In February of 2014, the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation (DPR) began the process of developing this master plan for the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail (MST). The vision for the MST is an off-road hiking trail connecting Clingmans Dome on North Carolina’s western border to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks.
So starts the body of a draft of the first North Carolina state master plan for the MST. Planning Communities, LLC, the firm that’s been retained by the state to write the master plan, is looking for comments, due by May 15. If you go to this website, you’ll notice that Planning Communities, LLC decided not to hold any meetings in the mountains. I wrote to several people on that. The answer was basically, “we’re not”.
I read the whole 112 pages – OK, so I skipped the legal stuff at the end. Here are some interesting bits.
Early Planning Efforts
At the National Trails Symposium at North Carolina’s Lake Junaluska in 1977, the idea of a
cross-state trail gained further momentum. The North Carolina Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, Howard Lee, addressed the crowd about the trail, saying, “I want our State Trails Committee to look at recommending a trail that would give North Carolina and national visitors using it a real feel for the sights, sounds, and people of the state… I think it would be a trail that would help — like the first primitive trails — bring us together.”
It may surprise mountain folks that follow the white circles that the first dedicated segment of the MST was a 75.8-mile trail along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1982. Well, the national park was there and they didn’t need too many signs on the beach.
Still, the Master Plan does recognize that “much of the early trail was on the ground in the mountain region. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s most trail construction took place in the mountains in the western part of the state because of the availability of public lands, though trails near Falls Lake in the Piedmont were dedicated in 1987 and 1991.
The Designated Segments of the MST are constructed sections that have been designated by the DPR. Currently, there are over 600 designated miles of the MST, with the majority of those miles lying within the western part of the state. The following Designated Segments are identified in this master plan:
A. Southern Blue Ridge
B. Asheville Area
C. Central Blue Ridge
D. Northern Blue Ridge
E. Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock State Park
F. Greensboro Watershed Trails
G. Falls Lake/Neuse River
Another surprise to Carolina Mountain Club members. The state assumes that the club will build trails west of Heintooga Road. That’s the problem when you write a plan without actually talking to maintainers and hikers or without being there.
The trail doesn’t go into Cherokee. From Heintooga Road, it takes a variety of trails, goes up to Waterrock Knob and eventually to Balsam Gap. Almost all of it is now on trail. Pg. 13 of the master plan is so old, it seems as if nothing happened since the year 2000. It lists Cherokee to Balsam Gap as undone.
The master plan is good with ranking, prioritizing, etc. but it doesn’t seem like they talked to anyone. It’s as if with GPS and high quality maps, you don’t have to ground truth anymore.
I wonder if they talked to Tom Earnhardt. If not they should have.
I have a lot of trouble with the Personal Safety section.
Pg. 58 focuses on the “dangers” on the MST, mostly suspicious people. Why are nonhikers so afraid of the woods? The Personal Safety section starts and ends with fearing other hikers. I should be grateful that they don’t talk about fearing bears and snakes.
But they get some things right.
Stay to the right and pass on the left. Always look before changing positions on the trail.
• Dogs must be leashed, as loose dogs can be hazardous to others or to themselves.
• Carry out all litter, including pet and food waste. Bring bags to collect your waste and dispose of it in a garbage can. Pet and food waste can attract wildlife.
So, read as much of the master plan as you can. Look at your section of trail to see if plan writers got it right. And comment by May 15.