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Cool off at Mount Mitchell State Park

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6/21/2012 - Cool off at Mount Mitchell State Park
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

What: Hiking and nature programs at Mount Mitchell State Park.

When: Park is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

Details: When it's hot down in Asheville, a quick, cool, close-by getaway can be found in the high elevation of Mount Mitchell State Park.

The park, about an hour's drive northeast of Asheville, is home to the highest peak in the Eastern United States. The Mount Mitchell summit -- easily accessible with a wheelchair- and stroller-ready ramp -- sits at an altitude of 6,684 feet.

The park in the clouds can often feel more like a Canadian forest in the Asheville summer.

The park is usually about 20 degrees cooler at any time of year than it is Asheville, rangers say. So even if you're heading up there this weekend, pack a jacket and some hiking shoes.

Trails include the short 3/4-mile Balsam Nature Trail near the summit, and longer ones including the 4.5-mile round-trip Old Mitchell Trail from the park office to the summit and back.

There is also an interactive museum, a campground, picnic area, gift shop and restaurant open 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.

The park offers ranger and naturalist programs, hikes and talks each weekend during the summer. All are free and there is no need to register. Following are the programs this weekend:

o The Towers of Mount Mitchell: 2 p.m. Friday. Meet a ranger at the Educational Center to look at all of the past towers that have stood on top of Mount Mitchell.

o Wildlife, Weather and What's Happening to the Trees: 3 p.m. Friday. Meet a ranger at the Education Center to learn about the wildlife, weather and what's happening to the trees of Mount Mitchell.

o Winter on Mount Mitchell: 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Talk to a ranger about what it is like to live at Mount Mitchell State Park in the winter. The video, The Longest Season; Winter on Mount Mitchell will be played. Meet at the Education Classroom.

o The Life and Death of Dr. Mitchell: 2 p.m. Saturday. Meet a ranger at the Education Classroom to learn about the life and death of this important figure in Mount Mitchell history.

o Tower Talk: 10 a.m. Sunday. Meet a ranger at the observation tower to ask questions and learn about the Black Mountains and beyond.

o What's Happening to the Trees? 2 p.m. Sunday. Join a Park Ranger for a talk at the Education Classroom to learn about Mount Mitchell's high-elevation spruce-fir ecosystem and why it is in danger.

Directions: From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north for about 30 miles to Milepost 355 and turn left onto N.C. 128, which leads into the park.

Information: Call the park at 675-4611. For more information on Mount Mitchell and other state parks in North Carolina, visit www.ncparks.gov.

For updated road and weather conditions on the Blue Ridge Parkway, call 298-0398.

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