A Hiker’s Dream
Perched at 5,342 feet, a young girl draped in bright yellow athletic wear sits on her father’s shoulders, staring past the great smokey mountains into the sea of green that is known as the rolling hills of Georgia.
Her white teeth gleam in the sun, shaped in a smile as the man she rests on reads the history of Wayah Bald, the Stone Fire Building location they just hiked to. A bird screeches in the distance, and the smell of rain is fresh but distant, a warning that mother nature makes plans to disturb the current blue skies.
Bellow them, a middle-aged man named Ian rests in a lawn chair. He watches the clouds roll in and out of the blue that paints North Carolinas summer skies. His dog, more wolf-looking than domestic, pants contently next to him as if the only thing they have to do that day is watching the clouds. There are multiple Zephyrhills bottles scattered on the ground around them, hinting at the time he has spent observing.
In the distance, a group of four women in their late 60’s argue about a brown bear. The one in the front of the diamond formation pack starts to sway her man-made hiking stick as if it was a sword. “if there’s a baby,” the leader dressed in all pink tees warns, “there’s a mama.”
Despite age and dexterity, the young girl with her father, the man, and his dog, and the ladies with hiking sticks are not that different. They had a single goal, hike in Franklin, North Carolina.
Between the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Great Smokie’s foothills lays a town that homes 3,940 bodies. Known as the Gem Capital of the world, Franklin, North Carolina breaths the essence of small-town America. With a 30 shop downtown square, one movie theater, and three grocery stores, the average person can drive through the town in less than the time it takes to sing Sweet Caroline.
But what these truck drivers and unassuming travelers fail to realize is by the population nearly doubles every Spring due to the opening of the hiking season.
Tim Hauling, a Franklin native clams during Spring to Summer; there are more hikers than locals as they flock to Nantahala National Forest, a 500,000-acre green trail that Franklin rests in the middle of. “The locals hate it, but the town needs the tourism to survive,” states Hauling.
Hauling is referring to businesses like the Lazy Hiker Brewery that line Franklins Downtown sidewalks. These businesses cater to the seasonal tourist, providing hiking gear, refreshments, and small-town banter.
Tommy Jenkins, Ken Murphy, and Lenny Jordan built The Lazy Hiker in 2015 to provide to Franklin’s hiking community. Less than two miles off the trials, taps of beers named “dad jokes” and “Espresso Rock” line the Brewery’s walls.
On the outside patio, sounds of low laughter, dogs barking, and glasses smashing together can be heard as the hikers celebrate their latest distance. Pairs of red clay-crusted boots rest on benches as their owners’ sips “Twenty Mile,” an India Pale Ale. Between April and September, lights inside the bar shine bright, welcoming exhausted hiker’s home.
Across the Lazy Hiker rests Outdoor 76, one of the five hiking supply stores in the town. Inside, shiny hiking boots, thick socks, and Patagonia sweatshirts layout to support every hiker type. In the very back of the store, voices rise as customers are met with a hidden hideaway, filled to the brim with beer.
Owner Rob Gasbarro, says “with adventure comes celebration,” “we try to honor that here at Outdoor 76.”
The adventure he speaks about is the most significant selling point of Franklin, the 600 miles of hiking trails that flow around the town, connecting the holy grail of hiking, the Appalachian Trail.
While there are tens of trails to follow throughout the olive-green trees and brunt red clay paths, Franklin primarily promotes nine main trials.
The first being Little Tennessee Greenway, a 6.4-mile trail that has entryways throughout the downtown area. Each entrance welcomes biking and pets. It ends at Wesley Park With a playground. Laughter can be heard echoing through the oaks, challenging the bear tracks that mark the paths.
Next is Pickens Nose, a historical trail that leads a 1.4-mile uphill hike. People of ages travel the path, usually dressed casually in old tennis shoes and jean shorts. Rufus Morgan Trail is another popular one-mile trail in the area. It highly promotes bird watching as the occasional bald eagle will swoop down to snatch some trout in a lake nearby.
Outside of that, Bartram trail, a 4.1-mile hike, leads to the refreshing sounds of waterfalls. Rock and Deep gap are two other trials for people who want to be deep into the forest, sounded by the thick of greenery. Lastly, Winding Stairs Gap, a 9.4-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, and the Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap, a 13.8-mile trail, provide an uphill battle lined with tents along the path’s edges.
Franklin began to be known for their trials when it was known as Nikwasi or “center of activity” and was an ancient Indian mound where the Cherokee lived. (Franklin, NC Discover Us) In 1820 Jesse Franklin, the state commissioner, surveyed and organized the town, giving it a spot in Macon County 1820. (Franklin, NC Discover Us)
Today, Franklin’s downtown is still growing. An hour away from Asheville and two from Atlanta, tourists often come to take a few steps away from reality. Or, in hiker’s terms, a couple of miles in the vastness of the trees. In warm months people of all ages can be found scattered in the town, breathing in unpolluted air.
Hauling states with all the trees and trails, “you can just breathe easy here.”