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Wednesday, 05 December 2007 00:00

Local author pens best hikes with dogs

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By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Dogs are popular hiking companions on the trails of Western North Carolina. Now, Fido and his adventurous owner will have some help exploring with the recently published Best Hikes with Dogs, a guide by Asheville Citizen-Times outdoors editor Karen Chávez.

Chávez, who’s spent eight years hiking around the state with her black Labrador Shelby, was tapped to do the book by Mountaineers Books in Seattle. Chávez had never written a book before, but she felt the opportunity was perfect.

“It was funny because what I do when I’m not working is go hiking with my dog. It just kind of all worked out,” she recounts.

Chávez moved to the Asheville area eight years ago from Arizona. Hikes with Shelby helped her learn the area with a willing companion.

“The first thing I did (was) started hiking and checking out all the trails with Shelby. Since I didn’t really know anybody at first, she was my constant hiking companion,” Chávez said.

For Best Hikes with Dogs, Chávez retraced some of her favorite hikes around WNC and the state and also discovered some new ones. For nearly a year, she spent almost all her free time after work and on the weekends on hikes, in addition to holding down a full-time job as a newspaper editor.

“It was very daunting and we have a very wide state. There’s a lot of ground to cover,” Chávez said. She said that at times she’d come home to discover her pictures didn’t come out, so she’d have to go back and re-take them; or her gps batteries would fail in the middle of a hike.

“It was a lot of work. I can’t even believe that it’s done,” Chávez says now.

Best Hikes with Dogs features a variety of hikes — from a half-mile loop to a 13-mile hike up Cold Mountain — and is tailored to every breed of dog big and small.

“Really, any dog can go hiking. You just have to tailor the hike to your dog’s ability. But really, dogs just love being outdoors and I think not enough people exercise their dogs enough and get them in touch with nature. I hope that this will be a starting point for people,” Chávez said.

Chávez’s favorite hikes in the book include Mt. Mitchell off the Blue Ridge Parkway — “it’s always cool because it’s so high up,” she says of the temperature — and the Price Lake loop trail near Boone. That trail “is great for any dog,” especially because of the lake where dogs can watch ducks or stick their paws in the water.

The book includes hikes from all over WNC as well as Charlotte, Raleigh, and New Bern. She was impressed with Umstead State Park in Raleigh, which is just minutes from downtown and has a huge system of trails.

Some trails are closed to dogs. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, ecologically sensitive areas like the Tanewah Trail prohibit canine companions. Dogs aren’t allowed in places around Grandfather Mountain or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Chávez clearly outlines which parts of trails are open to canines, and stresses that dogs must be on a leash on almost every hike. Chávez recommends a six-foot nylon leash since some parks prohibit leashes from being any longer, and cautions against ever using a retractable leash to trail hike with a dog.

Some advice from Chávez on hiking with dogs? Know your pet’s abilities and health conditions before heading out. Older or overweight dogs likely should be checked out by a vet before hiking if they aren’t used to doing it.

“Even if you don’t think you’re going on a long hike, bring water for yourself and for your dog,” Chávez says. Collapsible nylon bowls, sold in many pet stores and outdoor shops, are a good option since they take up little space.

In addition, Chávez always brings extra cookies and snacks for her dog.

“When you’re out exercising, you’re burning more calories and need extra nourishment.” Dogs are the same, Chávez says.

Small backpacks that measure to a dog’s size can allow the dog to carry its own food and water.

Best Hikes with Dogs includes maps, elevation guides, pictures and descriptions of trails throughout the state, with an emphasis on the mountain region. The book is available at Malaprop’s Book Store, Barnes and Nobles Booksellers and Diamond Brand Outdoors, all in Asheville. It’s also available online at Amazon and mountaineersbooks.org. Chávez will do a final book signing from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Barnes and Nobles on Tunnel Road in Asheville on Friday, Dec. 7.

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