Despite the half a dozen hiking clubs blazing through the mountains these days, the new Fontana Hiking Club is actually filling a void — geographically speaking. The club will explore trails in the vast southwest corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area — taking in the remote far west territories.
The club leader, Jerry Span, is the director of outdoor programs for Fontana Village, a wilderness resort in Graham County.
“From my experience the trails are underused in our area,” said Span, 27. “People don’t know about that side of the Smokies.”
It’s a tricky area of the park to hike. Most of the trails take a day or two to reach by foot — or require a boat ride across Fontana Lake. Thanks to the hook-up through Fontana Village, which runs a boat shuttle out of Fontana Marina for hikers, hikers with the club will scoot across the lake on a pontoon boat and get a jump start on trails that otherwise would take an overnight trip to reach.
Fontana Hiking Club will also trek the wilds of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area, one of the most remote sections of the Nantahala National Forest.
Span’s weekly hikes will run the gamut from short, low-elevation jaunts to long, strenuous climbs. Hikers can count on Span to be a sympathetic hiking partner. His first big trekking adventure in the mountains of WNC didn’t get off on the right foot. After hiking the 70-mile section of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he emerged at Fontana Dam fed up and exhausted.
“I threw my walking stick over the dam and swore I would never backpack again,” Span said.
In retrospect, he realized the culprit of his misery was the wrong-gear: a pack twice as heavy as it should have been and bad boots. Now, four years later, he’s blazing the way for other hikers.
Hikers can come every week, or show up only when the hike of the week strikes their fancy. After 10 hikes, you get a patch. After 15 hikes you get a T-shirt, and after 20 you get a free night at Fontana Village.
Or, watch the Outdoors section of the Smoky Mountain News calendar for the weekly hike line-up.
Other hiking clubs in WNC
• Nantahala Hiking Club tromps mostly in Macon County.
• The Haywood Hikers and Leisure Hikers both trek through Haywood County.
• Mountain High Hikers traipse around Clay and Cherokee counties and North Georgia.
• High Country Hikers do their trotting in the Pisgah area north of Brevard.
• Carolina Mountain Club, centered in Asheville, hikes all over WNC.