Kris Kolenut has the look of a tried and true thrill seeker. Arms tan and sun spotted from hours on the water, hands rough and callused from wedging them in cracks, unmistakable sandal tans and scars from who knows what – each one a telltale sign of a mountain man.
He has stories about guiding in Shining Rock Wilderness, being followed by a pack of coyotes, and instructing his crew to sharpen sticks for defense. He has stories about spending all day on the Linville River, navigating house-sized boulders downstream in search of inspiration, and tells of sharing sweat lodges with Native Americans on reservations. He knows what it feels like to let go of the brakes on a mountain bike, or disappear over a waterfall in a kayak.
Moments like these don’t come easy; they come from following instinctual cravings to feel alive. On the edge, but in control. His pursuit of passion has made Kris well rounded, from guiding at-risk youth in the backcountry to sea kayaking the hidden coves of Lake Jocassee. Kris can name nearly every plant around him in the middle of the woods, and could easily navigate the best possible route through rough country.
Kris escaped New Jersey in pursuit of the lifestyle, and he has found it as a professional guide based in Brevard, North Carolina. Now, he has his eyes set on his next adventure: a base camp for any southern Appalachian experience. A partnership with longtime friend Scott Sullivan on the East Fork Farm is set to poise Kris to offer a completely unique experience.
What he calls a fusion of farm life and adventure camp, the East Fork Farm is already a functioning farm on the French Broad River, its waters fed from the lush Pisgah National Forest just upstream. Rows of what will soon be summer crops dominate the landscape, but the bigger picture includes plans for a pavilion, where Kris will brief daily trips, check-in gear, and get to know his clients over food grown right there.
“We want people to be able to get a real taste of what Southern Appalachia living is like,” said Kris. “That includes great food.”
Kris has guided hundreds of trips, and he knows what makes them run smooth. Part of that experience he credits to his time at Brevard College as part of the Wilderness Leadership program, where he learned from some of the best instructors in the country to plan the logistics of any backcountry excursion, but to also have a plan B.
“I love to plan the trips. Reading the maps, thinking of every last detail, and making the day fit a particular group of people is part of the fun. It can be stressful, but that’s what makes a trip run. Plenty of people can lead a trip, but the logistics part of my Immersion semester made me realize that being an outdoor guide is so much more,” he said.
While Kris loves the outdoors and leading trips, part of his goal with the East Fork Farm is to make connections with his clients and bring their experience full circle, to show them how people affect things like water quality, and how their food is directly influenced by what goes on upstream.
“It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that they don’t know,” said Kris. “But showing them how to appreciate nature…as a guide, getting someone to make even one realization, is why I do this. The farm is kind of a new spin on an old thing, something to appreciate this beautiful place in a different light.”
Education is at the heart of the East Fork Farm Adventure program, sharing their experience and love for the outdoors is how the owners plan to tie it all together.
Kris, and everyone else on the farm, is busy with the final operational touches, scouting new routes, applying for guide permits, finding wood and nails to build the buildings themselves and everything else that comes up.
“I’ve taken lots of people out to do lots of things,” said Kris. “Even if it’s just a buddy from out of town…they always say to me after a big day in the woods: ‘Man I wish I lived here. That was incredible.’ I always laugh and say ‘I know, I get to do this everyday.’”
Photos taken by Karin Strickland of the McDowell Photo Project.