02/24/13 — Group wants to improve hiking trails in eastern N.C.

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Group wants to improve hiking trails in eastern N.C.

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 24, 2013 1:50 AM

It was a daring proposal, especially for 1977, but hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail -- a 947-mile trail -- is a daring endeavor itself.

Hikers typically begin the trail at Clingman's Dome on the Tennessee state line and meander across the state, passing just south of Asheville through Boone and east just north of Greensboro and the Triangle to Falls Lake in Wake Forest -- and then the trail ends.

Yes, the trail conceptually heads southeast through Smithfield and Goldsboro, following the Neuse River to the coast and across to the Outer Banks before terminating at Jockey's Ridge State Park, but the next 175 miles of the trail after Falls Lake is no trail at all: It's a route along back roads taking hikers along ditchbanks before the trail picks up again north of Havelock.

A nonprofit group, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, has been working since 1997 to better connect the trail's beginning and end, but Kate Dixon, the organization's executive director, said the coastal plain has emerged as a challenge.

Ms. Dixon and others with stakes in the trail spoke at a Friends of Wayne County Greenways function Thursday afternoon at Wayne Memorial Hospital, although she indicated the Friends group has recently begun to encourage hikers to avoid the Neuse River Corridor on their trek to the sea.

Due to the lack of adequate trails in eastern North Carolina, the Friends have instructed hikers to head south along the Cape Fear River while publicizing the Neuse as an option for paddling.

"We want to give people a great hiking experience," she said.

That doesn't mean the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will skip Wayne County, though, according to Carol Tingley, deputy director of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

"We're committed to the Neuse River Corridor," she said following Ms. Dixon's presentation.

The next step for the area, she said, is to conceptualize the way the trail could come through Goldsboro -- which is exactly what Goldsboro Parks and Recreation Director Scott Barnard and the Friends of Wayne County Greenways are working on.

Barnard is seeking two grants for greenways -- one that would run behind Wayne Community College and the hospital, and another that would run from Royall Avenue to Elm Street.

The city and county are both in the running for those grants, which would require a local match that could be met through land use, costing the governments nothing outside of in-kind donations.

Those paths wouldn't connect with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Ms. Tingley said, but they could be enough to get the community moving toward a connector that would eventually be a part of the trail.

Barnard identified a route that would come in from the east near Wayneborough Park, into Stoney Creek Park and out along the Neuse, but the funding for that isn't available yet.