EDITOR’S NOTE: Ninth in a series of articles on the trails of northwestern North Carolina.
When Judge Thomas B. Finley of North Wilkesboro donated his 142-acre Rendezvous Mountain tract in Purlear to the state in 1926, he envisioned recreational use but also a historic shrine paying tribute to backwoodsmen who helped turned the tide of the American Revolution by winning a battle with British loyalists.
When he made the gift, Finley recounted the story of Col. Benjamin Cleveland standing atop Rendezvous Mountain and blowing his over-sized horn in all directions to summons militia for a march that culminated at the battle, fought on Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
As a publicly-owned property (now 3,316 acres), establishment of a secure identity for Rendezvous has been a struggle. It was made a state historical park in the 1930s, transferred from state parks to the N.C. Forest Service in 1956 and opened as a state educational forest in 1984. A proposal in the legislative to close Rendezvous about 10 years ago was defeated.
Despite a lack of manpower and other resources, Rendezvous Mountain’s supervisors and other staff have continued to make improvements on the mountain. Private sector support helped make this possible.
This includes educational trails focusing on the logging industry and forestry for school groups and others.
The Logging History Trail (two-tenths of a mile long) and Talking Tree Trail (six-tenths of a mile long) are both near the park entrance. Rendezvous Mountain Supervisor Bob Myers said repairs to the Talking Tree Trail are coming soon. Myers is about to retire after 10 years as supervisor. He started with the forest service as a seasonal employee in 1982.
Rendezvous Mountain’s popularity as a destination for hikers received a strong boost with opening of the 4.1-mile Amadahy Trail, a name based on the Cherokee word for forest water. Myers and one of his daughters, Savannah, did much of the work on the trail.
If hiked clockwise, the Amadahy Trail starts near the logging history trail at an elevation of about 2,470 and drops about 1,000 feet in the first mile as it follows an old logging road while descending the northwest flank of Hayes Mountain to Purlear Creek.
The trail then makes a right turn to go upstream along Purlear Creek at a picnic table.
A large beech tree near the picnic table was a “boundary tree” that marked the property line of the B.N. Benton farm, now part of Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest. Benton’s home is the Rendezvous superintendent’s residence.
Turning left rather than right at the picnic table means following an old farm road to a large field where the state planted native warm season grass for wildlife and above that a good view of Hayes Mountain. The former Benton home and the end of Mozelle’s Lane (off C.C. Hayes Road) are just beyond.
Purlear Creek was named for Isaac Parlier, who settled on the creek in the 1770s. Day Church of Purlear, who has conducted extensive research on the Church and other local families, said he was always told that the former Benton home stands on or near where the early Parliers lived.
Returning to the Amadahy Trail at the picnic table and going upstream, many consider the next mile or so along Purlear Creek the trail’s most scenic section.
It goes through fern-blanketed glades; passes by a three-section waterfall (or slide) that drops about 90 feet, rhododendron thickets on the east slope; and mature yellow poplar, oak, hickory, black birch, white pine and other tree species still standing due to their inaccessibility.
Among them are remains of large hemlock trees that succumbed to the hemlock woolley adelgid (HWA), as well as healthy young and mature hemlocks treated with a pesticide in 2018 and 2019.
The pesticide, mixed with water, was poured around about 30,000 hemlock trees at Rendezvous. This protects them from the tiny HWS for five to seven years and maybe longer, buying time for research on genetic resistance and beetles that feed on those killing hemlocks. N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler started this initiative in 2014.]
The section along Purlear Creek ends near where the stream begins and at Rendezvous Mountain’s only area where camping is allowed. It includes two gravel tent sites framed with landscape timbers, with picnic tables, grills and other features. Tyler Harmon of Boy Scout Troop 336 in North Wilkesboro built these for his Eagle Scout service project.
With an adjoining meadow, over an acre is available for camping. Myers said as many as 20 tents have been set up there at one time, but there is space for many more.
He said it’s only for people coming to Rendezvous as part of recognized groups like Scouts or churches. There is no charge but a permit, available by registering at the Rendezvous office, is required.
Myers said the campground is on the site of the James Wilson Church home stead. Remains of the Church family’s log cabin were visible not too many years ago.
In a speech about Rendezvous Mountain in 1926, Judge Finley said the Patriot militia “frequently assembled in a little wooded dell making a sylvan amphitheater near the crest of the mountain.” One can imagine this description applying to what now is the Rendezvous Mountain campground.
Wilson Church’s great-grandfather, Amos Church, served under Cleveland and other Patriot militia leader at Kings Mountain and other engagements in the American Revolution.
Wilson Church was buried in a small family cemetery on a nearby knoll, just off a dirt road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This Church family cemetery overlooks the South Fork of the Reddies River Valley and mountains beyond to the east.
Church’s military gravestone says he was in Co. F of the 52nd N.C. (Confederate) Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. Records show he was among four Churches serving in Co. F of the 52nd, and one of three who enlisted March 14, 1862. He was wounded in the arm at Gettysburg.
Three nearby graves are marked with simple field stones. A placard made of a weather-resistant material for one identifies the grave as that of Mary Elizabeth Griffith Church, who was Wilson Church’s wife. They had 10 children. It says Church died in 1904 and his wife in 1907.
From the campground, the Amadahy Trail turns eastward for a short climb to intersect with the old CCC road, which Myers was told originally went to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Amadahy Trail follows the old CCC road for about a mile eastward to the park entrance road and the trailhead to complete the loop.
The old CCC road runs atop the crest of Judd Mountain for about three miles within Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest, from the fire tower on Rendezvous’ peak (elevation 2,480) on the southern end to Wyatt Road on the northern end. Wyatt Road intersects with White Oak Road.
With a camp nearby off Parsonsville Road, the CCC built a cabin on Rendezvous that still stands and was engaged in other projects there in the early-1930s. The 60-foot-tall fire tower was built in 1936.
Men stayed in the cabin during fire season looking for the smoke of wildfires on the surrounding mountains. The late Vaughn Church, who was Day Church’s father, was among the last people to man the fire tower.
Rendezvous also offers a seven-mile-long out and back hike with numerous creek crossings along Little Fork Creek, a 1,500-acre-plus section of Rendezvous that almost but doesn’t adjoin the educational state’s forest’s other acreage. The Little Fork section is at the end of Benny Parsons Road, which intersects with Parsonsville Road.