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A History of The Highlands Plateau Greenway

The Highlands Plateau Greenway is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance, develop, and maintain a system of interconnected walking and hiking trails in and around Highlands, N.C. The birth of the Greenway trail system in Highlands evolved around five goals: recreation, transportation, beautification, watershed improvement, and wildlife habitat enhancement.



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Oak Street to


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Goes to trail










Mill Creek Trail 

Highlands Biological Station

The Bascom

Sunset Rock

Kelsey Trail

Beyond 2020

Long-range proposals are for a boardwalk connecting Highlands School with the Peggy Crosby Center and Harris Lake, a New Kelsey Trail Loop in the Kelsey Preserve, more trails at the Biological Station, and a trail to Blackrock Mountain and on to Granite City in Whiteside Cove.

Since its incorporation in 2008, the Greenway has doubled from five to ten miles of trails from Sunset Rock to Big Bear Pen, to the Botanical Garden and the Bowery Road, to the Rec Park, Oak Street Lane, and Mirror Lake, and to Oak Street in trying to fulfill its goal of helping pedestrians get around town without having to walk on its streets. Its goal is being fully realized by the large number of residents and visitors who use the trail daily for that purpose and the many volunteers who devote their time and considerable talents to maintaining, improving, extending, and creating the Greenway.

The Highlands Plateau Greenway was designated a National Recreation Trail by the Secretary of the Interior on May 3, 2010.

Board of Directors


Sonya Carpenter, 


Kevin Gates,


Jim Ward,

Vice President

Steve Cathcart,


Jim Chance,

Trail Supervisor

Jim Chance

Kathy Smith

Eric Pierson

Ex-officio: Lester Norris, Kyle Pursell

Image by Peter Aschoff

A Brief History of Highlands, NC


Although the Highlands plateau was created 350 million years ago on the crest of the world's oldest mountains, the village of Highlands in Macon County, North Carolina, was founded in 1875 by Samuel Kelsey and C. C. Hutchinson, two developers living in Kansas. They created a health and summer resort at more than 4,000 feet on the highest crest of the western North Carolina plateau in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Since its founding, the demographic mixture of Highlands has been remarkably unique. Settled by hardy pioneers from across the nation, sober industrious tradesmen from the North, Scotch-Irish laborers and craftsmen from the surrounding mountains and valleys, and wealthy aristocratic planters and professionals from the South, the town has served as a cultural center for well-known artists, musicians, actors, authors, photographers, scholars, and scientists who have thrived in its natural setting.

The result has been a town too cosmopolitan to be provincial, too broadly based to be singular in attitude and perspective, too enamored of its natural surroundings to be totally indifferent to them, and just isolated enough and small enough to be anxious about the benefits and setbacks of growth and development.

- Randolph P. Shaffner

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