The Appalachian Trail new Grayson Highlands

Getting my Steps on the Appalachian Trail! Plants, Ponies and the Power of Positivity!
Kim High, master interpreter

When asked if I wanted to join a Metroparks wilderness backpacking experience on the Appalachian Trail near Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, my initial reaction was, “Who Me?”  The opportunity was only 6 weeks away, I had not backpacked in decades, and I really wasn’t sure if I could do it.  Yet, I had spent much of 2021 on a personal mission to get fit, and I knew this could only help that effort. So with encouragement from my family, friends and co-workers, I donned a new pair of Salomon hiking boots and my most positive attitude, and I began fast-track training-- up and down the sledding hill at Blue Creek Metropark several times a week.  Whew, that hill is steep!

My efforts paid off, and the trip with the Metroparks program staff the last week of May was better than I could have imagined.  The pictures posted here illustrate some of my highlights.  First, I was surprised that much of the alpine Virginia back country had flowers similar to ours here in northwest Ohio.  The higher elevation felt wonderful-- like the peak of the spring season all over again-- with lots of wildflowers still blooming, not to mention temperatures in the 60’s and very few mosquitoes!  We observed the blooms of Wild Strawberry, Golden Ragwort, Wood Betony and other species that reminded me of our Oak Openings; however, two species that delighted me because I don’t see them at home were Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), and literal fields of tiny Bluets (Houstonia sp).

 A second highlight that thrilled me was the wild ponies.  The Grayson Highlands Region is known for them, and they put on a real show for our Metroparks group. We came home with ‘pony tales’ that we could not have fabricated. We watched a mama pony graze grass at a campsite while her baby actually mouthed the corner of some poor camper’s tent!  The baby pony was adorable, but what a bummer to wind up with pony drool on the corner or your tent! Our group also had our own close encounter along the trail with some of these ponies.  At first they seemed very docile, but quickly became agitated, so much so that they had us all running the opposite direction into the woods—backpacks and all- to avoid any trouble. We must have been a sight to see at that moment—too bad there was no time for a video!

Without a doubt, however, the best part of this adventure was the camaraderie of our group. The abundance of smiles, puns, songs, stories and encouragement lightened even the most challenging moments, and our fearless guides, Jake and Alissa, created an atmosphere where I felt incredibly safe, included and empowered.   If any readers out there are considering wilderness backpacking but are slightly unsure, I highly recommend a first experience with our Metroparks program staff. Hands down, they make it unforgettably FUN!