In an attempt to get the Mountains-to-Sea Trail off the road in the Coastal Plains, the trail will shift to a section from Clayton to Smithfield. A greenway is supposed to be built along the Neuse River and 2.9 miles of it is already in place in Smithfield.
So I checked out Smithfield, a small town between Goldsboro and Raleigh, population, about 13,000. It’s the county seat of Johnston County and its downtown is right on the Neuse River. I walked the few blocks of its lively downtown – with jewelry stores, financial services companies, photographic equipment, and even a $3 movie theater. Yes, it has lots of bail bonds store fronts, but that’s what you expect around the courthouse.
It even has a bookstore, Orchard House Booksellers, which also serves as a downtown coffee house. That’s always a good place to connect with locals. The Johnston County Heritage Center serves as the local museum and it’s only one block to the Ava Gardner Museum. Yep, Ava Gardner came from around here. In case you can’t remember a thing about Gardner, she was in On the Beach and her “longest marriage” was to Frank Sinatra.
I walked a bit of the Buffalo Creek Greenway on the Neuse River, the section from downtown Smithfield to the community park. That section starts where John Smith operated a ferry across the Neuse on his property starting in 1759. I met bikers, walkers and a fisherman. A few miles of the greenway would be a highlight of the Coastal Plains.
But I was supposed to check out the services that long-distance MST hikers might need. US 70 Business had everything – fast food places, laundromat and plenty of motels. And further back from downtown was the reason that Smithfield is doing so well – Carolina Premium Outlets. Eighty brand name stores that stay open until 9 p.m. way after downtown closes attracts a lot of people.
I don’t think that MST hikers are going to be interested in the Kitchen Store or Talbot clothes but they will enjoy the services that are there because of the outlet mall. Yes, I think that Smithfield would make a fine MST trail town.