Comprised of rock formations that have towered over the North Carolina highlands for centuries, our beloved Grandfather Mountain is a natural treasure like no other.
Stately and majestic, he’s long been known as an Appalachian icon — the enduring guardian of the Blue Ridge Mountains with an abiding legacy one billion years in the making.
Our venerable forefather, zenith of the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge, anchors the history of life in the High Country. However, as the newest protected park in the Old North State, he also stands as a beacon for progress and change.
After a prolonged era of private ownership, his grandeur and glory are now preserved for generations to come, and new leadership promises improvements that will make his peaks and valleys more accessible to the public.
As the North Carolina State Parks system celebrates its centennial this year, we, too, are invited to celebrate its steadfast commitment to our natural resources through its latest acquisition, Grandfather Mountain.
Preserved and Protected
For generations, Grandfather Mountain has been known as one of the most popular and iconic attractions in the Southeast. Although the state parks system purchased much of the mountain several years ago, the continued operation of the for-profit attraction has yielded some confusion amongst the general public over who, or what, oversees the mountain.
Folks want to know: Is it privately owned? Is it state property?
The answer is, while the for-profit attraction is still alive and well, the remaining acreage is now government owned and operated as Grandfather Mountain State Park.
In the 1952, conservationist and photographer Hugh Morton inherited more than 4,000 acres on Grandfather Mountain from his grandfather, Hugh MacRae. Morton worked to develop the land, which was first purchased into his family by his great-grandfather in the late 1880s, and make it more accessible to tourists.
From then on, Morton established and grew the now iconic mountaintop attraction. Upon his death in 2006, Morton’s heirs struggled with the decision they would have to make regarding whether to sell the property or keep it in the family.
Ultimately, they elected to ensure the continuation of Morton’s legacy by selling the majority of the property to the state of North Carolina.
In 2008, trustees of the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund each designated $6 million to purchase the undeveloped “back country” acreage of the property, and the general assembly was later asked to formally authorize Grandfather Mountain State Park as a unit of the state parks system.
Details of the purchase were released to the public in a press statement from the state parks office in January 2009:
“An agreement announced by Gov. Mike Easley in September calls for the state to acquire 2,456 acres on the landmark mountain for $12 million from the Morton Family and Grandfather Mountain Inc. The acquisition will also include a conservation easement of 749 acres that will be retained by the heirs of Hugh Morton.”
The Morton family then established the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a non-profit that now operates and manages the attraction, which sits on the 749 acres retained by the family and includes the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, animal habitats, restaurant and nature museum.
Thus, Grandfather Mountain State Park was born, and new leadership soon arrived to ensure the property’s natural resources would remain preserved and protected for years to come.