Story by Karen Chavez, Asheville Citizen-Times.
Oh, Chimney Rock State Park. It’s like the little park that could.
This beautiful state park, just about a half-hour southeast of Asheville, has been through a rough year and now is getting set to close down completely for a couple of months.
Chimney Rock Road washout
Torrential rains in early May caused a giant crack – kind of like the Blue Ridge Parkway crack, but on a smaller scale – about a quarter mile from the entrance, said Matt Popowski, public relations manager for Chimney Rock Management.
The park has been operating with flaggers guiding traffic on one lane since the slide occurred. The N.C. Department of Transportation will oversee a permanent road repair project, which will close the park completely starting as early as this week.
“The project includes rebuilding the damaged section of the entrance road and constructing a new retaining wall,” Popowski said. “The closure will be about a month, since work might need to stop during times of snow. Rumbling Bald Climbing Access will still be open and visitors can still climb at Rumbling Bald with Fox Mountain Guides.”
Park Superintendent James Ledgerwood said the project was delayed for eight months to take advantage of the time of year with lowest visitation, to cause the least impact. The park receives on average more than 200,000 visitors a year.
In April, the park was closed for more than a week while the DOT worked to remove a giant boulder that was identified as a safety hazard hanging over the main road, halfway between the Meadows and the top parking lot.
All spring, of course, the park was pelted along with the rest of us by those monsoon-like rains. In early May the slide occurred near the entrance, closing the park for a day.
At the end of July, the elevator to the Chimney, which allows visitors to bypass the steep, 500-step Outcroppings Trail, was closed to visitors for electrical repair. The elevator reopened in mid-October, but was closed again in mid-November for part replacement, Popowski said. It will not open before the end of February.
Hickory Nut Falls, one of the most popular attractions in the rugged, rocky park has been closed to visitors since November 2012, after a storm-induced rockslide. Popowski said the remaining bridge structure needs to be removed from the trail, and trail rebuilding will begin. It should reopen sometime this year, he said.
But for all its trials and tribulations, the park still attracted its share of visitors – about 200,000 – and many accolades.
This summer, Blue Ridge Country magazine’s Best of the Southeast Mountains reader poll voted Chimney Rock State Park four platinum awards and three gold awards, including “Favorite State Park” and “Best Beautiful Fall Foliage Spot;” USA Today Travel ranked the park in the 10 Best “High Places in the World;” and Buzzfeed ranked the park’s rappelling Santa as one of the “8 Most Extreme Santas In The World.”
Popowski suggests visitors take advantage of the lowered entrance fee implemented because of the various closures. Usually $15 per adult, park admission will be $10 until the park closes for the road repairs. Today, admission was $5 because the Outcroppings Trail to the Chimney was closed for icy conditions.