Outdoors Recreation

Outdoors: 2023 is North Carolina’s Year of the Trail

Sunset near Pisgah National Forest. North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail. Photos courtesy of Great Trails State Coalition

By Emma Castleberry

This year, North Carolina celebrates the Year of the Trail, a campaign connecting the public, trail organizations, industry and tourism groups, and the government for the largest year-long event of its kind in the country. Trails are crucial not only to our state’s economic and environmental health, but also to the quality of life for citizens of NC. “Trails help get people on the ground, to experience nature, local culture and our wonderful communities surrounding them,” says Shane Prisby, trails program director for Foothills Conservancy, a member of the Great Trails State Coalition. “From rural to urban areas, from the mountains to the coast, there’s a part of our state for everyone—and we’re lucky enough to likely have a trail that takes you there.”

The Year of the Trail was established by the North Carolina General Assembly at the behest of the Great Trails State Coalition, a partnership of 60 local, regional, state and national nonprofits, governments and industry partners who are the primary hosts for the Year of the Trail campaign. Hundreds of events are happening across the state throughout the calendar year, anchored by the major event of National Trails Day on Saturday, June 3.

Berm Park, Chestnut Mountain Nature Park, Canton

Daniel Sapp is managing partner at The Backslope, the firm that is handling digital communications, social media and content development for the campaign. He says that Year of the Trail comes at a crucial time for raising awareness about the care and maintenance of trails. “Trail use has increased dramatically in the last few years since the start of the COVID pandemic,” he says. “The majority of trails in the Asheville area are on National Forest land and stewardship is critical for our region because land managers, especially at the federal level, do not have the money or resources to maintain these trails on their own. Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of non-profit organizations invest time and resources to keep the trails open and maintained. That said, you don’t have to get out and do trail work in order to be a good steward of the trails. Follow the rules, set a good example for others, pick up trash when you see it, take those dog waste bags with you and help spread the word that trails don’t maintain themselves.”

Foothills Conservancy has put together a series of community hikes in honor of the Year of the Trail. #HikeAroundTheFoothills will feature outings on the Conservancy’s protected lands and other favorite regional locations. Additionally, the Conservancy will have a variety of trail projects in the coming months, with several notable goals. “Foothills Conservancy is designated as the lead organization for the Wilderness Gateway State Trail, which will connect Catawba County to Chimney Rock State Park in Rutherford County through well over 100-plus miles of natural surface trails and blueway for paddling,” says Prisby. “We hope to be able to share the first sections of the trail with the public later this year.” Also, the Conservancy will open Oak Hill Community Park & Forest with nearly 10 miles of trail completed this year. Visit FoothillsConservancy.org for more information.

American Tobacco Trail Durham

Camp Grier is another member of the coalition that will be hosting events throughout the year. These include workdays on the first Friday and second Saturday of each month on public trails in Old Fort. “This year we’re building four miles of trail with four more miles slated for construction later this year, so the ribbon cutting for these trail openings will be a big celebration,” says executive director Jason McDougald. During National Trails Day weekend, the Town of Old Fort will host the first annual Trails and Trains Festival. Camp Grier will be producing two events for the festival: a trail race through Tanawha Adventures and a Youth Mountain Bike Event by Pisgah Productions. Visit CampGrier.org for more information.

As a member of the Great Trails State Coalition, Conserving Carolina hopes the Year of the Trail will raise awareness about trail etiquette to reduce damage and also inspire more funding and volunteering to support our state trail systems. “Walking in the woods on a trail is a timeless experience that we need to protect for future generations,” says Kristin Cozza, trails and greenways coordinator for Conserving Carolina. “Trails and outdoor recreation spaces provide so many values to the community including health, environmental and economic benefits. Building sustainable trails in the mountains is expensive, averaging $40,000 per mile, and that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring the property. To keep up with the demand for new trails, North Carolina needs a dedicated source of revenue to support land acquisition, trail construction and long-term maintenance of these facilities.”

Conserving Carolina celebrates trails every year with their spring hiking series, White Squirrel Hiking Challenge, Flying Squirrel Outdoor Challenge and a variety of volunteer opportunities for trail maintenance. Visit ConservingCarolina.org for more information.

For the remainder of the year, The Laurel of Asheville will feature a “Year of the Trail” story in each of our monthly issues. Be on the lookout for these articles, which will profile important trail organizations in our region and provide tips on how you can utilize and support one of our state’s greatest assets.

Learn more at GreatTrailsNC.com.

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