Bailey Mountain Trail ‘Geezers’ build a legacy

BAND OF BROTHERS: The Bailey Mountain 'Geezers' pause from a workday in October. Photo by Ryan Bell

When you’ve spent the past few weeks reporting on local rock musicians, then pivot to the work that Perry Olds and friends have done on the Bailey Mountain Trail, it’s difficult to ignore the overlaps. From storybook formations and cool group names to the work itself, there are plenty of parallels that unite these seemingly disparate disciplines and highlight an intriguing sense of connectivity to life in Western North Carolina.

Like most bands, Olds’ arrival to trail maintenance evolved out of a pure attraction to the work itself. A former mechanical engineer for Rolls-Royce’s aircraft engine division in Indianapolis, he and his wife, Irene (an occasional contributing cartoonist with Xpress), moved from Indiana to Mars Hill in 2017. Though fond of the outdoors and hiking, he never expected that he would spend the next four years cutting multiple miles of trail to the top of the Madison County mountain.

“Why do we do it? The most logical answer is we’re crazy,” Olds says with a laugh. “We do it because we enjoy being outside, plus its good exercise and camaraderie. We even socialize outside of the work on occasion. It’s just a great bunch of guys.”

Band practice

Continuing the rock ‘n’ roll analogy, like practically every musician since the 1950s, Olds and his band of trail builders weren’t exactly pioneers. Instead, they created something meaningful with help from those who preceded them.

According to Ryan Bell, a professor at Mars Hill University and chair of the Friends of Bailey Mountain, preservation efforts on the Bailey Mountain Preserve began in 1996 with significant community fundraising efforts through the local environmental preservation nonprofit Richard L. Hoffman Foundation to purchase land for the public. A 34-year veteran of the Mars Hill College (now University) faculty and administration, Hoffman was involved in numerous community initiatives before his death in 1994. In 2018, the property was deeded to the town of Mars Hill, whose residents had expressed a high interest in unpaved hiking trails via a community recreation survey.

“The original summit routes on these properties consisted of old logging roads and deer traces, but these trails were difficult to access and maintain,” Bell says. “Moreover, most existing trails did not meet approvable trail guidelines.”

An Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and a frequent Bailey Mountain visitor, Bell is the first person Olds acknowledges as having “a vision of what this trail might look like.” Following the deeding of the property, Bell and John Beaudet from the East Tennessee Trail Association drew up a rough design of the trail and, with help from other ETTA members, began cutting.

Though still relatively new to Mars Hill at that time, Olds was invited by fellow locals Archie Benton and Nick Moss to help with the initial efforts. In addition to the rewarding physical activity the work afforded, Olds was struck by the serenity of the preserve. From there, the power trio continued to grow, adding Asheville-based Richard Stiles to the ensemble.

“Then one day, we were walking down after working, and here comes this guy coming up for a hike. And we got to chatting with him and, lo and behold, this was Hunter Sharp,” Olds says of the man who would prove especially instrumental in their journey. “He told us how he had some trail experience and he was looking for this kind of work and would be delighted to come and help us. So, he showed up and then we had five.”

Like any good band, these fellows needed a name. And after some deliberation, they agreed on what to call themselves: The Geezers.

Prolific production

While the Geezers’ storybook formation is central to their tightknit bond, their tangible output is what they’re destined to be remembered by.

“We worked on what we call the ‘front side’ of the mountain — the side that faces the Smith Farm [property where the trail begins],” Olds says. “And we worked all the way up to a place called Connor Ridge, and it was kind of a milestone to reach that point. And we said, ‘Oh my gosh — we did it!’ We were so happy and proud of ourselves, but then we started thinking, ‘Well, what are we going to do now?’”

At that point, the Geezers were roughly halfway up Bailey Mountain, and their numbers had grown to a collective of nine workers, adding Rob Deaton, Reid Nasholds, Pete Lottman and Chris Zei. Todd Blackley also occasionally documents their progress with photos and video. Olds — who turned 75 in March, making him the oldest Geezer in the group — says they typically draw an average of five people each week to the trail, enough consistency to propel them onward to the peak.

Along the way, they used various tools to keep the trail grade to 10% or less, including Pulaski tools, which have a hoe on one side to dig the trail and an axe on the other to cut roots, as well as mattocks, a combination hoe and pick. But “the tool of choice,” according to Olds, is the rogue hoe, essentially an enhanced Pulaski with wider metal features and a longer handle.

Progress meant hauling the tools farther and farther up the trail each day before they were used. While the task was demanding, it wasn’t nearly as taxing as some of the other work.

“We do a fair bit of stonework, which involves moving a stone out of the way of the trail, for one thing. And then also we use stones to build steps,” Olds says. “When you go up there, if you take notice of the stonework as you go up the mountain, you’ll find that it’s increasingly more sophisticated as you go up. That’s because our technique improved as we went.”

Sharp, for example, taught himself how to break stones, which allowed the Geezers to construct more precise-sized rocks rather than rely solely on what they found on the preserve. This skill particularly came in handy as they neared the top of Bailey Mountain and built a stairway consisting of roughly 50 large stones.

They also built 18 switchbacks and additional wooden steps along the trail, using the copious locust logs on the property.

“It’s a great feeling to give something back,” Olds says. “It’s a legacy to Mars Hill that will last decades. It gives me great pride to think about it.”

Preserving the legacy

In July 2022, the Geezers completed their final bit of construction: a small, sixth-tenth of a mile loop near the bottom of the trail. That same month, the 2.2-mile hike was dedicated as the Richard L. Hoffman Trail at a gathering attended by approximately 65 people, including Hoffman’s sons, Will and Lee.

“The community is extraordinarily grateful to Perry and ‘the Geezers’ for their work on Bailey Mountain,” says Bell, who attended the trail dedication.

But the Geezers’ work is far from done. Like many sophomore releases, their next project will be a combination of past accomplishments and new ventures. In addition to some ongoing maintenance of the Hoffman Trail, they’re currently surveying the other side of Bailey Mountain, which they call “the Hoffman side,” and will work up a proposal of more trails for the town of Mars Hill to review.

“So, yeah, we’ve got plans,” Olds says with a chuckle.

To learn more, visit


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Bailey Mountain Trail ‘Geezers’ build a legacy

  1. Lee Hoffman

    The Geezers are amazing! The whole community is so grateful for their hard work. Come visit and see for yourself; Geezers Rock.
    Lee Hoffman

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.