What happens at a Friends of the MST Annual Meeting?

FMST2011-key players

It’s not easy to get to a Friends of the MST meeting.

I had a Great Smoky Mountains Association meeting at Park Headquarters in Gatlinburg the day before. Instead of stopping at home in Asheville, I dropped off my rider, blew past Asheville and drove east another hour and a half to  shorten the drive the next day.

FMST meeting 2011-Browns SummitI arrive at Haw River State Park northeast of Greensboro an hour early but there are already plenty of eager members drinking coffee and talking.Over 130 people had signed up, the largest number yet. I meet a lot of folks I had only previously emailed.

The Summit Center was built as a training center for state park employees but other groups can rent it out. The center can hold up to 180 overnight guests.

FMST meeting 2011-pulaski turnoverAfter the obligatory welcome from Kelley Thompson, Superintendent of the State Park, John Jaskolka, the past president of Friends of the MST, passes on a Pulaski, a trail digging tool, to Bill Sadler, the new board president.

Darrell McBane, NC State Trails Program Manager, summarizes all the bits and pieces of the trail that are being negotiated, bought, and worked on. It’s a dizzying list and I can’t keep up with the landmarks and county names.

Kate Dixon, Executive Director of FMST, offers highlights of the past year. The big one is that Pres. Obama and Michelle Obama walked a mile of the MST. We’ll be talking about this for years to come. Kate also brings up the most popular question. When will the trail be done?

“The current trail is done now,” is the answer. But the ultimate trail, the 1,000 miles all on a hiking trail, does not have a completion time. So if you’re reading this, you might as well get going and walk the MST. There’s no point for you to wait for the ultimate trail to be finished.

FMSTmeeting 2011- completersThree completers were recognized – from left to right – Ian Fraher, Cooper Brantley and Steve Hassenfelt.

With those three guys, the number of completers is a whopping 20. Compare this with 492 people who completed the Appalachian Trail in 2010. But the MST will get there.

Keynote Address
While all of this was going on, Howard Lee, the Keynote Speaker, was waiting patiently. Allen de Hart introduced him at great length but I wanted to hear the speaker himself. The Honorable Howard N. Lee is a 77-year old African American with an amazing life. After getting a masters degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, he became the mayor of Chapel Hill, the first African American to be elected to that post in a mainly white city. He’s been in public service ever since and he’s still very active.

FMST meeting 2011 - Howard LeeIn 1977, Governor Jim Hunt appointed Lee as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, which he held until 1981.

In a National Trails meeting in 1977, Howard Lee proposed “that the time had come to consider the feasibility of establishing a state trail between the mountains and the seashore in North Carolina”.

He became the second father of the MST. The first was Jim Hallsey who worked in the department and actually looked at maps for the feasibility of the trail.

Lee quotes the poet Langston Hughes to make some of his points. The best is the following directed at de Hart’s tenacity.

Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you–
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.

Lee also has a great singing voice and Allen gets him to sing “Happy Trails to you,” twice. The second time it’s taped and will be on YouTube soon with the key players in back of Lee. See the top photo.

After lunch, the three completers plus Sharon and I give one of the workshops on “Learning about hiking the Trail.” A slide show, then too many panelists in too short a time but I think it went well.

Many in the audience ask general hiking and backpacking questions, not specific to the MST. What to do about predators, worries about troublesome people, how much weight to carry. These issues apply just as well to any long distance trail.

We should have diverted the questions back to the special challenges of the MST and told them to go on a beginners backpack for all those general questions.

All this time, I’m networking. Remember the squirrel story.

Why is it impossible to keep a squirrel out of a bird feeder?
Because you think about it some of the time and the squirrel thinks about getting to that food all of the time.

I am that squirrel. I meet folks from various parts of the state that might be helpful to my continuing walk east. I get their contact information and they may be surprised when I actually call them.

It is exciting to be part of something forming and new. Right now I’m getting a lot of personal attention from Kate and members of the FMST family. When the ultimate trail gets to be popular, you’ll have to read the guidebook and be on your own.  

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