Life in Our Foothills December 2021 – Down the Chimney, Good St. Nick!
Published 11:12 pm Monday, December 6, 2021
Story by Erin Boggs & Santa Claus
Photos by Erin Boggs & Contributions from the Chimney Rock State Park Archives
Nothing beats the view of the Lake Lure area from the top of Chimney Rock!
Even Santa Claus himself knows it is the best place to visit. For the last 24 years, he makes his annual trip there to rappel down the Chimney, to practice and prepare for the Christmas season.
Since 1997, Santa, Mrs. Claus and a select group of their best Elves have hosted the annual “Santa On The Chimney” event, where visitors can watch Santa rappel down the face of Chimney Rock. The Park and Santa are celebrating this yearly tradition two weekends this December, and it is not to be missed.
At the entrance to the park, you see the beautiful rolling waters of the Rocky Broad River. I learned Chimney Rock State Park was founded in 2007 when the Morse family sold the land to the State of North Carolina. The initial sale of the park granted 996 acres to the State, but Hickory Nut Gorge, where “The Rock” is located, spans 20,000 acres and 14 miles. Formerly known as Hickory Nut Gorge State Park, it was renamed Chimney Rock State Park at that time. The rock structure is 315 feet tall and estimated to be roughly 535 million years old. In the park, there are many hiking trails for all ages and beautiful natural features to enjoy.
After driving the nearly three miles to the top of the mountain, I trekked up the hill and arrived at the elevator entrance. It was amazing to see the long tunnel carved into the mountain leading to the elevator! In November 1947, a skilled crew worked day and night to dig and detonate explosives. In only eighteen months, they completed the 198-foot tunnel and elevator shaft from solid granite. It is a true feat of engineering to behold. The modern-day elevator quickly climbs 26 stories to the Chimney. The original elevator sign has been lovingly restored and still beckons visitors to the tunnel entrance. After arriving at the top, I was rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Lure, Hickory Nut Gorge and the Blue Ridge Mountain chain as far as the eye can see.
I am so excited to tell you that I was lucky enough to be invited to the North Pole a few weeks ago, to sit down with Santa for an interview about his annual visit to Chimney Rock! He and the elves are now VERY busy making the final preparations for Christmas this year, so I got to see him in the “NICK” of time.
Here is what we talked about:
Q. Chimney Rock’s elevation is 2,280 feet above sea level! How do you find the courage to rappel down Chimney Rock every year?
A. “Well, I’m not afraid of heights, you see. I fly high above the Earth every year in my sleigh, and I slide down millions of tall chimneys. Each time, right before going up to the top, I give Mrs. Claus a big kiss and once I’m situated up there, I place my finger beside my nose before rappelling down the chimney. It helps me concentrate! I also drink some hot chocolate, eat a few of Mrs. Claus’s cookies and some pie to keep my energy up,” says Santa.
Q. Santa, one year as a child, I remember when you accidentally knocked over the basket of oranges on our fireplace hearth when you came down the chimney. With all your chimney sliding skills, I was surprised that happened but it was alright! I saved the letter you wrote me and my brother that year, apologizing for knocking those over. Actually, we saved ALL of your letters!
A. “Yes, I remember that well,” Santa sighed. “That was the year I knew that I needed to start practicing more and training for my chimney sliding skills. I was starting to get really clumsy. I’m just not as young as I used to be! So, I decided to contact the nice folks at Chimney Rock that year, and asked them if I could start doing my training exercises every year at the park. Lucky for me, they said yes right away. What better place is there for me to practice each year to prepare for my Christmas rounds, than at one of the world’s largest natural chimneys? I also love that Mrs. Claus, the Elves and I get to host this wonderful event for children and their families each year.
Q. What kinds of activities are there for families to enjoy at the event?
A. “Oh all kinds of fun things! The children can have the Chimney rock staff type up their letters to me, and then the staff hand deliver the letters to me before I head back home to the Pole! They can also make their own S’mores with the Elves at the campfire. On the morning of the event, children and their parents can enjoy a delicious pancake breakfast. Then of course, there are visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, followed by Mrs. Claus’s fresh homemade cookies to feast upon while I head up to the top of the Chimney. The Park staff does such a great job preparing Christmas crafts for the children to make. Then, my favorite part is the cheerful Christmas music performed by Lake Lure Classical Academy Children’s Chorus, as well as the Chase High School Jazz Band. Some years, we even have local hammered dulcimer musician John Mason stop by to play. This year he’ll be there on the 11th. I just love coming here every year to practice my skills and enjoy all the Holiday cheer,” says Santa. “I hope to see everyone again this year and maybe even some new visitors! Ho Ho Hoooo I am so excited to see you all there!”
Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Elves will be hosting the event on two weekends this year, December 4th and 11th, to make sure everyone can attend. All the details about admission to the park, event times and activities can be found here: https://www.chimneyrockpark.com/events/list/?tribe-bar-date=2021-12
You can learn more about the history of the park by visiting https://www.chimneyrockpark.com/about-us/history/, and learn about all the activities available year round at the park by visiting https://www.chimneyrockpark.com/things-to-do/views-trails/