Tag Archives: MST

Mountains-to-Sea Trail Draft Master Plan – My first reading

Mileage to Folk Art Center
Mileage to Folk Art Center

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.

Designated Segments

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.

From the MST off Waterrock Knob
From the MST off Waterrock Knob

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.

Tom Earnhardt
Tom Earnhardt

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.


Friends of the MST Meeting on Saturday February 7, 2015

Danny and Sharon at Jockey's Ridge
Danny and Sharon at Jockey’s Ridge

Sharon McCarthy, Smoky Scout, a CMC member and my Mountains-to-Sea Trail hiking partner, always says to mountain hikers You have to get out of the mountains, people.

And here’s the best way of getting out and seeing what’s happening on the MST east of Black Mountain Campground.

Glencoe Village in the Piedmont
Glencoe Village in the Piedmont

Plan to attend the 2015 Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail annual meeting on Saturday, February 7, 2015 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at Elon University near Burlington.

You’ll meet several important and interesting people in the Mountains-to-Sea Trail world. Here’s a run-down:

Tom Earnhardt, writer and host of UNC-TV’s Exploring NC, will the keynote speaker. Earnhardt just produced Highway to the Future, a gorgeous, informative program about the MST and where it is headed.  Hearing him is worth the trip alone!

State Parks Director Mike Murphy will give an update on the MST master plan, 2016 State Parks Centennial and other issues. 2016 will be a busy year with the State parks and National Park centennials and – oh yes – the presidential election.

Howard Lee, who first publicly proposed the MST in 1977 and now on the board of Friends of the MST, will be there.

Of course, you’ll meet hikers, MST maintainers and dreamers.

Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST, has a special shout-out to CMC.

Jockey's Ridge, end of the MST
Jockey’s Ridge, end of the MST

“It’s a chance for devoted CMC maintainers to meet their counterparts from all over the state and to learn how what they have been building and maintaining is becoming part of a grand network all over North Carolina.”

Where’s Elon University? It’s between Winston-Salem and Durham, less than three hours from Pack Square in Asheville, just off I-40 E/I-85 N, exit 140. You can get in your car at 6:30 am and be here in plenty of time for your second cup of coffee.

If you’re interested in arriving on Friday, Friends of the MST has planned an afternoon guided hike on the MST, a casual networking dinner and discounts at a host hotel for staying overnight prior to the Annual Meeting. Surely you’re curious what the trail looks like once it leaves the mountains.

There’s lots more to the meeting. And all for $25 for members.
Check out this link for more details and how to register:

So get together with hiking buddies. Organize a car pool with your trail crew and come east. It will be fun – and in February – a lot warmer than the mountains.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, beyond the Mountains

Sunrise at Cape Hatteras
Sunrise at Cape Hatteras

Last evening I gave a talk on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the annual meeting of the High Country Hikers in Hendersonville, NC. The audience was a well-traveled group of hikers who’ve been all over the world. We discussed hiking in France, the Baltic countries and the Inca Trail.

The evening before, I attended the quarterly Carolina Mountain Club council meeting where I updated the council on the MST – the whole trail. We, Western North Carolina hikers, are an arrogant lot. We feel that hiking in the Carolinas ends at about Grandfather Mountain. Who would want to go any further east?

Glencoe Village in the Piedmont
Glencoe Village in the Piedmont

The MST goes from the Mountains to the Sea. And how do you get to the sea? Via the Piedmont and the Coastal Plains which are fascinating areas in themselves. In addition, as I stress to mountain audiences, this is where the MST goes through several North Carolina state parks, such as Stone Mountain, Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, Eno River, and Falls River. Maybe I missed a couple.

In Western North Carolina, we have so much federal land–the Smokies, Blue Ridge Park, Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests–that we don’t seem to miss state parks. But state parks are very soft-core and their trails well marked.

As Sharon, Smoky Scout, my MST hiking partner, says when she talks to a WNC audience, “You need to get out of the mountains, people.” She’s right. And once you get out of the mountains, the hiking gets a lot easier.