PILOT MOUNTAIN — Those drawn to Pilot Mountain State Park in search of fall colors can expect to encounter many others doing the same thing, an official says.
“Visitors should be prepared to have up to a one-hour wait for parking at the mountain section of the park for the next four to five weekends, until the leaves drop,” Matt Windsor, park superintendent, advised last week.
“We may have to stop all incoming traffic temporarily if conditions become unsafe or in the event of EMS response.”
Pilot Mountain typically has more visitors during October than any other state park, with as many as 1,500 vehicles per day entering its grounds on weekends.
While officials encourage such usage, it is posing logistical issues that could prompt some visitors to adjust their plans or means of access to the park, Windsor added Monday. Even with skies cloudy, crowds were so heavy there Sunday that rangers had to direct traffic from 11:30 a.m. until about 5 p.m., he said.
The park superintendent said heavy visitation has been the norm there recently, but is expected to hit even greater heights with the fall leaf season under way.
“They look like they’re changing a little bit earlier than in years past, but they’re not at peak,” Windsor said of present leaf conditions. “I would guess we’re about two weeks away from peak.” Cooler nighttime temperatures seem to be causing the earlier change, with Windsor pointing out that colors will vary at different elevations on the mountain.
In reaction to the heavy visitation, park personnel are seeking to alleviate problems by announcing alternate ways to enter and enjoy the park other than the main road leading to its summit.
“I am trying to get the word out about our traffic issues to keep our visitors informed,” added Windsor. He said this includes providing details about “some satellite areas people can walk and hike and avoid the crowds.”
Those wanting to circumvent the traffic and desiring a longer fall hike can visit the north river section parking areas on Hauser Road; that section has around 10 miles of trails and a mountain trail. There is also a corridor trail parking area on Pinnacle Hotel Road which will allow visitors to hike either three miles to the summit or a seven-mile loop around the mountain.
The timing of visits also is a consideration, according to Windsor.
“I would strongly suggest that local visitors who have an opportunity to visit during the week do so to reduce the amount of traffic on weekends.” The superintendent said the facility tends to attract many out-of-town travelers who notice the mountain while passing through and venture in “without being familiar with what we have.”
Windsor added that there are only 155 paved parking spaces in the entire mountain section. Although the space for accommodating vehicles in the summit area is unchanged since the late 1970s and early 1980s, visitation is at least four times higher than the levels seen then, the superintendent said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.