The Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Hillsborough

 

Friends of the MST folks are a generous lot. They’re willing to give their time and energy to build and maintain the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina. They’re also eager to to take people they’ve never met on their section of trail. And that’s how I got to hike yesterday with John Willis on the Hillsborough Riverwalk.

John Willis on the Hillsborough Riverwalk
John Willis on the Hillsborough Riverwalk

The Riverwalk is a paved path through woods connecting Gold Park to downtown Hillsborough, just outside of the Triangle.

When it’s finally finished, the Riverwalk will be 1.8 miles. Right now, the Hillsborough Taskforce, the folks building and maintaining trail through Hillsborough, need to build a couple of bridges before the Riverwalk will connect to the MST coming through from the west.

After walking a short stretch through town, we got into John’s car and went around the bridge-to-be, and walked a longer, “more rugged” section including the old Occonecchee Speedway. This old track, active from the 1940s to the 1960s, is being restored by a group that remember the speedway in its glory. Now the land has trails. People jog on the track. Another fascinating piece of North Carolina history that deserves more space.

John is a retired insurance agent who came down from Southern Indiana in an RV and discovered Hillsborough. He fell in love with the town and then a woman and is happily married and settled in a house now. When he first arrived here, he didn’t know anyone but was eager to “find his tribe”. He read about an MST Falls Lake workday and checked it out. He was hooked. Now he helps to build trail from Boone to east of Raleigh.

Alien MST blazes
Alien MST blazes

We continued our walk on the bluffs of the Eno River – that was the “rugged part” where the blazes could need a little help. Right now the circles are neither round nor white. John said that they were made by aliens.

This section of  trail is on private land, owned by Ayr Mount historic site, one of several properties in the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. The MST has a 20-foot right of way. The landlord leaves nothing to chance. They’re put up signs like Off Trail Exploring Prohibited. Fair enough. It’s their land.

The end of the trail for now
The end of the trail for now

Again, the MST ends just under a bridge.

To continue the trail, the state needs to acquire a few small parcels of private land. It’s so complicated. Each landlord had his/her own quirks. They don’t seem to understand what a hiking trail really is. They picture hordes of “hippies” squatting on their land. And the state has to negotiate with each of them. It’s going to take a long time.

Here John looks out on a future section. Then we turned around and retraced our steps.

Ayr Mount
Ayr Mount

 

 

 

After all this talk about Ayr Mount, I had to see the building.

The house, built in 1815, was part of a plantation. Now it only has 60 acres of land but the property has been saved. They give tours on weekends. In the future, Ayr Mount will be reached by a short diversion off the MST.

Thanks, John, for a great afternoon.

 

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