If nature and man can find common ground — a yin and yang between eco and anthropomorphic motifs — something winsome is liable to happen. Hickory Nut Gorge is such an example. The 14-mile-long canyon offers sights of granite cliffs sheered by wind and ice, and verdant vegetation left mostly undisturbed. The product of time and elements is otherworldly, although the gully’s jewel — 720-acre Lake Lure — results from the efforts of one wealthy man, Dr. Lucius B. Morse.
Flora and fauna took over the Gorge following the 1927 damming of Lake Lure. Speckled trout and bluegills thrived in the reservoir’s waters and herrings on its shores. An inorganic design suddenly became one with the coexisting landscape.
And it’s happening again. Just outside the town center, flowers and shrubbery are consuming an overpass. Constructed in 1925 to carry traffic down US-74, the Rocky Broad River Bridge joins Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. Five years ago, however, the North Carolina Department of Transportation completed a new structure to replace the old one, making the original span obsolete. Inspired by the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne, Massachusetts, William Miller and other community members lobbied to preserve the three-arched edifice, complete with Mediterranean balustrades.
“I had this flashbulb in my mind,” says Miller, chair of the Friends of Lake Lure Flowering Bridge and dedicated volunteer. “I saw the bridge covered in plants and people, vines reaching down to the water. What a beautiful welcome.” On October 19, 2013, a pipe dream would bring forth the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge: a hybrid between garden and pedestrian path.
Spanning 155 feet and extending further on the east and west ends, the walkway melds environmental and industrial, old and new. On the Welcome Terrace, patrons are met by the Helen Keller Fountain, donated by the Lake Lure Lions, and the subtle smell of Skippy, thanks to the exotic Peanut Butter Tree (formal name: Bunchosia Argenta). Bees hum and butterflies hover as they should in a green space, but Harleys — as expected in the area, a popular motorcycle route — are also faintly audible as they pass.
The whole experience is meant to be multisensory. An audio tour, accessible via telephone, encourages passersby to smell the Mexican tarragon and caress the Lamb’s Ear, a low-growing perennial doused in wooly fuzz. The hands-on approach continues through 15 stops. Rosemary and lavender grow underfoot; roses and clematis wind into one another on trellises. The sweet scent is laden with nostalgia, notes Mike Lumpkin, aural tour guide and avid photographer.
“The rose garden is a sentimental favorite for the beauty and fragrance of the blooms,” Lumpkin croons during the prerecorded narrative. “Perhaps your grandmother or mother grew and loved roses.”
Hyssop, scented geranium and soft sage flank an oversized perfume bottle — a decorative touch — in the fragrance garden. More amusing are the stocking-capped gnomes, which can be found lurking under the twisted canopy of the whimsical Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick — a hazelnut shrub that sports long, corkscrew-shaped catkins later in the season. Blue Dune Lyme Grass runs rampant, contrasting against striking Pink Muhly Grass. The plants grow in red-iron clay, shading out invasive species and eliminating a need for pesticides.
In other plots, limiting toxins and weed killers proved to be more challenging, notes board member Lee Armstrong (Mike’s wife). Since leeching chemicals into the Rocky Broad River, a hub for anglers, could harm trout populations, volunteers tend to use hand-held garden trowels, a more natural means of weed control.
“A real wealth of knowledge and, frankly, sweat equity went into this,” says Armstrong, applauding master gardeners and on-site irrigation experts. “Because of that, you don’t tend to find many weeds around,” she boasts. She also notes the extensive collaboration. The project, neither religious nor political in nature, unites out-of-towners and locals. It is neutral ground; no bridges, as the double-entendre presents itself, have been burned.
Guests do tend to notice the lushness. More than 700 plant varieties, both tropical and native, flourish in raised planters. Next to a 1920s iron gate, a Franklin Tree parades its blooms: each a delicate crème studded with a dandelion-yellow center. Discovered on the banks of Georgia’s Altamaha River in 1803, the ornamental piece is now extinct in the wild. More familiar are poppies, black-eyed Susans and a surprisingly hardy banana tree.
Though the showier flowers do fade by autumn, the overpass is always being “spiffed up,” says Armstrong. In fall, jack-o’-lanterns flash festively at Chimney Rock, while the holiday lights of winter months cast a shadowy glaze on the Broad River. Regardless of the season, the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge stands as remains a “gateway to somewhere beautiful.”
“We got that from The Daily Courier [in Forest City],” Miller says, offering an explanation for their tagline. “And that’s truly become the case. It has bridged Rutherford County, bringing the communities of Hickory Nut Gorge together.”
For more information on the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, see lakelurefloweringbridge.org