HCLT repairs road to Sunset Rock

The road to Sunset Rock is often washed out from heavy rains making traveling to the top in a vehicle close to impossible. In an effort to maintain the road and smooth out some of the washouts, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust staff has been on site doing what they can to make the popular-Highlands attraction more accessible.

HCLT’s Kyle Pursel does what he can to smooth some of the washouts out of the road to Sunset Rock.

“We have been working to repair the road tread as best as we can to at a minimum allow us to drive a 4×4 capable vehicle to the top for maintenance and event purposes,” said HCLT Stewardship Coordinator Kyle Pursel. “The road, having been abandoned by the Town, has degraded and washed out in many spots, leading to large trenches and swales that make driving most vehicles near impossible. The Town and us put up signs trying warn people, but they ignored the warnings and kept getting cars stuck.”

Sunset Rock in the early afternoon.

However, according to Town staff, Sunset Rocks Road was never owned by the town. A portion is private land and the rest is Highlands Land Trust property.

Over the years, the Town spent thousands of dollars scraping and graveling the road to ensure it was accessible by EMS vehicles and power line maintenance half-way up the road. Due to Highlands weather, the gravel that was put in the holes on the road routinely eroded into culverts eventually finding its way onto Highlands Biological Station property across Horse Cove Road.

Sunset Rock is a popular venue because of the amazing views and ease of accessibility.

Due to the cost and futility of the effort, in 2018, the town decided to stop maintaining it all together. With signage, the public was encouraged to walk up to the vista rather than to drive, because only high-clearance vehicles would be able to drive the road.

Pursel said staff tried doing the work by hand, but the amount of work necessary versus HCLT’s staffing capability, combined with the amount of rain Highlands receives made that a futile effort.

Although smaller,Sunrise Rock offers visitors a pretty view as well.

“Luckily at the end of last year, the late Hillrie Quin and his wife Beverly donated a small John Deere tractor to us,” said Pursel. “Eventually, we managed to get the tractor to the site and started dragging the road to the best of the tractor’s capabilities over the course of a few weeks in-between rain events.”

However, in a sad twist of fate the tractor broke down just as HCLT was finishing up the work and now sits at the top serving as another barrier to vehicular travel. Anyone who can assist HCLT with moving the tractor off the property please call 828.526.1111.

The mountains look beautiful long after the sun goes down.

As such, HCLT has put signs out warning people that vehicular traffic may be impossible and urging pedestrian access only – which is what the town encouraged two years ago.

HCLT warning signs caution travelers to drive up the road at their own risk.

“We are actively working on finding someone to come out and help fix the tractor,” said Pursel. “Once we get it back running, we will be moving it back off the property and plan to bring it back periodically as needed and as our time and capabilities allow. The tractor is not a permanent solution, nor does it do enough of a job to allow small, unraised cars to necessarily pass on the road, so all-wheel drive and or higher clearance cars will likely be necessary to make it to the top even after the tractor is gone.”

The road wasn’t an issue for Robert Osborne and his son Everett, 6, from Raleigh who hiked to Sunset and Sunrise Rocks over the weekend.

Everett Osborne, 6, and his father Robert hanging out at Sunrise Rock over the weekend.

“I keep coming to this area, and Sunset Rock specifically, because when I am here, I feel a complete sense of peace and the energy of the space is always positive,” said Robert.

Robert has been visiting Highlands since 2002 while Everett was making the journey for the first time.

“I loved it because of the awesome view and the dandelions,” said Everett. “I would love to come back.”

Eliot and his wife Marissa were up from Atlanta over the weekend visiting Sunset Rock for the first time.

“I think it’s very beautiful and reminds me of Flatirons [rock formation in Colorado] in Boulder,” said Eliot. “Great views and good company, we’ll definitely be back one day.”

Marissa and Eliot Blum spending an afternoon on Sunset Rock in Highlands.

Marissa said Sunset Rock makes for a great day hike.

“It’s a quick and easy afternoon hike that is family and dog friendly with striking views at the top. We’ll certainly return.”

Sunset Rock in the lower middle of the frame looking over Highlands, NC.

A view of Sunset Rock taken from Highlands School.

Some of the vegetation growing on Sunset Rock.

Sunset and Sunrise Rocks are not only about views, there’s some cool nature along the trek to the top.

Pictured at the top of the article is the entrance to Sunset Rock.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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