Located in McDowell County, the Town of Old Fort is known for it’s beautiful outdoor settings, great camping, and vast expanses leading to the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, this little mountain town is stepping up its outdoor game in 2024 with new trails, new ultra races, and breaking ground for new places to enjoy the great outdoors.
Along with a grant from the North Carolina State Recreation and Trails Program, the Town of Old Fort, McDowell County Tourism Development Authority, Camp Grier and community partners came together this October to break ground on the Lower Heartbreak Ridge Trail. This trail is part of the 42-mile trail expansion planned in the Old Fort area that was recently recognized with $2.5 million in funding by the state of North Carolina. The new trails are the product of the U.S. Forest Service collaboration with Camp Grier’s G5 Trail Collective and the Catawba Vale Collaborative, which is revitalizing Old Fort through community development.
“This is the critical link that started the dream of new trails in Old Fort, and it is the one trail that literally connects the town limits to the Pisgah National Forest for hiking, biking, running, and backpacking,” says Jason McDougald, executive director of Camp Grier. Jason also stated, “Our partners have laid the foundation for Old Fort to be a model for equitable rural development centered on outdoor recreation. This investment will pay dividends for generations and make our community healthier, more connected, and more economically vibrant for all residents.”
The goal of Old Fort is to be an outdoor hub that will draw all sorts of other recreation fans: hikers, trail runners, equestrians, nature lovers, and above all, the people of Old Fort. Both McDougald and Grandfather Ranger District trail manager Lisa Jennings feel it’s essential to draw in non-traditional forest users to the community. According to Jennings, traditional interests and user groups – such as hikers, conservation organizations, or anglers to name a few – typically have a seat at the table to develop Forest Service projects in Western North Carolina.
“What we haven’t done before is ask the community-at-large to be involved,” she said. Inviting core members of the community, including black-led organizations like People On the Move Old Fort has allowed Old Fort to approach adventure tourism from a well-rounded perspective. The Town of Old Fort will lead the region in accessible trails, convenient trailhead parking areas, and environmentally sustainable trail systems.
Local businesses are working together to support adventure and recreation in Old Fort as well. Jeremy Poore, owner of Mountain Top Shuttles, offers MTB Shuttle Services for some of the town’s most popular mountain biking trails. “We built our business as a generator for all the local businesses in town. Riders meet at our new coffee shop, Seeker Coffee and return to town thirsty and hungry for a sit down at one of our town’s breweries or eateries. The shuttle makes our steep trails more accessible while encouraging visitors to spend more time getting to know the town of Old Fort,” Poore said in a recent interview.
In addition to breaking new ground on trails, local organizations Camp Grier and Tanawha Adventures are focusing efforts on two regional races that might just be the next best Ultra Races in the region. The Mount Mitchell Heartbreaker 50M/55K and Hellbender 100 offer the most scenic miles of trail-running experience on the East Coast. Registration for the Mount Mitchell Heartbreaker 50M/55K just opened up on Ultra SignUp. You do not want to miss either of these “hellaciously fun” and “heartbreaking” races through the heart of Southern Appalachia. Visit https://www.tanawhaadventures.com/ for more information and to get updates on both races.