I drive the back way from Fork Mountain to SmallTown, NC where the Forest Service Headquarters are located for our mountain counties. It’s a thirty minute drive up and over the hills, paralleling the river for long stretches, then dropping down into town a few thousand feet lower in elevation.
“You’ll see here ma’am that this topographical map of Tinyville and the surrounding mountains hasn’t been updated since 1960. But you’re fine with that. Some of the districts haven’t even been surveyed since the 1930’s.” The park service officer is tall and friendly, well-trimmed silver hair peaking out from his cap.
“Thank you, sir.” I say, taking the map for Carver’s Gap/Roan Mountain and the neighboring map of Tinyville and Fork Mountain into a conference room where I can spread them out on the table for a closer look.
It doesn’t take long for me to see that Grover was right. There is no Fork Mountain peak proper. Fork Mountain refers to the arm that extends off the peak of Roan and reaches down into the community of Fork Mountain. And indeed it does form a fork through two bodies of water, hence the name. I can see also that, as the crow flies, my new home is less than one mile to the summit of Roan and the Tennessee state line at 6,262 feet.
“Do you have any questions in there?” the ranger asks.
“Actually, yeah. See, this road here that I’m on ends at this spot according to the map,” I say, pointing to the end of the dashed line that indicates a gravel road. “But I’ve hiked up here and there’s an old logging road that’s not on the map, see, right here.” I point to the cut off for my driveway (which isn’t on the map either), then draw my finger in a line straight up the mountain. “This is the road my dad got my car stuck on. There’s an old shack up there, and further on past that is a gate marked for deer preserve. What’s that all about?”
The ranger gets another man from the front office and we study the map together, shoulders hunched over the table in the conference room, fluorescent lights buzzing high above us. The second man explains that if I go across the parking lot and speak to So-And-So, I’ll get a straight answer about the deer preserve. To his knowledge, it’s a state sanctioned designation that qualifying neighbors often request if their adjacent properties add up to 500 acres of more.
“What’s the benefit to the landowners?” I ask.
He shrugs his shoulders. “That’s what you’ve got to go to the water and soil conservation office about. The man there is a partner in this with his property up over BigTown way, so I imagine the same requirements apply since it’s a statewide designation.”
I thank both men and return to my studies. I can count seven cemeteries within one mile of where I live, and one of them is tucked away up the slopes of the mountain without any road access or structures nearby. I resolve to try and find that, once I get a buddy to go bushwhacking with this spring. I see, also, that Cook Creek is the water that comes roaring down the side of the driveway and it originates from a spring at about 5,000 feet. Another spring feeds into it along the way before reaching the property I live on, then it tumbles on down and eventually joins the main artery of water below.
Delighted in my quest, I pay $15 for the maps and get more information from the receptionist about hiking trails. “Now that map,” she says, “is for sale over in the Erwin offices, over there in Tennessee.” She laughs a little because, I assume, she knows I’ve been given the run about. This is the fourth office I’ve been to in two weeks trying to find maps. But you can get it just as fast online and shipping isn’t much. Just ask for map number ### and you’ll see, your house is on it and all the trails up the Roan and then some.”
I thought getting the maps would help me understand where I am. Foolishly, I forgot what happens to me whenever I see a map. Now, the explorations must begin. It’s not enough to trace it with my fingers, to name things and orient myself by the compass. Clearly, some hiking is in order.