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Hush, Y’all: Should Locals Keep Trail Secrets?

Last month, the city of Asheville once again landed on the cover of Outside as one of the best places to live. You’d think it would give Asheville residents something to celebrate, yet many local outdoor enthusiasts were dismayed by the accolades. As national press surrounding this outdoor mecca grows, so do the population and number of visitors. The area’s trails, which were once the private playground of locals in the know, are now splayed out in national magazines of all kinds.

As a result, some Asheville outdoor enthusiasts are choosing to keep their lips sealed in regards to their favorite outdoor retreats. Ask them where they like to ride, and they’re likely to point you toward the nearest paved greenway instead of their favorite singletrack.

Asheville presents an interesting case study for other destination towns in the Southeast. At the heart of the matter is an interesting ethical dilemma: is it better to keep your favorite trails, crags, and rivers a secret, or is it smarter in the long run to let the world know?

BRO asked several established members of Asheville’s outdoor community to weigh in on the topic. Here’s what they had to say about keeping their favorite outdoor hot spots a secret.

Asheville mountain biker Jeff Keener, who recently described his ideal weekend in the Outside magazine feature:

“I was worried about telling Outside about where I like to hike and bike. There’s a cross-country spot I like to go to outside of town that would have seen an increase of traffic if I would have told them about it.

I think it’s okay to keep a trail secret. People who love the outdoors are always looking for that unique experience to keep all to themselves or to share only with their closest friends. We go outdoors to have unique outdoor experiences. They define us. My favorite outdoor spots are a part of me.”

Asheville native Jay Curwen, an elite adventure racer and owner of Black Dome Mountain Sports:

“I grew up here, and there are tons of fun, cool places that I’d love to keep all to myself, but the reality is, Asheville is a popular place. We get 20 to 40 people everyday in the store asking about great places to hike or see a waterfall or bike. Do I send everybody to Panthertown or Sam’s Knob? No. We end up sending these folks to the same places—Bent Creek, Shining Rock, Mount Mitchell. The good thing is, these places are still awesome, even though they’re no longer secrets.

I love this place, and I’d love it if I never saw anyone else at my favorite trails, but I’m a business owner and I sell gear. It’s a catch-22. We’re victims of our own popularity. It would be great if the tourists came to Asheville, left their credit cards, and went home. The reality is, there are gonna be people on the trails and people moving to town. As long as residents do their job regulating development and access, it will work out. We still got it pretty good. It’s still wide open. You go to a trailhead north of San Francisco, and you’ll see hundreds of cars parked there.”

Asheville mountain biker and bike journalist Bettina Freese:

“Trails are public. They can be found on maps, in guidebooks, in forums, on websites, in bars with drunken braggarts, at bike shops, or at special parties for special people. It is foolish, selfish, elitist, and arrogant to believe that public land should only be shared with people in the “in-crowd.” If someone asks me where to ride, I consider their ability, their experience on the bike, their experience in the woods, and their respect of the sport before I provide advice. I take all of those factors into consideration, educate them to what they’re getting themselves into, and then I share with them a ride that I think will suit their desires. That may be at Bent Creek, or it might be on the Heartbre…shhhhhh!!! Wouldn’t want to get hung twice for the same crime.”

Asheville native Lela Stephens, an avid mountain biker and a former bike shop manager:

“I’m all for keeping secrets until I get to know someone. I grew up mountain biking in Asheville, and Heartbreak Ridge was a right of passage. Nobody would tell me how to get to that ride until I proved myself over and over. It’s offensive to think a bunch of out-of-towners can shuttle that trail and ride it with no respect for what it means to locals because a cue sheet for that ride was published in a national magazine. Honestly, I think it sucks that all the people are moving to town and visiting. I don’t like my favorite swimming holes, that my grandfather showed me, filled with beer cans. National attention comes with its headaches. I remember what it was like before, and I liked it better.”

Asheville climber Chris Dorrity, author of the Rumbling Bald Bouldering Guide:

“I think that the main reason that people keep their places secret is so that the places don’t get trashed by newcomers. Other reasons may be selfishness and they want to keep the place all to themselves until they climb all the new routes, explore all the new caves, paddle all the new creeks….I have kept several places secret, until I did the first ascent on all the best problems or put up all the best routes at a crag. Then I would start telling people about it. Since I have been climbing for 14 years now, I have seen all sorts of opinions on people’s favorite spots. Some have been neutral, others have been friendly, and some have been unfriendly. I tell you the truth: The people that were the friendliest to me got the most respect and reverence from me in return. I looked up to these people the most and helped them with their ideas. In any pursuit, we must show kindness—whether it is outdoors, urban, social, or in any situation. Asheville is the most unique and awesome city in the U.S. People are drawn to it for many reasons. People are moving to Asheville, like it or not. The best way to get respect from them is to show it to them from the very start. If we give the cold shoulder and are tight lipped about our outdoor places, then the newcomers will not know how to respect the environment and others. We must build bridges, not walls.” •

—Graham Averill

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