This morning we strike camp and pack our cars. After today’s hike, we are headed to Waynesville, NC, for a shower, dinner, and night’s rest. We drive a minute up the road to Caldwell Fork trailhead and quickly buzz up that trail 2.7 miles to its second junction with Boogerman Trail. It takes us just an hour and 20 minutes. The only excitement along the way is a black rat snake sunning by the trail that I startle and who, in turn, startles me as he quickly slithers to safety.
Mary and I decide to do the trail in reverse to the guidebook, and I’m so glad we do. This part of Boogerman climbs steadily, a little over 700 feet in 1.2 miles, along Snake Branch. The climb is tempered by interesting remnants of human habitation to explore and a wonderfully rich flora along the creek to cheer the journey. The only sour note is a section with many dead young Eastern Hemlocks that at one time would have provided deliciously deep, cool shade. Broadleaf species will have to fill in.
The home site of Carson Messer, a small depression in the ground to the right of the trail, could easily be missed if not for a small stack of rocks and a couple of wooden posts. A little further on the left is a side trail leading up to a flat area where the rock-and-chestnut foundations of buildings and part of some metal machinery may be found. Here is the first of several massive stone walls. The height, width, and length of these structures built without mortar are impressive. These first walls show the wear of age and neglect, but further up the trail is one wall defying time and elements. It stands straight, tall, and true to chest height and runs a good 100 yards. Two growing Tulip Poplars flank the wall and in time will exert enough pressure to fracture its admirable symmetry.
I would love to think that Robert “Boogerman” Palmer was responsible for these amazing walls, and maybe he was. The guidebook indicates his homesite is down the trail a ways. He owned 255 acres of land in the area and was very much responsible for protecting this forest. The story of his nickname is interesting. In response to a teacher’s query on what he wanted to be as an adult, the shy boy hid his head and laughingly said, “The Boogerman.” The colorful name stuck, and he later grew a grizzled beard befitting the moniker. Supposedly, he used his appearance to scare children, and perhaps he used it to fend off timber companies as well. It is Boogerman we can thank for the enormous Tulip Poplars and other big trees encountered along the trail. Without his stubborn stewardship, this place would not be such a thoroughly entrancing and spirit-healing experience.
The trail weaves to one side or the other of a ridge, passing through rich, little coves. Some of these areas are very lush and would be incredibly beautiful in April. Along the way, we see interesting insects and a few American Toads. A Red-eyed Vireo converses loudly with itself. Mary and I break for lunch along the ridge and absorb the soothing sounds, fragrances, and sights. Gentle breezes and dappled sunshine turn a good day into a great one. Boogerman descends gently over 2.75 miles passing through drier sections with fewer herbaceous species. There is one stretch of smooth, easy walking through a Rhododendron tunnel. We come upon some larger Hemlocks in good shape. A blue dot on the trunk base confirms they have been treated for that devilish woolly adelgid.
The trail narrows and becomes less interesting vegetatively as the end nears. This is why I recommend doing it backwards. First, the lower half of Caldwell Fork is OK but nothing great, so getting that out of the way quickly is better than having to plod through it at the end. Second, there is so much to look at and enjoy on the far end of Boogerman, you hardly notice the climb and can appreciate the sights more fully at a slower pace earlier in the hike. Third, just as you are tiring and anticipating the end, Boogerman trail allows an unencumbered, easy descent with just 0.8 mile remaining on Caldwell. Total mileage is 7.4. Friend Scott Ranger always talks glowingly of Boogerman Trail. I now know why and count it as one of my favorites in the park!
We arrive at our cars mid-afternoon. I follow Mary to the hotel in Waynesville, and by the time we check in, the sun has disappeared behind dark clouds and thunder rumbles in the distance. We shower quickly, and just as we sit down to a tasty meal at The Sweet Onion, the skies open. Rain continues all night. That’s fine with us…we’re dry and comfortable.