Stairway to heaven

In 1885 Jerome B. Freeman built a stairway to the top of a 535-million-year-old granite monolith overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge.


There’s a feeling I get

When I look to the west,

And my spirit is crying for leaving.

In my thoughts I have seen

Rings of smoke through the trees,

And the voices of those who stand looking.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,

Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

Lucius B. Morse, a tourist from Missouri, climbed the stairway and looked out over the rugged terrain and it made him wonder. Morse must have heard the voices of all who had stood and looked before him and all who would stand and look afterward. He purchased 64 acres on the mountain in 1902 and began the development of what is now Chimney Rock Park.

Over the years,additional property was purchased and the park grew to 996 acres. Amenities include a visitor center, a nature center, a network of hiking trails and a tunnel with an elevator to the summit.

The Morse family has been stewards of that park and those acres of wilderness for more than 100 years. However, citing financial concerns, potential estate tax complications and the state’s plan to create the adjacent Hickory Nut Gorge state park, the family decided to sell Chimney Rock.

Despite more than two years of negotiations with the state, the Morse’s, last July declined the state’s $20 million offer and listed the park with Sotheby’s for $55 million.

And it’s whispered that soon

If we all call the tune

Then the piper will lead us to reason.

Last week the Morses and North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley announced that a deal had been struck and the Morses had agreed to sell Chimney Rock to the state for $24 million.

“After much time, energy, thought, emotion, and soul searching ... I’m pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with the Division of State Parks to sell Chimney Rock Park to the people of the State of North Carolina,” said Todd Morse.

And a new day will dawn

For those who stand long

And the forests will echo with laughter.

As one of the new owners of Chimney Rock, I want to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude to Todd Morse and his family, not only for this most generous gift but, especially, for a century of dedicated stewardship and commitment and caretaking of 500 million years of natural history.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by

But in the long run

There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

And it makes me wonder.

It’s easy to see two paths here, in the mountains of Western North Carolina, one that goes by golf course after golf course, condo after condo and through gated community after gated community. And there is the road the Morses chose and many of their neighbors chose, to help create Hickory Nut Gorge state park.

And I think, there’s still time to change the road we’re on and it makes me wonder.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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