Ascent of Mahogany Rock Mountain in 2005

Climber: Tom Layton

Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mahogany Rock Mountain
    Location:USA-North Carolina
    Elevation:3800 ft / 1158 m

Ascent Trip Report

A curious place--an abandoned vacation village that now is protected for hawk migrations. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a cable car ride to an adjacent ridge that claimed to be the longest gondola span in the world. Footings for the towers are still evident.

At Milepost 234 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mahogany Rock Road comes up from the north and a gated old road continues to the south. Follow this road, still mostly paved, to the top. It's a roundtrip hike of about 2 miles to the summit. Lots of debris has been dumped on the summit.

Here's the story:

Worth Folger's dreams lead to cable cars
By Lon Leatherland

Worth Folger dreamed large dreams for his 1952 Mahogany Rock Recreation and Land Development project. Bit by bit, his efforts grew to fill the dreams; acre by acre, the property became his. By 1961, 171 residential lots covered Mahogany Rock's crest. The U.S. Geological Survey map of 1968 indicates nine occupied homes around the northern end of a double-loop driveway. It also shows the "four proposed gondola cable cars" route from Mahogany Rock to Scott Ridge (near Milepost 235 on the Blue Ridge Parkway), and the zig-zagged service road connecting them.

On March 18, 1968, Mahogany Rock Cableways, Inc. owned the property.When everything was ready, two Swiss engineers arrived with plans, specifications, and related paperwork. They moved into one of the development's homes and remained there for months, supervising the tramway's construction. Folger's mountaintop dream was taking shape. Anchor holes were drilled deep into solid granite on both peaks and reinforced with enormous concrete buttresses. Huge electric motors and mechanical equipment were craned into place and fastened down. Thick steel cables wound around horizontal pulleys geared to the motors by deep, wide teeth.

A combination visitors' center, gift shop and snack shop was built on Scott Ridge to serve the needs and wants of riders as they gazed toward distant peaks. A few years after the project had been completed, art students from UNC-Chapel Hill painted the silver cars in bright, colorful designs. But that wasn't enough. There was trouble in dreamland.

Given the pristine nature of the Blue Ridge Parkway, attention-grabbing roadside billboards were as welcome as tree-killing blights. That meant the Tramway had to attract riders by other means. Even so, people's interest in seeing Stone Mountain from a cable car also required clear air, not unpredictable fog. Concerns about the wind's effect on the cars —whether real or imagined — also reduced interest. Area residents were intrigued by the tramway, and came to watch six people in each car make the round trip. Many were curious, yet cautiously suspicious.

The Mahogany Rock overlook was often crammed with vehicles parked there by people who wanted to watch the cable cars. Dean Richardson, then the Highlands District chief ranger, spoke of many close calls as Parkway drivers suddenly happened upon dozens of people standing in and along the road. Heavy construction vehicles, prohibited on the scenic highway, were routed to its already-testy intersection with Mahogany Rock Road, where they sometimes blocked both lanes just a stone's throw from tight, blind curves. The prospects of building 162 more homes on the mountaintop posed such great dangers to traffic that digging a tunnel was considered.

When the Tramway's failure seemed certain, Folger contacted the Nature Conservancy. Their interest was not in the homes, swimming pool, cable cars, heavy equipment or visitors' center. They just wanted the land abutting Blue Ridge Parkway boundaries, and it, for only a short while. The issue of land ownership was settled when Folger sold them his 250 acres of beautiful mountain property for "ten dollars and other considerations," according to Alleghany County Deeds Office documents. The Park Service then bought the Nature Conservancy's newest acquisition and Stone Mountain Park promptly joined their property to it with an indefinite boundary.

Reportedly, homeowners were offered "fair market value" for their houses, with an understanding that the homes would be cut into pieces and moved. A few were rebuilt in other parts of the county, but most owners took the money, loaded up their belongings, and went elsewhere. Judge Cardwell, the last one to leave, sold his house independently. When he returned to move his things, much of the furniture was gone. Vacant houses and the visitors' center were then bulldozed and hauled off. Reportedly, a western company bought the cable cars and equipment. Worth Folger's grand dream had died.

Both mountaintops are accessible on foot. The road up Mahogany Rock is a tedious mile long, ending at the crumbed foundations of missing homes, large log piles and rotting mulch. On Scott Ridge, bent steel rusts away near the visitor center's slab foundation. Black and white tiles mark bathroom floors. Recent visitors to both peaks report seeing rattlesnakes, and suggest exploration later in the year after the slithery critters have hibernated.

Here's a photo:
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:620 ft / 188 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2 mi / 3.2 km
    Trailhead:Parkway at Deep Gap  3180 ft / 969 m
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)

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