Adrenaline pumps through my veins. I’d just conquered The Goliath at Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park in the Smoky Mountains. At 475 feet high, a half-mile long, and reaching speeds over 55 mph, The Goliath is one of the longest, highest, and fastest ziplines in the U.S.. Now, on our final zipline of the day, I catch a wave of bravery and find myself granting my guide, Tenisha Krouse, permission to flip me upside down like a trapeze artist and send me flying hundreds of feet above the ground. It’s awesome.
Later, with my helmet and harness off and heart rate finally back down to normal, Krouse, who is also the general manager of Foxfire, insists I leave a wish before I go. She points me in the direction of America’s Bridge to Prosperity, a swinging suspension bridge that stretches 335 feet—nearly the length of a football field—across a gorge. Once on the other side, I happen upon the Whispering Winds Covered Bridge, which is completely cloaked in thousands of colorful strips carrying the hopes and dreams of visitors from all over the world.
The wishes I read make me laugh out loud and then cry, my heart suddenly breaking, all at once. Many are broad, wishing for peace, happiness, health, family, and success, while others are deeply personal and specific, asking to find love at long last, to have a baby, or recover from a serious illness. Here, there are no party lines or separation of church and state; politically-driven wishes and religious ones hang side by side. Young children wish for puppies and ponies; next to one wish for a little brother, Foxfire owner Marc Postlewaite says he once found a strip that read, “You can have mine.” One of the most common wishes is to win the lottery, Postlewaite says, adding with a chuckle, “I think I’ve got the lottery thing locked because I’ve been wishing for that longer than anyone else.”
Before heading back over the swinging bridge, I make sure to hang my own wish.
In 2009, following the height of the last recession, Postlewaite was forced to put his Smoky Mountains farm up for sale. “I’d lost all my cows because I couldn’t afford the hay,” he says. “I had planned a trip to Alaska, so I put the farm on the market and went to drown my sorrows there.” It was in Alaska that his friends pressured him to go on a zipline, despite his fear of heights. “I got off that zipline and was so excited, I said to my wife, ‘Let’s take the farm off the market, I know what I’m going to do with it,’” Postlewaite says. “I called the real estate agent that day.”
On the way back from Alaska, Postlewaite visited the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia, once the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. His trek across gave him the idea for the Bridge to Prosperity, which is now the longest swinging bridge over water in the U.S. For the wish strips, Postlewaite drew inspiration from the colorful Tibetan prayer flags that hang throughout the Himalayas and flutter in the wind.
Foxfire Mountain also has a wishing well. After leaving a wish for themselves at the covered bridge, visitors are encouraged to drop a stone in the well and leave a wish for someone else. There’s a donation box next to it and contributions are distributed to three charities: the local Boys and Girls Club; Americans Helping Americans, which addresses the needs of those living in Appalachia; and Bridges to Prosperity, which builds footbridges over impassable rivers in rural communities all over the world, enabling residents to access essential services such as health care and education. Postlewaite hired the organization to help design and build America’s Bridge to Prosperity, the first in the U.S., in exchange for his ongoing charitable support.
The wish-granting Wyiles
“You’d be surprised how many people call us and say their wishes came true,” says Postlewaite. Word of the mountain’s magic has spread and many people come not for an adrenaline rush through the treetops, but simply to hang a wish.
Krouse relays some of the most miraculous stories she’s heard. “One woman, she was struggling, she got hit hard and lost everything, her job, her home, her car,” she says. “She hung a wish because she was down on her luck and didn’t know where else to turn—and sure enough, as soon as she got home, there was a message on her answering machine that she had a job. She had been looking for a while.”
Another woman, Krouse says, came to hang a wish after her husband had waited nearly three years for a liver transplant. “Almost a week-and-a-half after hanging the wish strip, they got the phone call that there was a liver for her husband.”
Sometimes, people return to Foxfire Mountain with proof of a wish come true: a new spouse, or baby in tow. “A woman was having trouble in her pregnancy, she came out here and hung her wish, and came home to a voicemail on the answering machine that everything was OK,” Krouse says. “Just last week, she brought the beautiful healthy boy that they named Wyile, after our Wyile Cider.”
Along with ATV tours, camping, and hiking, Foxfire Mountain’s cider barn also draws tourists to the Tennessee adventure park. It offers an array of hard cider flavors, from cran-apple to black currant to mango tango. Each label features a cute, cartoon-like character. Inspired by his Irish heritage, Postlewaite created the Wyile (pronounced why-lee), a mythical creature, himself. “They’re a cousin of the leprechaun,” Krouse explains. “They make apple cider—and grant wishes.”
She says the Wyiles come out every night and choose a few wishes from the Whispering Winds bridge to grant. “When people started hearing about them, they got bombarded,” Krouse says. “They went into hiding because too many people came out demanding they grant their wishes. So we worked up a deal. They make us cider and they can live at Foxfire Mountain untouched and choose which wishes to grant.”
I can only hope that one day they’ll choose mine.