Local brewer joins effort to protect important mountain peaks

What's Highland Brewing Company's new brew — Cattail Peak Wheat — got to do the world's smallest tarantula? The latter is the spruce-fir moss spider, lives at the mountaintop that bears the beer's name, and the company is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, both of which aim to protect the mountains Highland honors.

Photo courtesy of SAHC

The arachnid lives in the moss beds beneath the spruce- and fir-tree canopy of 6,600-foot-high Cattail Peak, which lies in the Black Mountains near Mount Mitchell. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has protected more than 10,000 acres of important land and water resources in this mountain range, transferring several parcels to Mount Mitchell State Park for the public to enjoy forever.

As part of the partnership, expect to see guided hikes of the mountains that have given their names to Highland beers. Twelve-pack cartons will carry information about the partnership and the importance of the mountain peaks. Highland will play host to beer-release parties and other events that will bring attention to mountain conservation, and the new Highland tasting room will sport maps and other information about these areas.

"Highland Brewing Company is so tied to the mountains of the Southern Appalachians, we felt it just made sense to form this partnership and work toward the conservation of a landscape we all love," explains brewery owner Oscar Wong. "Our staff is so driven by two things — love of beer and love of mountains."

Highland's Ben Wicker is helping drive the company effort to give back to the mountains that provide its employees with off-duty recreation, supply the water for its beer and lend their names to the company's seasonal brews. Wicker's love of these mountains was solidified a day after arriving in the region, when a near-stranger invited him to paddle the South Toe River, whose headwaters lie in the Black Mountain range.

To mark the partnership, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is leading a guided hike to Cattail Peak on Saturday, June 12. Cattail Peak is among the six highest summits in the eastern United States. It's home to a spruce fir forest, one of the rarest natural communities in the Southern Appalachians, found only at the region's highest peaks.

"We really feel this partnership will be a good way to strengthen the community of people who love high-quality local beer and who love our incredible mountains," says Carl Silverstein, the conservancy's executive director.

The guided hike to Cattail Peak will begin at 10 a.m. at Mount Mitchell State Park and will be a strenuous seven-mile-round-trip hike along the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Participants are encouraged to bring sturdy hiking shoes, rain gear, a water bottle, lunch, sun block and a camera. (Save the beer for later, hike organizers say.) To register for the guided hike to Cattail Peak, e-mail Kristina@appalachian.org or call 253-0095, ext. 205.

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