(Originally posted to Virtual Blue Ridge’s Blue Ridge Parkway Blog, September 28, 2008)
The Charlotte Observer carries word this morning that the state of North Carolina will purchase approximately 2600 acres of Grandfather Mountain for $12 million for use as a state park. The purchase area, interestingly, does not include the 600-acre tract where the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, nature museum, and animal habitats have since the 1950s and 1960s attracted hundreds of thousands of paying tourists. These lands, instead, will be put under a conservation easement that will be managed by a new nonprofit headed by Crae Morton, grandson of Grandfather Mountain scion Hugh Morton.
In the coming days, I will comment on the historical roots of this purchase and the questions the history raises. But for now it is interesting to note that news of this purchase comes almost 60 years to the day after Hugh Morton informed a state commission that was trying to buy Grandfather that the mountain was not for sale “at any price.” The 1940s arrangement, had it gone through, would have put the state in control of more than twice the acreage (5500 acres). The suggested sale price at that time was $180,000.
I welcome the news that (part of) Grandfather Mountain will finally be a publicly owned park. I’m certain that in the next few days this news will be lauded statewide as the great fulfillment of what is said to have been Hugh Morton’s lifelong dream of conserving and protecting the mountain. Indeed, the Charlotte Observer’s story already retreads key elements of the mythical story of the unfolding of this supposed dream, which even cursory examination of the archival record shows to be a distorted reading of actual events.
The long history of Grandfather’s journey to become a public park suggests instead that there are many questions to be asked about the new arrangement and how its benefits will be distributed, and to whom. Stay tuned.