Passion for the Parks: An Asheville Hiker's Quest to Help You Celebrate the Centennial

Hiking at Black Balsam

The path to exploration, according to Danny Bernstein, is simple: put one foot in front of the other and enjoy it. She’s been doing just that ever since she was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We had no car. We were inner-city people,” Bernstein said. “The Statue of Liberty is the first National Park site I visited.”

She has worn out many pairs of hiking boots since then.  In fact, the former software developer is now one of the South’s most accomplished hikers.

With Asheville as her home base, she’s completed the Appalachian Trail and all 900 miles of trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Danny Bernstein Hiking

But, her true mission is to inspire others to find their park and their place in the mountains. She says there’s no better time than now for an adventure.

This week, on Thursday, August 25th, the National Park Service marks its 100th anniversary. President Woodrow Wilson approved an act of Congress to establish the Park Service on August 25, 1916.

The National Park Service continues its year-long celebration with special programs and guided hikes through the end of 2016.

Bernstein recently finished visiting all 71 National Park Service sites in the South in preparation for the big anniversary. Her experiences are detailed in her new book, Forests Alligators, and Battlefields, which just hit the shelves in the past couple months.

“It’s just an exciting way of putting some spotlight to the National Parks,” Bernstein said.  “They (the parks) are the biggest bargain we have. Here (in Asheville) we are surrounded by National Parks.”

Within a short drive of Asheville, you reach the iconic Appalachian Trail and the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Most notably, Asheville is just a short distance to the nation’s most-visited National Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most-visited National Park “unit,” the Blue Ridge Parkway, winds its way through town.

“This section of the Parkway through Asheville has so much to offer: a great visitor’s center, hiking opportunities, scenic overlooks,” said Leesa Brandon, Blue Ridge Parkway spokeswoman. “The 100th anniversary reminds us of the passion that went into creating these parks and the passion required to maintain them for the next 100 years.”

TIP: Explore the Parkway's past and present with our interactive travel planner.

Danny Bernstein embodies that passion for the parks. She hopes a little of that fervor rubs off on you and inspires you to explore.

“Buy a map here in town and go,” Bernstein said. “What I really want to do is encourage you to get out there and enjoy!”

Feeling ambitious?  Take the challenge!

The Park Service is challenging visitors to hike 100 miles this year.  It’s not too late to start your journey!  Earn a special pin commemorating your experience when you reach the 100-mile mark in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Click HERE to download a log sheet to use to keep track of your mileage. 

Danny Bernstein will lead several guided hikes for “Friends of the Smokies” to help you reach your goal.  Upcoming hikes include Mt. Cammerer (September 13th), Smokemont Loop (September 17th), and Andrews Bald/Appalachian Trail (October 11th).

Discover 18 other ways to celebrate the centennial from the Asheville area by clicking HERE.

Photos by Jared Kay

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