Hiking in Asheville and Western North Carolina is nothing short of extraordinary. As you trek through the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll discover lush forests, panoramic views, magnificent overlooks, and cascading currents of cool, clear water. Some vistas you have to see to believe — like the phenomenal view of the French Broad River from our mountaintop River Lodge. When they saw it for the first time, Tim and Leslie Hale found it incredibly moving. And we mean that in a literal sense…because that epic view prompted their move from the flatlands of Houston, Texas, to the majestic mountains of French Broad Crossing. Avid hikers themselves, our community instantly clicked for them. They loved the carefully preserved lands, the dramatic terrain, our nature-based amenities, and of course, the warm, fun-loving, outdoor-enthusiast neighbors. It was a perfect fit. And it’s no surprise that, soon after settling in, Tim established a French Broad Crossing hiking club. An experienced hiker, he happily leads club members on exhilarating, organized hikes throughout our conserved land. We recently chatted with Tim to learn more about him, his hiking background, some favorite trails in and outside our community, as well as a few fascinating facts about himself.
Tim, tell us a little about your background and how you discovered your passion for hiking.
“My love of hiking started at a young age when I was a Boy Scout. My brother was also a Scout, and my dad was a Scoutmaster. So, we were quite involved in the club’s programs and adventures. We went on many fun hikes in the woods in and around Gainesville, Georgia, where I grew up. I found I loved being in the woods, being immersed in nature, and traversing new trails. Even after Boy Scouts, I continued doing a lot of hiking and backpacking with my brother. And then, when my career brought me to Texas, I kept up the hobby. I met my future wife, Leslie, who’s also an avid hiker, biker, and long-distance trail runner.”
Since you were living in Texas, what brought you to French Broad Crossing here in North Carolina?
“Believe it or not, it was a French Broad Crossing flyer we received in the mail back in 2008…and that was in Houston! It piqued our interest in the community. But, there was also the fact that I wanted to live closer to my family in northeast Georgia. So, during our vacations, my wife and I began looking for potential retirement properties. We often found ourselves drawn to the Asheville area. During one trip, we finally visited French Broad Crossing, and we knew we were home. The biggest hook was the breathtaking view of the French Broad River from the lodge. But the other factors that reinforced our decision to live here were many. It was the like-minded, outdoorsy people, the beautiful conservation land, the rolling hills and mountains, and, of course, the hiking trails in and around the community. I love that I can walk out my front door and immediately be hiking. That was a huge selling point.”
So now you head up the Hiking Club at French Broad Crossing, which has become relatively popular. How many current members are there, and how often do you go on hikes?
“Many people have signed up via our online community portal, but there are a couple dozen residents who are very active. I organize a hike every week, and we’ve had as many as 15 residents attend. During the summer, the hike is on Saturday mornings when it’s a bit cooler. But in the winter, we’ll hike on Saturday afternoons.”
Tell us a bit about your process for planning hikes.
“There isn’t really a formal process. Even during COVID, we continued to hike since outdoor activities were considered safe. However, during the pandemic, we only hiked the trails in French Broad Crossing. Now that the pandemic has subsided, I’m planning a few hikes outside of our community. But as it stands now, the process is simple. We meet at the starting location at a certain time, I’ll see who shows up, and we’ll choose trails based on experience and comfort levels. I like to tailor our adventures to ensure everyone has a good time.”
Can you elaborate on the hiking trails at French Broad Crossing? How many are there, and which ones are the residents’ favorites?
“There are 10 established trails here that add up to about five miles. Many of the trails can be connected by short sections of road, so great loops are possible that include mostly trail and some road. The Elbow Hollow trail is probably the favorite among residents. It’s a scenic trail that goes through the conservation land and along and across Elbow Hollow Creek. The creek is picturesque, and at one point, it cascades down a 40-foot drop — a sight to see. Right now, it’s even more magnificent with the rhododendrons blooming. And what’s more, Elbow Hollow is where many of us worked to protect 279 of our beloved hemlock trees from the Woolly Adelgid. It’s a trail that holds a special place in our hearts.”
Are there other hikes that you would recommend?
“Within the community, there’s a second favorite trail aptly called Riverview. It offers stunning views of the French Broad River and has lots of mountain laurel and wild blueberry bushes along the way. The mountain laurel blooms white and pink flowers in April, and the blueberries are ripe for picking in June and July. The bushes on the uphill side of the trail are waist-level, so you don’t have to bend over to pick fresh berries!
Outside the community, we’re only a 15-minute drive from the Appalachian Trail (AT). There are two incredible hikes that I highly recommend…and they’re only a short drive away from FBC. One leads to the restored Rich Mountain fire tower, which offers commanding views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and French Broad River Valley. That hike is 2.4 miles one way and climbs 1,400 feet. The trailhead is in Tanyard Gap, which is where the AT crosses highway 25/70 on the way to Hot Springs.
There’s another excellent hike that starts in the town of Hot Springs that has it all: lush rhododendron thickets along cascading Silver Mine Creek, old growth hardwood forest and high rock outcroppings overlooking the French Broad River. The loop hike is about four miles and climbs 1,000 feet. The AT goes through Hot Springs and I like to park in town (the reason will become obvious later), then follow the AT across the bridge to the Silver Mine trailhead. From there, follow Pump Gap trail up Silver Mine Creek to Pump Gap, where you intersect with the AT. Along the way, admire the rock work at a couple of creek crossings that were built by FBC neighbor Fred White and myself, along with other volunteers from the Carolina Mountain Cub. Turning right on the AT in Pump Gap will lead you along a dry rocky ridge and down to “Lover’s Leap,” which offers a spectacular view of Hot Springs. Then follow the AT back across the bridge to town. It’s nice to finish a hike there because of the new eatery/craft brewery called Big Pillow Brewery—the perfect place to refuel with great food and beverages. Incidentally, Big Pillow is named after one of the rapids on the French Broad River, and it’s located right in front of our community. The name comes from the way the water goes down and then over a large rock — it looks just like a big pillow.”
A recent blog article on FBC’s resident naturalist, Jim Palmer, divulged that he used to be a division one lacrosse athlete! Would you care to share a fun fact about yourself?
“Well, not only do I have a passion for hiking, but I also enjoy woodworking. I’ve built some nice things for the community, like new benches for the Fitness Center, some shelving, and we just finished up a tasteful rehab on our gatehouse. But, I’ve made lots of different things — a custom countertop, matching dining and coffee tables for our screened-in porch, a rolling barn door, custom cabinets, and more. Usually, Leslie will approach me with a Pinterest picture, and that initiates a fun, new woodworking project. I get a lot of enjoyment out of building beautiful things from scratch.”
As enjoyable as your recent trip to Africa? We heard that you and Leslie recently climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro! Tell us a bit about this epic accomplishment.
“While it was never a ‘bucket-list’ item for us, we were invited to go with some friends from Houston. After being postponed for a year, we were delighted to finally go on this adventure last month (June 2021.) And adventure, it was…one of the most interesting experiences for me was encountering so many climatic regions on one hike. When you climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, you start in a tropical rainforest but finish in an arctic climate. So, at the beginning of the hike, you’re in lush vegetation, and there are lots of monkeys and colorful birds. But at the culmination (which is over 19,300 feet), you’re in a snowy, arctic terrain. What’s more, on summit day, we started hiking at midnight! It took me 12 hours to do just six miles. It was very steep and the most challenging six miles of my life. But both Leslie and I are very proud of our accomplishment…and the awesome experience.”
No matter where life takes them, Tim and his wife Leslie certainly enjoy a stimulating, rich, and active lifestyle. Want to follow in their footsteps? In addition to awe-inspiring hikes, there’s so much more to discover here at French Broad Crossing. We cordially invite you to experience the magic for yourself. Why wait? Let your new adventure begin now. Plan your mountain getaway today.