in a 2016 editorial.
Nestler, also a Pinnacle Park Foundation member, says preserving the park for future use is at the forefront of the issues in the foundation.
“There’s a lot of maintenance and upkeep that goes into Pinnacle Park– It’s more than the town of Sylva can handle. The Pinnacle Park Foundation helps advocate for the park. We advocate for maintenance, things like invasive plant removal…The trail maintenance could be better, we just lack the funds and the people to do it. It’s very well cared for by the community with the resources that we do have,” Nestler said.
After a recent trip to the peak, The Western Carolinian observed well maintained trails, a complete lack of litter or trash, and countless friendly hikers.
“I would highly recommend [the hike] to Western students,” said Andrew Bogan, WCU student and avid outdoorsman. “The view of the valley from the pinnacle is breathtaking.”
The Pinnacle Park Foundation and the town of Sylva are actively searching for input concerning the future of the park.
“Right now we’re in contract with Equinox out of Asheville to develop a master plan. We’re asking the community what it is they want to see the future of this park become,” Nestler said.
If you have thoughts or ideas about the future of the park, send an email to email@example.com.