Mountain Crossings - The name evokes the sense of some distant place at the intersection of two trails in the Cherokee Nation. In fact Mountain Crossings at Walasi-yi is at the intersection of US Highway 129 (sometimes called the Gainesville Highway) and the Appalachian Trail. It is truly a gem for Georgia's hiking enthusiasts. Inside the store is a second gem, owner Winton Porter, who warmly greets hikers and drivers alike into his outdoor gear shop.
According to Cherokee mythology, Walasi-yi (their name for the gap) was the home of a giant frog. A small Cherokee village developed just south of the gap and about 200 feet below the patio on the south side of the building. Settlers called the low spot "Frogtown Gap." The Cherokee were removed in 1838 on the infamous Trail of Tears.
Trail developers were unfamiliar with the Blue Ridge Mountains south of Virginia and asked Roy Ozmer for help mapping out and building the trail. Early in 1929 Ozmer visited Frogtown Gap, walking west to east. At that time a single-lane farm road crossed the gap. In 1930 Ozmer enlisted Georgia native Charlie Elliott, and later, Arthur Woody, a local forest ranger, to plan and oversee the building of the trail including the part through Frogtown Gap.
The Appalachian Trail passes through Mountain Crossings
Georgia's Vogel State Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps on land owned by a lumber company. Georgia added the stone building known as Mountain Crossings to the Appalachian Trail in Frogtown Gap between 1934 and 1937. it served as a restaurant for visitors to the mountains and was directly on the Appalachian Trail, which passed through its white-blazed breezeway. Mountain Crossings was connected to the outside world in 1946 when the United States created US Highway 129, and renamed Frogtown Gap to Neel's Gap in honor of the chief engineer of the project.
Enter Winton Porter. With an expert's knowledge of hiking gear culled from his years working in and managing REI and Galyan's stores, Winton leased the Neel's Gap building in 2001. It was the fulfillment of dream he nurtured for years. One of the attractions to Winton was the store's proximity to the traditional start of the Appalachian Trail for through-hikers, Springer Mountain, Georgia, which is about thirty miles to the east.
The building features a large, wrap-around stone porch that leads to the entrance of the store and an even larger open patio on the south side. Here Mountain Crossings overlooks Frogtown Creek, named for the Cherokee village some 200 feet below the stone wall of the patio.
Stocking hiking gear made the store an appealing stop for hikers who were making their first trek on the white-diamond blazed trail. More experienced hikers always stop in to renew their friendship with Winton. Casual visitors driving along U. S. Highway 129 might not be attracted to the hiking gear, so in the front of Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi, Winton has a generous supply of cool items such as clothing, specialty t-shirts, wood carvings, and books (mostly outdoor adventure).
Over the years as both a hiker and as proprietor of Mountain Crossings Winton has accumulated interesting stories involving the denizens of the Appalachian Trail and Mountain Crossings. In a style vaguely similar to Garrison Keillor, Winton tells stories about hikers and long-term visitors to his store.
In one interesting story from the book, an Appalachian Trail hiker whose trail name is Brain Storm is bitten by a copperhead.
Brain Storm had that look of dazed confusion which was a good sign. The look meant that he was fighting back worry and fear which usually catapults victims into shock.
Brain Storm screamed out, "My freak’in toe is turning purple and it’s twice the size of the other one." With that proclamation I noticed Brain Storm was starting to shiver slightly, a signal that often meant that a spark of panic was starting to tear him down, which is often capable of igniting shock in a frightened victim.
I hollered into the back seat, "You're doing great, we are almost there, stay calm." I stepped heavy on the gas and managed to take a few minutes off the twenty-five minute trip to the Hospital. When we arrived, Blairsville’s emergency teams were waiting outside the hospital. Two paramedics loaded Brain Storm onto a gurney and disappeared with him through the double doors.
I waited for a couple of hours and was told that they could not administer an anti-venom because they could not confirm with certainty that it was a copperhead, they would need to keep him for the night hooked up to a saline drip to help wash out the venom. I saw Brain Storm in the hallway and waved to him as he was rolled into his most expensive hostel on the trail.