Field Trip – Otter Banks at the Highlands Nature Sanctuary
General Hike Location: Highlands Nature Sanctuary. Approximately 12 miles from the Appalachian Forest Museum
Hiking Leaders: Nancy Stranahan, Arc Director, and Brent Charette
Driving Distance from the Appalachian Forest Museum: 14 Minutes to Ridgeview Farm; 5 additional minutes to Otter Banks
Hiking Distance: 3 Miles
Time & Meeting Place: Meet at Ridgeview Farm in Sanctuary West at 9:15 am. Because we can only take a few cars to the location, we will leave as many cars behind as we can at the farm before car pooling to Otter Banks. We will as discreetly as possible park on our Mennonite neighbors’ farm land so as to respect their privacy (see Mennonite partnership story below), and will then begin our trek across their farm fields to reach the section of the Rocky Fork corridor known as Otter Banks.
Bring: Be sure to pack a bottle of water and bring a day pack for your lunch which will be enjoyed along the trail. We recommend packing a piece of plastic to sit on in case the ground is wet.
Difficulty: Otter Banks is a difficult trek because we will be tracing our way along the steep and rocky bluffs that line the Rocky Fork Gorge. There are no trails developed on this property and we will thus be hiking cross country the entire day. Hikers must be able to navigate uneven, rocky terrain and over occasional fallen logs. Our pace will by necessity be slow, and there will be much to see. We will be threading our way through drifts of flowers and we must take care not to step on them. Cameras are encouraged. There will be no bathroom facilities during the trek, other than those at Ridgeview Farm where we will begin and end our day.
The Arc of Appalachia is currently fundraising for the acquisition and stewardship of Otter Banks, which, when complete, will protect an entire mile of frontage on Rocky Fork Creek in the larger region of the preserve known as “Sanctuary West.” The name for this particular tract arose out of an early visit to the site by Arc staff, at which time we did, in fact, see otters swimming in the creek below the wildflower-laden banks! Otter Banks shelters the most beautiful and dense wildflower display in the entire ten mile stretch of the lower Rocky Fork, putting it among the most outstanding floral displays in Eastern United States. The property also shelters stunning rock formations, springs, and small but splendid waterfalls. In order for the Arc of Appalachia to enter into purchase contract for this property, we had to overcome almost insurmountable challenges. The 189 acre farm that came up for sale, which included Otter Banks, had croplands and pastures on two thirds of its acreage, as well as multiple houses and immense pole barns. All of these features added substantially to the property’s value, driving it beyond what we could afford to buy or maintain. Because the Arc was only interested in the forested riparian corridor, we reached out to our local Mennonite community to see if they might be interested in buying the remaining land. Long story short, “They were.” You can read the longer tale in our 2019-2020 news magazine and you learn more here: See Otter Banks campaign & map.