Written by Kay West | Photos by Anthony Harden
Jennifer Pharr Davis on Building a Blue Ridge Business
On a hazy, late spring afternoon, a light breeze ruffles the colorful nylon tent shells draped over the rails of the covered porch of the Appalachian Trail-er, set back about 50 yards from Lance Avenue in Hot Springs. Inside, Matt Dobson—a lead guide with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company (BRHC), which owns and operates the ten-bed bunkhouse—is inventorying the backpacking gear rented by a family of five he took on a three-day trip into the Smoky Mountains. “It was good to be back out there,” says the tanned, bearded outdoorsman, who carries both a degree in plant sciences from the University of Tennessee and 14,000 trail miles on his legs: “It’s been a while.”
The hiking hiatus was not by choice; beginning in mid-March, access to most of the trails, mountains, waterfalls, and forests in the abundant wild of Western North Carolina snapped shut, just as BRHC’s 2020 season was getting underway. Guided half- and full-day hikes and multi-day overnights were stamped “cancelled due to COVID-19” on the company’s online booking system, and the Trail-er stopped accepting reservations for the bunks.
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