Episode #14: Peter Barr, Nationally recognized trail builder on living a life of fulfillment

When I was coming up with a title for this podcast episode, I could have just as easily titled it “the fulfillment of overcoming adversity”. In this conversation, you will hear the words fulfilling, inspiring, and  opportunity over and over again.

Peter Barr loves adventure and turns into pressure at every opportunity. He also likes to get himself into tight spots to test his wherewithal to solve problems, overcome obstacles and live a life of fulfillment. This conversation is a master class in making the unconventional decisions that may not lead to comfort but definitely lead to personal growth and satisfaction. Peter Barr is a nationally known trail builder, peakbagger and in 2010, completed a through hike on the Appalachian Trail. In this conversation, we talk about yet another major life changing decision he has made to leave a career he cherishes and adores to seek a life of adventure with his wife Allison, living the RV life.

While his bio is about to change dramatically, here’s what he’s been doing up to now:

As Conserving Carolina’s Trails Director, Peter is passionate about developing a sustainable public recreation trail network on conserved lands in the dramatic Hickory Nut Gorge. Since 2010, he has led the development of nearly 20 miles of new sustainable trails as well as the legislative authorization of the planned 130-mile Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail network. He is a two-two time nationally award-winning trail designer, having received the Coalition of Recreational Trails Achievement Award for outstanding Construction and Design in 2018 for the three-mile Wildcat Rock Trail and in 2019 for the 8-mile Weed Patch Mountain Trail and Tunnel Trail. His design and project management of the Weed Patch Mountain Trail were also recognized by the Society of Recreational Planners at the National Outdoor Recreation Conference in 2018 and American Trails International Trail Symposium in 2019.

Peter also enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for Conserving Carolina’s land conservation projects through writing and public speaking. He has authored more than 60 “Stories of the Land” columns for the Hendersonville Times-News chronicling the human connection to protected lands. In 2017, he was named the Rising Leader of the Year by the North Carolina Land Trust Council.

A native of Charlotte, Peter is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He authored the book Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers, and subsequently initiated the NC chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association, an organization working to restore and preserve historic fire lookout towers in western NC. An accomplished hiker and peakbagger, he has traversed all 900 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reached the highest point in 40 U.S. states and all 100 North Carolina counties, and climbed the Adirondack 46ers, New England Highest Hundred, all summits (790) above 4,000 feet in elevation the eastern United States, and more than 1,750 ranked peaks nationwide. Prior to getting his start in land conservation as an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member, he completed a thru-hike of the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail in 2010. Peter and his wife Allison live in Asheville with their two cats, Sweetie and Oscar (the Grouch).

Key topics:

  • How he went about the decision to leave an incredibly fulfilling career to become a full time adventurer with his wife Allison
  • Why they decided to make it a life rather than a long vacation
  • What makes the adventure so fulfilling for him – and how things not going to plan make for the better story
  • The story of a scary situation of being stranded and having that be one of the most rewarding experiences of one of their trips
  • The focus on enjoying the journey of their new adventure more than having a particular goal
  • Adjusting to things that don’t go right is one of the things they are looking most forward to
  • What makes the adventure fulfilling is the overcoming of adversity; that’s what helps us grow as people
  • Stories of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail 10 years ago
  • What he will do – or not do – to share his adventure with the rest of us
  • Bottom line: he will only consider sharing to the extent it doesn’t dilute the experience itself.
  • How living vicariously can be inspirational and powerful
  • The fear of regret is a very real thing – adventure and travel and new experiences and overcoming adversity create an opportunity for fulfillment
  • Living frugally to practice for the trip – and learning what it means to want something badly enough
  • The story of finishing the Appalachian Trail and being at work at Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in 24 hours
  • Leaving a windowless office to come to the mountains of Western North Carolina
  • The value of having a direct relationship with the land – feel the love of the land
  • How he truly agonized leaving a career he loved for the call of adventure
  • Can he answer the question of his favorite trail?
  • What it means to make trails available to others
  • What he did when he couldn’t take no for an answer when building the Weed Patch Mountain trail
  • Some of the obstacles he faced as he designed the trail, including the question “Can we even finish it?”
  • Road trips and conversations to negotiate access on private lands
  • The cost of a 7000 acre fire while building Weed Patch Mountain trail
  • The three brand new trails Peter is completing – Youngs Mountain Trail, Bearwallow Connector Trail, Strawberry Gap Trail
  • The original vision of the Hickory Nut Gorge trail system
  • Changing his mind from becoming a physician to becoming an adventurer
  • His first big hiking adventure in college, which led to his discovery of a lookout tower and how it literally changed his life “From that moment on, I was absolutely hooked”
  • The deep connection he has to the mountains of Western North Carolina
  • His original assignment to write stories of the land for Conserving Carolina
  • How his book led to the restoration of 12 of North Carolina’s lookout towers
  • He will be releasing an entirely new book in April 2021 “Exploring North Carolina’s Lookout Towers” with new history, photographs and new stories

Additional subjects and links 

Conserving Carolina

Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers

Hiking trails mentioned in the podcast

Peter on the Appalachian Trail

Story on Weed Patch Mountain trail award

Bearwallow Mountain Trail

Chris Braund

John F Blair Publisher