[caption id="attachment_179" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Exclamation Point is the highest peak in Chimney Rock State Park. Photos courtesy of Chimney Rock State Park."][/caption] by Sandy McLeod Since the State of North Carolina acquired Chimney Rock Park in 2007 from private owners, it has undergone a massive redo and expansion of public land holdings.  Building a new staircase to the Chimney was part of the Capital Improvements projects for the park. In just four short months, construction of an elaborate staircase that winds around the massive rock outcropping has been completed. Once atop the Chimney, visitors are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the valley beneath. Building the staircase was a monumental undertaking. The Chimney is in a remote area that is not easily accessible by truck or even four-wheel drive vehicles, so helicopters had to deliver steel supports, wood and other supplies to the site. Work was completed on schedule with the help of mild weather patterns this past winter.   [caption id="attachment_181" align="alignleft" width="251" caption="Pictured here are the old and new staircases to the Chimney."][/caption] Improvements to the Staircase at the Chimney Make Climb Easier Visitors cannot use the elevator to the Chimney just yet - they will have to use the new stairs.  Improvements to the elevator, Sky Lounge and Connector Bridge will be completed in May or June 2012.  Visitor rates are reduced until then. Unlike the previous stairs, which were rather steep, steps are 6’ wide, and there is a gentler incline then there was before, making for an easier ascent.  The stairway is designed so visitors can pause every 12 vertical feet, on a wide landing, and catch a glimpse of the mountains or valley beneath. [caption id="attachment_182" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The new staircase to the Chimney cost $1.3 million and the materials needed to be delivered by helicopter."][/caption] Panoramic View From the Chimney Once they have climbed to the Chimney, guests can take in a marvelous 360-degree view of Chimney Rock, Lake Lure and the Blue Ridge Mountains that grace the skyline.  Visitors will be able to once again visit the Opera Box, a rock outcropping that naturally ‘boxes’ individuals in and provides a bird’s eye view of the top of the Chimney and the river valley beneath. Hikers may also access Devil’s Head and Skyline Trail to Exclamation Point - the highest peak in Chimney Rock State Park. Capital Improvements Include Land Acquisition The cost of rebuilding the staircase to the Chimney is almost $1 million and the renovation of the elevator, Sky Lounge and Connector Bridge is estimated to cost $1.3 million.   The North Carolina Council of State approved the Capital Improvement project and secured resources through the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.  In December 2011, the area adjacent to Chimney Rock State Park, Rumbling Bald Mountain, was acquired by the State of North Carolina. This 1,222-acre parcel of land expands Chimney Rock’s recreational areas by twenty percent.  Rumbling Bald Mountain has numerous outcroppings and features high and low elevation points. [caption id="attachment_180" align="alignright" width="210" caption="Devil's Head is a rock balanced on an outcropping at Chimney Rock State Park."][/caption] Land First Purchased in 1902 by Morse Family Chimney Rock State Park is a well-loved recreational area for visitors and locals.  It is a scenic 45-minute ride from Asheville, so many make a pleasant day trip out of it.  The Morse family first purchased the land in 1902. In 1916 the bridge across the river was completed and the family added ladders and stairs so guests could easily access the view from the Chimney.  The elevator dates to 1949. With the new renovations wheelchair access will be made easier, and the number of people who visit will most likely increase. Eventually, there will be a larger area for recreational use with the addition of Rumbling Bald Mountain.   Now is the perfect time to plan a day trip to Chimney Rock State Park to see the rugged, rocky landscape and the incredible views from the top of the Chimney. Reserve a cabin in Asheville, nearby Chimney Rock State Park.