Since around 1986 I have been taking groups of kids up the face of the quarry at Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough. We call it Rainbow Mountain because of the unusual rainbow rocks we find there. At the time it was private land owned by the Mayor of Hillsborough. No one seemed to mind and many people hiked the trails along the Eno River at that location.
My guess is that well over 10,000 children have made the climb in over 1500 trips up the mountain with myself and the farm staff, and no one fell and no one was hurt except for the normal minor bumps or scrapes.
North Carolina State Parks purchased the property around 1994. I was concerned that we would not be allowed to continue hiking but they seemed like good stewards, and improved the trails, and even built a overlook platform at the top. In 1996 Hurricane Fran came through and some of the far left face of the quarry crumbled. The remainder of the face has remained stable. At the time the Park Administration decided to remove the $25,000 new platform, even though there was no damage to it, and placed signs all around saying how dangerous the overlook and the quarry was. We have always been extremely careful and have seen nothing to be concerned about on the trail and area we were using.
We continued using the trail to climb the Mountain until the new Superintendent of the Eno River State Park confronted me in front of a group I had been leading after we had reached the top and said what I was doing was illegal. Later after I met with him in his office, he admitted that what I was doing wasn’t illegal but ill-advised, and that from then on I would need an annual group permit to bring campers there and to Few’s Ford where we take the kids for Creek Stomp every Wednesday. The park would not be responsible if an accident were to happen. That was not a problem for me and I have been complying each year. I chose not to take the kids in 2016 after I called the park office to arrange a meeting and request a ranger to accompany us on our hike up the mountain. I was told they were short on funds and did not have the staff.
Going Beyond Fear
I am planning on returning this year 2017 and I am planning on approaching the park again to make it a park sanctified activity.
Why would you think I have been taking kids up this mountain all these years?
From the bottom, the top is about 200 feet elevation. It is like climbing up a staircase straight up. After the first 5 minutes we are almost at the tree top level. We stop, hold our hands out and practice balancing. After 10 minutes we stop again, balance and look out, well over the tree tops. In 5 more minutes we are at the top. There is a good guard rail and you can see 15-20 miles over looking the western part of Hillsborough. Cars look like toys and people like ants. There is no other place I know of like this nearby, in my backyard, with the gift this place has to give our children. “I challenge you to be bigger than your fear and be great”
A young man, previously a camper, camp back to the farm and told me “I will never forget what I learned climbing Rainbow Mountain with you 15 years ago. I learned that even though I was scared to death, and couldn’t stop crying, and sometimes I couldn’t stand up without your one finger of support, I learned to trust myself, my own body, to take one step at a time, looking where I put my feet, I was bigger than my fear. When I made it to the top I yelled with all my might, I made it”.
I choose to take kids up the mountain because of the challenge they experience. Parents can make an informed choice about whether or not to send their kids here. The ones who are still afraid won’t. I am OK with that. Here’s a few of the children who climbed to the top, many caught yelling “I made it!”