The Bald Truth

Book about mysterious mountain feature is most comprehensive guide to date.

Paging through Amy Duernberger’s recently published book — Exploring the Southern Appalachian Grassy Balds — one can almost hear Julie Andrews singing “The Hills are Alive” and twirling around in the open meadows. In this case, though, the vast grassy expanses are surrounded by our own blue hills, not the snow-capped Austrian Alps.

These picturesque patches in the regional mountains have undetermined origins. By all natural rights, they should be covered with trees. Offering mystery, beauty, and unobstructed views, Blue Ridge “balds” are well worth the hike.

“The nearest grassy bald to Hendersonville is Bearwallow Mountain — about a 20-minute drive from downtown Hendersonville,” says the author, who notes that the trail to the summit is managed by the group Conserving Carolina. “It’s one of my favorite juice-worth-the-squeeze hikes. With only a two-mile round trip, it’s a great hike to do when you only have a few hours free to get out and enjoy nature.” Each season, she says, offers something special along the trail. Wildflowers such as trillium and Mayapple bloom in early spring; later comes mountain laurel, flame azalea, and Catawba rhododendron. Fall is all about the color change; winter holds the beauty of solitude. Finally, at 4,232 feet, Bearwallow is the highest peak in the near surround. “At this elevation, it’s hard not to be amazed at the spectacular views as you walk around the wide open meadow blanketing the summit,” she says.

Duernberger’s enthusiasm for grassy balds is professionally captured in the book, published by The University of South Carolina Press and far more detailed than the average hiking guide. Bringing a Master’s degree in information science and a history with the National Park Service to her new work, the Hendersonville resident has put together a complete-as-possible picture of these beautiful anomalies, once believed to be the results of the Devil’s scorching footprints.

Beyond the balds’ myths, flora, and fauna, Duernberger also rings warning bells about safety, hiking etiquette, and ecological outlook. Because while we may not know exactly how and why these balds are here, we do know they are slowly going away.

Amy Duernberger will be featured at the Transylvania County Library’s “Brown Bag Arts Program” (212 South Gaston St., Brevard) on Tuesday, March 20, from noon-1pm. For more information, call 828-884-3151.

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