On our summer vacation with family this month, we spent time Southwest of Asheville, NC in an area of the mountains near the Blue Ridge Escarpment.
The Blue Ridge Escarpment is the steep transition area between the mountains and the Piedmont. The severe elevations changes, combined with heavy rainfall in this region, qualify the area as a temperate rain forest featuring numerous waterfalls, river gorges, and rare plant and animal species.
20 plus years ago I was introduced to a specific region around the Horsepasture River by a very good friend while we both were attending school not far away in South Carolina. My friend grew up in this part of North Carolina and knew the best places to go and visit. The waterfalls along the Horsepasture are one of those places.
In college, we visited these waterfalls as frequently as our schedules allowed, especially in the milder months when we could swim or slide down one of the waterfalls. Unfortunately, after graduating from college, I heard that you couldn’t access this area any longer. I was very disappointed to hear that such a wonderful place was not open to the public, and that I wouldn’t be able to share this area with my son and daughter. However, earlier this summer we were excited to find out that North Carolina had created a new State Park in 1999 featuring a trail that provides access to these same waterfalls.
As we planned our vacation, a visit to this new Gorges State Park, was high on the list of priorities. The weather was beautiful during our vacation and so one morning we set out with our swimsuits, snacks, water, and cameras. We arrived at the parks visitor center, newly opened in 2012, purchased a map, secured additional directions from the park staff and promptly set out on a reasonable 1.5 mile hike down to waterfalls. We passed the creek and spot where my friends and I used to camp, hiked past Rainbow Fall, and then onto Turtleback Falls. It was an incredible experience sharing this area with my son and daughter. Now, 14 and 16 years old, they were now old enough to enjoy sliding down Turtleback Falls.
During this incredible adventure in the outdoors, I was also reminded of the responsibility we have as building professionals to the world we have been given and the impact of what we design and build.
When we arrived at the visitor’s center I discovered a thoughtfully designed site and building. I was not surprised to find out that the Gorges State Park 7,100 square foot visitor’s center was designed to national green building standards and includes many sustainable building features.
In 2013 the project was awarded LEED Gold certification. Like the park, the building and associated site development is special and includes elements in the design, such as a waterfall feature, which make it fit well into this special mountain setting. Other site and building features include solar energy systems, geothermal systems, rainwater collection, water saving fixtures, local materials, and beautiful water efficient natural landscaping. The building also has museum-quality exhibits, some which educate visitors on the green features of the building and site, in addition to letting visitors explore the natural and cultural history of the area.
After visiting Gorges State Park I can’t wait to go back! If you are traveling in this region or if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend visiting this area and visiting Gorges State Park, DuPont State Forest and other surrounding natural areas that are breathtakingly beautiful and wonderfully unique.
LEED AP, HCI Preconstruction Team Member