If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m doing you a huge favor by sparring you 15,000 words in exchange for 15 pictures, all from my journeys this week on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Enjoy, and have a slideshow-worthy weekend.read more
My idea of a good time when I can’t be outdoors?
Sitting around a big conference table with the head of the state’s largest trail system and a newly minted map.
Wednesday, Kate Dixon, executive director of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail attended a meeting in New Bern about the path the MST would take from New Bern to the Outer Banks. Thursday, she took a few minutes to update me the latest developments on the statewide trail, a 1,000-mile work in progress that will one day run from atop Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee border across the Tar Heel state to Jockey’s Ridge at the lip of the Atlantic.
A little over half of the trail is done. There’s a 300-mile continuous stretch in the mountains, mostly along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and another good chunk through the Triangle. East of Clayton, though, there’s a long dry spell before you reach the MST’s exciting conclusion along the coast. It was that dry spell that Dixon wanted to talk about.
Specifically, the meeting a day earlier had been about routing the MST through the coastal Croatan National Forest, from New Bern east to the Outer Banks.
“The problem with the Croatan,” she said, “is that it’s wet.”
Indeed. You can’t go far in the 160,000-acre national forest before you run into a wet area known as a pocosin, or upland swamp. Dixon traced her index finger across a number of old roadbeds that seemed to penetrate the forest. Alas, her finger would stop in a pocosin or simply disappear into the mass of coastal jungle growth. Another option, which the FMST isn’t crazy about, is piggybacking on a US 70 bypass around Havelock. Not a lot of esthetic reward in hiking alongside a divided four-lane highway.
Dixon threw a curve ball, though, when she pointed out a sparsely used rail line that runs between the Cherry Point Marine facility near Havelock to Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, a path roughly perpendicular to a trail coming down the Neuse River. A trail paralleling the Neuse has long been considered the route the MST would take through the coastal plain. The rail line came nowhere close to the Neuse.
“How would that work?” I asked.
“We’re thinking about three types of routes to the coast,” Dixon said.
One would be a paddle route, down the Neuse, to New Bern. Another would be a bike route, following the Neuse as close as possible on less-traveled country roads and passing through the Neuse communities of Goldsboro, Kinston and New Bern. The hiking trail would follow a southerly route, parting ways with the Neuse at Smithfield.
Running a hiking trail along the coastal Neuse is proving problematic on several fronts, Dixon said. In spots, especially in the Let’Lones area below Smithfield, the land is perpetually wet. That’s a problem because the public corridor along the Neuse is only 50 feet wide and much of the surrounding land is privately owned,much of it by folks who have been slow to warm to a public trail running across their property.
So instead, the FMST is looking at dropping the hiking trail south of Smithfield to Bentonville and on to the Bladen Lakes area east of Fayetteville. There, it would make its way east to Jacksonville and pick up the aforementioned rail line, where they might be able to strike an access arrangement. The trail would then tap into the Croatan’s Neusiok Trail and head east to the Outer Banks. Another advantage to the southerly route: there’s more public land to run the trail through.
“It’s just something we’ve started looking at,” says Dixon. read more
The Triangle is two ramps away from having a 60-mile hiking trail.
Just before Christmas, contractors using a really big crane lowered a steel bridge onto concrete footings spanning Little Lick Creek at Falls Lake. The bridge will join Sections 14 and 15 of the Falls Lake portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and will make it possible hike undisturbed from Pennys Bend on the Eno River in Durham County downlake to the Falls Lake dam in Raleigh — when it’s completed.
“When it’s completed,” because there’s still the matter of those two ramps. While Little Lick Creek lives up to its name, it’s in a floodplain that is wide. Thus, the bridge’s deck sits about seven feet off the ground, and lead-up boardwalk ramps are required.
“The contractor has until February 10 to install the ramps,” Friends of the MST Executive Director Kate Dixon said yesterday. “But I think it will be done before that.”
Initially, the plan was to save money by having volunteers build the bridge. (Except for more involved projects such as this, the 1,000-mile-long statewide trail, a little over half of which is completed, is being built by an army of volunteers.) But Dixon said they had money left over from the two grants used to fund the bridge — $150,000 from the state’s recreational trails program and $55,000 in Durham open space funds — so they decided to hire the work out.
A formal dedication ceremony is scheduled for May 19.
While the 60-mile trail will be one of longest urban trails in the nation, it’s just over a third of what the trail eventually will be. On its journey from 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee border to Jockey’s Ridge on the Atlantic, the MST will spend 150 miles in the Triangle, running from Clayton in Johnston County to Hillsborough in Orange County. That entire 150-mile stretch could be completed next year.
A progress report, from east to west:read more
I’m big on goals, big on cross-training as well. Occasionally, these dual objectives create conflict.
For instance, come autumn, the goal-oriented runner in me gets excited about the Second Empire Fall Grand Prix Series. The series consists of eight races, starting with this Sunday’s Magnificent Mile in downtown Raleigh and including five 5Ks, an 8K, and a 10-miler. I like the series in part because of the race variety, in part because the speed-challenged such as myself have a chance to shine in the series. I won’t place in my age group — stunning how many fast 55- to 59-year-olds there are on the circuit — in any one race, but if I run in every race I could place in the top 10, perhaps even top 5 in the series standings. Great incentive to train for the non-elite.read more
We stood in a circle, this group mostly in our 50s, 60s and 70s, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was 8 again, shuffling nervously in a schoolyard playground. Our team leaders were choosing work crews, but it had the unmistakable feel of picking teams for a pickup football game.read more