2023 Year of the Trail

The State of North Carolina has declared 2023 to be Year of the Trail, and there’s going to be a lot going on. For starters, the State Legislature has allocated $29.15 million in funding for the Complete the Trails Fund. That money will fund projects on North Carolina’s 12 State Trails, which you can find here. Expect a lot of “Excuse our Mess” signs in 2023.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is one of North Carolina’s 12 State Trails

Activity-wise, the Great Trails State Coalition, a non-profit created to promote North Carolina trails in 2023 and beyond, hopes to see a trail-related event — hike, bike ride, paddle trip, horseback ride — conducted in all 100 North Carolina counties in 2023. And the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is working up a full slate of fun as well, including programs through its PATH — or Parks and Trails for Health — program. 

But it’s another Department of Natural and Cultural Resources program that has me suggesting you get out your 2023 calendar (or buy one in the first place).

Hometown Strong is an initiative of Gov. Roy Cooper that works with the state’s 80 rural counties to boost their prosperity. In general, communities identify problems they need help with — from modernizing their websites to overhauling their water treatment systems — and Hometown Strong’s policy analysts work to help them solve those problems, in large part by helping them find available funding. 

Sometimes, though, it works in reverse. In the case of Year of the Trail, Hometown Strong identified 11 communities with unheralded — or underheralded — recreational resources, and is working with those communities to shine a light on said resources. This will take place in 2023 in the form of trail day weekends celebrating these resources with street fairs and guided hikes and trips. This is where you get out your 2023 calendar to jot down the following trail festival dates:

  • February 17-19 — Elizabethtown
  • March 24-26 — Morganton
  • April 22-23 — Eden
  • May 12-14 — Sanford
  • June 2-4 — Old Fort
  • June 2-4 — Elizabeth City
  • July 21-23 — Edenton
  • August 18-20 — West Jefferson
  • September 15-17 — Swansboro
  • October 15-17 — Robbinsville
  • October tbd — Shelby

What will happen at these Trail Day festivals? We’ll be sharing that information in this space as it becomes available. In fact, we’ll share everything we know about Year of the Trail in this space as it becomes known. In fact, once a week we will post a weekly update on Year of the Trail, focusing on upcoming activities we think you’ll be especially interested in. You can find that weekly update below.

Weekly Update

Weekly news updates on Year of the Trail.


Woodcock Walk

Local parks put on some amazing programs. But unless you live near that park — and even if you do — the odds of finding out about it can be slim. And herein lies yet another benefit of North Carolina’s Year of the Trail. 

The website greattrailsnc.com is the go-to source for Year of the Trail information. Learn everything from what Year of the Trail is and why it was created, to how we celebrate trails here in North Carolina, to how you can promote our trails. And, you can also learn about Year of the Trail programs all across the state. Like Catawba County Parks’ Woodcock Walk this Saturday (Jan. 21) at 5 p.m..

Here’s what makes this particular event special: Most of the year, the American woodcock is a bird that’s hard to find because it’s small and blends so well with its environment. But come January, the male woodcock comes alive with a loud and distinctive peent call and some dazzling aerial acrobatics. How dazzling? Dazzling enough that once you see a video of performing woodcocks, you won’t think twice about driving to Riverbend Park in Claremont to catch the show.

For a link for more information on the Woodcock Walk and to see the American woodcock in action, continue here.

To learn more about the Riverbend Park Woodcock Walk, go here. Check out the video of the American Woodcock’s aerial dance, here.


January 5, 2023

Snowshoeing? In North Carolina? Yup.

Snowshoeing at Sugar Mountain

One of the many great things about the Year of the Trail, which we have now entered, is that it will bring to our attention recreational opportunities most of us had no idea existed. Snowshoeing, for instance.

Sugar Mountain Resort launched its Year of the Trail celebration on Tuesday with free guided snowshoe tours on the mountain. The free tours (and rental) was a one-time Year of the Trail thing, but Sugar offers the one-hour guided tours, including snowshoe rental, throughout the season (weather permitting) for $33. The tours are tailored to your interest: if you’re just interested in tromping about a bit to see what it’s like, fine. If you want to see how far you can run in snowshoes in an hour, that’s cool, too. 

Learn more about snowshoeing at Sugar Mountain here. And, again (see Resources”) you can learn more about additional Year of the Trail opportunities at greattrailsnc.com. 01.05.2023


First Day Options Abound

December 29, 2022

This week, it’s all about Sunday, New Year’s Day, and First Day Hikes — and First Day Outings. The latter First, first.

On Sunday in North Carolina we enter Year of the Trail, as deemed by the State Legislature. All year, we will celebrate trails of every stripe: natural surface, paved surface, equestrian, hiker, mountain biker, trails of blue. Even our cultural trails. We’ll get into all this in January, but for now we focus on Sunday. And first, those Outings.

Because trails come in various stripes, they are celebrated in various ways this Sunday. For in addition to our decade-long tradition of First Day Hikes, we now have First Day Outings. Outings that include:

Continue reading here.

Exposure = Expenditures

December 22, 2022

Here’s another goal of Year of the Trail in North Carolina: to let our elected officials know that we need to spend more on trail development. Already, the State Legislature has shown a willingness to spend on trails: along with the proclamation declaring 2023 the Year of the Trail in North Carolina came a one-time allotment of $29.15 million for the Complete the Trails Fund, which will go toward completing North Carolina’s 12 State Trails (to learn what those 12 trails are, go here). 

So how can we make this happen?

By inviting your elected officials on a hike, or paddle trip or bike ride or horseback ride. Familiarity, as they say, breeds financial support. 

It’s true. That $29.15 million? You largely have Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke County, to thank. Blackwell loves the outdoors, but he’s also seen how trails can make a difference in the local economy. Granted, Burke County has some pretty awesome trails — Wilson Creek, Linville Gorge, Lake James State Park, the Fonta Flora State Trail, among others — but even in Burke County, there’s room for more.

Make it your mission in 2023 to hike with an elected official.

First Day Outings

December 8, 2022

North Carolina’s Year of the Trail kicks off on Jan. 1. And this year, you don’t have to be a hiker to participate. Sure, hiking will again dominate: the North Carolina State Parks website already has 23 events listed for Jan.1, and while most of those ranger-led events are hikes, not all are. For instance: 

  • Chimney Rock State Park will hold the “First Day Hike or Bike for 2023 Year of the Trail.” That event will let participants either hike or bike up the 3.2-mile entrance road to the park (it will be closed to motor traffic). Details here.
  • Lake Norman State Park will hold three — count ‘em, three — “First Day Ride” on its mountain bike trail. Led by the Tarheel Trailblazers, the “Ride” is actually three rides: a 30-mile advanced group ride at 10 a.m., a 15-mile group ride at 11 a.m., and a “1 Hour Easy Pace Ride” at noon. Details here.

Meanwhile, at GreattrailsNC.com, the Great Trails State Coalition offers up these First Day Outing options:

  • Carolina Godiva Track Cub New Year’s Day 8K Run, which has been around for about 40 years, gets in the Year of the Trail spirit wit its First Day Run on Hillsborough’s Riverwalk greenway and at the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail. Commences from Gold Park. Details here.
  • First Day Birding and Hiking. In an event we’re especially excited about, this two-pronged outing starts with Birding for Beginners in Wilkesboro from 9-11 a.m., followed by a First Day Hike at the new Rendezvous Mountain State Park at 2 p.m. The birding event is part of the NC Bird Atlas, a program of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; the hike will showcase the newest N.C. state park with a 1-mile hike. The combined event is offered by the N.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Hometown Strong and Parks and Trails for Health (PATH) initiatives. Details here.

New First Day events are being added daily. Start planning your Year of the Trail kickoff by monitoring these two sites.

  • North Carolina State Parks events calendar, here.
  • Great Trails State Coalition events calendar, here.
Year of the Trail officially kicks off

December 1, 2022

2023’s Year of the Trail in North Carolina officially kicked off Thursday as part of the annual Carolina Thread Trail Form in Mooresville. Caping a day of trail-focused sessions (“Natural Surface Trail Maintenance,” “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Outdoors”), Year of the Trail was officially launched with short talks by Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke County), the driving force behind legislation creating YOTT, an a $29.15 million investment in the State Trails system; Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union County), who, if not the driving force certainly played an active role in the passenger seat; Palmer McIntyre, who heads the Great Trails State Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting trail development across the state; and, Reid Wilson, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, whose department is actively promoting the state’s physical and cultural trails. 

Early in the kickoff, mention was made of North Carolina being The Great Roads State, one in which a former governor once vowed to have a four-lane road within 10 miles of every resident. Wilson, building on that theme, asked, “Why shouldn’t everyone in the state be in the outdoors in 10 minutes?” Imagine being just 10 minutes from a North Carolina State Park, or a local greenway, or a blue trail? 

A good legacy for Year of the Trail to kick off. 

Great Trails State Coalition goes public 

November 24, 2022

The Great Trails State Coalition, the non-profit launched this year to help promote 2023’s Year of the Trail and trails in general in North Carolina, has officially launched its campaign. The main relevance to you? You can now start finding Year of the Trail events on their website, starting with the Dec. 1 Carolina Thread Trail Forum, which draws 250 trail professionals to Mooresville for a day of sessions on trails, and this year marks the official launch of Year of the Trail by the state. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid Wilson will be on hand to launch YOTT. 

At the Great Trails State site, you’ll start seeing some of the many events planned statewide for Year of the Trail. You’ll also find a Year of the Trail blog and links to their social media. Check out the Great Trails State website here.

Birding, anyone?

November 17, 2022

In this space every week we vow to keep you up-to-date on the latest developments for North Carolina’s Year of the Trail celebration in 2023. Today’s nugget is so new only two people know about it (until now), and they, frankly don’t know all that much. The nugget: Birding will be part of our YOTT activities.

You’ve likely heard of the Christmas Bird Count and possibly the Backyard Bird Count. Both are exercises in citizen science, where novices get to help document bird life that scientists can use to identify trends. That’s likewise the goal of the North Carolina Bird Atlas, a program administered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, with several partners. Specifically, this program focuses on bird behavior during breeding season and in winter. 

“This is the third year of the program,” says CC King, who administers the program for WRC and is one of the two people aware that the count will be part of YOTT activities. “We’re pretty well represented in urban areas,” she adds, “but we need help in rural areas.”  

That’s why we’ll be including a birding session with each of the Hometown Strong Year of the Trail events planned for 11 rural N.C. communities, according to me, Joe Miller, GetHiking! enewsletter editor by night, YOTT ecotourism advisor to the state by day. (I would be the other person aware of the events’ birding sessions. The tentative plan is for each field session to be about two hours long, with one seasoned birder paired with 5 (maybe a few more) novice birders. The program has loaner binoculars participants can use.

We will talk more about the NC Bird Atlas and the YOTT birding events in coming weeks. You can learn more about the Atlas now by going here. 

Investment-ready trail projects

November 10, 2022

Ever wonder why your community doesn’t have more trails? Think it’s not a priority of your elected officials and local and county governments? Often, that’s not the case. Typically, it’s because they don’t have the money to complete a trail. Enter the N.C. Legislature and their proclamation last year that 2023 be Year of the Trail in North Carolina, a proclamation that included $29.15 million for the Complete the Trails Fund. 

This is money to be spent in 2023 alone. Some of it will go toward extending the state’s 12 state trails. If you aren’t familiar with these trails — odds are you know one, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but that might be it — you can learn more about them here. And some of that money will go toward trail projects deemed “investment ready.” That is, trails that have been designed and for which the land is available, but that need funds to actually get built. 

Wondering if there are any such trails in your area? One way to find out is to visit the Great Trails State Coalition website, where 164 such projects (in need of about $240 million in funds) have been identified. 

The Coalition has created a map of the projects, which you can find here. Find a trail you would love to see completed with Complete the Trails Fund money, then contact the listed point person to see how you can help transform that trail from investment ready to adventure ready.

First Day ‘Outings’

November 1, 2022

We always look forward to our First Day hike: Jan. 1, start of a new year, getting our first miles in … . And there’s the fact we’re hiking in a favorite state park with a lot of other outdoor-minded folk. Trouble is, those hikes only last an hour or two — what to do with the rest of New Year’s Day? The Great Trails State Coalition offers an answer this New Year’s Day: to kick off 2023 the Year of the Trail, their calendar of events will include any trail-related event: mountain bike rides, paddles on blue trails, horseback rides — if you can do it on a trail, you can find it in the Great Trails State Coalition calendar. Start looking for their events calendar on the Coalition website around December 1.

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